November 21, 2018

Building Your Leadership Small Counsel


Every man, however wise, needs the advice of some sagacious friend in the affairs of life. — Plautus

Good advice is one of those things that every leader needs. The world is just too complex to figure everything out for yourself.

When a leader asks for advice, they are opening themselves up to different perspectives and paths that their group may want to take. All advice is not created equal and must be weighted carefully with the facts as you know them and your experience.

Leaders who develop a small counsel of advisors create a valuable and lasting resource for themselves and their organizations. This counsel can be the difference between good leaders and great leaders.

Choosing your small counsel can be a daunting task. It’s vital to get the right mix or the counsel could be skewed towards making bad decisions or infighting.

Choosing Your Small Counsel

Your small counsel needs to be a dedicated group of people who have your best interest at heart. Conversely, the members of your small counsel also need to have a diverse set of skills and knowledge so that they can be effective in giving you advice.

For most small counsels, there are five people that you should consider:

Chief of Staff

Every leader needs a right hand. This is typically the chief of staff who serves as the surrogate leader. The chief of staff is the most critical position on the small counsel since they really are looking out for the best interest of the leader and the organization always.

A strong chief will know who is telling the truth, who has an alternative motive, who wants more power and who can be trusted. A chief serve their leader and organization well when they put the leader and organization interest above their own.


Every leader needs someone who can get the G2 on situations of interest to the small counsel.

This intelligence gathering takes on many forms but centers around getting the most up to date intelligence so that the leader and counsel can make informed decisions.

A data driven counsel will make better decisions and when that data is relevant, up to date and accurate, decisions will be made.

Elder Statesman

History and tradition are important elements of any organization. The Elder Statesman (or woman) is the keeper of the history of the organization and it’s traditions. They keep the leader grounded in the fundamentals of why the organization exists and the unique roles people play in it.

The Elder Statesmen does not have to be the oldest person in the room but they need to have the deepest knowledge of the organization and the environment in which it acts. They also need to be well respected so that when controversial issues come up, they are dealt with in the correct manner.


No organization can function without some form of funds.

The treasurer is the one who raises and keeps track of those funds. They are also the ones that typically inject a solid dose of reality into the group, especially when it comes to grandiose plans and extravagant expenditures.

A good treasure is trustworthy since they deal with sensitive financial matters and understands that the war chest needs to be maintained in perfect order.

Sargent at Arms

At some point, an organization will need to pick a fight. They may not want to, nor even know the fight is upon them but every single organization will have to take a stand on something. That’s where the Sargent at Arms or Strategist comes in.

The Sargent at Arms is not afraid of a fight and knows when to take up the charge and when to retreat to a more defensible position. They are usually aggressive in wanting to protect the organization and leader. This is usually a source of productive tension between them and the rest of the group.

Organization Are All Different Yet The Same

Almost all small counsels will have these five types of people on them — even if you only run a local neighborhood board, PTA, non-profit, political campaign or major corporation. The only type of organization that does not have a small counsel are ones with mediocre leadership or leaders who think they don’t need any help.

The reason the mix stays roughly the same is that all leaders face the same issues and challenges. All worry about finances, what their competitors are doing, not repeating the mistakes of the past and wonder when to flee or fight.

A leader may never need all of their counsels advice but it’s always good to have them around to bounce ideas off. It’s this dynamic of debate that strengthens the leaders decision making and ultimately leads to a better leader and organization.