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Aspiring for the C-Suite? Consider Being a Chief of Staff

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive: April 2024
Volume 44
Issue 4

Why this role provides a critical ‘boot camp’ for future pharma leaders.

Kristina Fusella, Senior Director, Capabilities, Employee Experience, Novo Nordisk

Kristina Fusella, Senior Director, Capabilities, Employee Experience, Novo Nordisk

For those who aspire to be leaders, the pathway to get there can be anything but clear. What if I told you that there’s a role that can dramatically accelerate your readiness for leadership—equipping you for the challenges of guiding teams and organizations in an increasingly complex and matrixed world?

I would argue that no opportunity can show you the tools you’ll need to be a future executive better than serving as a chief of staff. A chief of staff serves as a strategic advisor and sparring partner for an executive. A colleague once described it as a “capacity multiplier” for executives, ensuring that their key priorities are fulfilled and enabling them to handle greater responsibilities.

When I reflect on my tenure as a chief of staff, it was three years of the most rewarding and challenging professional adventure of my career. As a direct result of that experience, I was well-prepared to move into a role leading a team of leaders.

For anyone considering the role, here are three benefits
to consider:


Serving as a chief of staff provides an unparalleled opportunity to learn the behind-the-scenes of enterprise leadership. I’ve witnessed that the most successful leaders are those who can activate others across the organization, even if they don’t hold formal authority on the organizational chart. Learning how to influence is an indispensable skill; the best leaders have developed a knack for inspiring, motivating, and ultimately leading a matrix of people across multiple departments.


To the average corporate employee, senior executives may seem to occupy their own world, removed from the day-to-day concerns of the business. But serving as a chief of staff pulls the curtain back. So what is it really like? An executive’s role holds immense responsibility—and, from my experience, sometimes that can feel overwhelming even to them. Their decisions can have significant impact on people’s careers, lives, and financial futures.

I believe that for anyone interested in an executive-level role, it’s critical to have the right tools in your toolbox honed and sharpened to be ready for the weight of responsibility. And as a chief of staff, you learn exactly which tools you already have—and which you have yet to acquire.


As a chief of staff, countless delicate situations will come your way that require the critical skill of emotional intelligence—especially when dealing with challenging personalities or leaders much more senior than you.

I believe I was able to succeed because I never lost sight of the word “staff” in the title. My advice is to always have people and culture in mind in order to help your executive succeed. The most impactful individuals in this role come to be seen as confidantes to others in their organization—as people that their colleagues can feel comfortable bringing issues to and trust to be able to figure out a solution. An effective chief of staff acts as a “voice of the people” and gives their leader a true sense of the pulse in their teams.

Working closely with a senior executive allows for an accelerated immersion into the kinds of issues and concerns that cross their desk each day. I often found myself in situations and discussions I would not have been exposed to in any other role. Simply being a part of the daily meetings of an executive gives you a front row seat into how very senior leaders move through a wide variety of challenges day-to-day.

If this is a role that your organization offers, I highly recommend looking into it. It’s an amazing boot camp for leadership—allowing you to not only make an impact, but also prepare for a level of significantly increased responsibility, accelerating your leadership development by years.

Kristina Fusella is Senior Director, Capabilities, Employee Experience, at Novo Nordisk

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