MAY 2023
The Man I Knew
Jean Becker was Chief of Staff for George H.W. Bush for over 20 years.
Jean Becker
2 min read
April 12
F. 41 and Jean on the phone.webp
When thinking of the essential qualities of an effective chief of staff, the words bold, creative, big thinker, problem-solver all immediately come to mind.

Which is why the following conversation might surprise you:

President Bush:

Jean, I would like for you to consider becoming my Chief of Staff.


I don’t know how to be a chief of staff. I’ve never been the boss. I’ve never had to do a budget. I’ve never had to be all that organized. I’m a writer. I probably should not be your chief of staff.
And then I was, for the next 25 years.
This might be a rather odd way to begin this conversation except that it illustrates two other very important qualities every chief of staff must have:
  • You have to be willing to be honest with your principal, even when it hurts. Don’t hide from them what they must know. (I am grateful, in this case, President Bush did not believe me.)
  • More often than not, you will have to dig deep to do your job well. You will not always have the answers right away. Nor will you always see a clear path forward. But it’s your job to figure it out – both for your boss and your staff, who are counting on you to do just that.
The key is confidence. Have confidence in yourself that you “got this.”
Word of caution: Don’t equate confidence with arrogance. Confidence means that you believe in yourself, and your ability to handle whatever challenges that comes your way. It doesn’t mean you know everything. You don’t.
Which brings me to my last piece of advice: Find a soulmate. More than one if possible.
One challenge of being the chief is that you have no peers on the team. Everyone is either a rung or two below you, or one very large rung above you.
To whom do you go to brainstorm a problem, or to vent about something the boss said or did that has you standing on the edge of the proverbial cliff?
A fellow chief of staff, of course. They’ve all been there, done that.
And between you, it’s possible you really do know everything.
The chiefs of staff to the former presidents had a secret cabal (and probably still do) that I’m not sure our bosses knew existed. We were always there for each other – Democrat or Republican – when we needed to vent or sort through a problem.
This is one reason why The Chief of Staff Association is such a brilliant idea – to come together as a group to share ideas, concerns, and yes, complaints.
Together, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.
Now go conquer the world.
Author Bio
Jean Becker
Former Chief of Staff George H.W. Bush
Jean Becker was chief of staff for George H.W. Bush from March 1, 1994 until his death on November 30, 2018. She previously served as deputy press secretary to First Lady Barbara Bush from 1989 to 1992. Before joining the Bush White House staff in 1989, Ms. Becker was a newspaper reporter for 10 years, including a four-year stint at USA Today where her duties included covering the 1988 presidential election and a Page One editor. Her book about Mrs. Bush, Pearls of Wisdom—released on March 3rd, 2020; and her book about President Bush, The Man I Knew – released June 1, 2021—both became New York Times best-sellers.