Over the years, I have done much hiring, training, and mentoring of executive assistants. In that time, I’ve learned to recognize characteristics of highly successful assistants. Much of their success comes from their attitudes—towards their leader, their job, and the organization.
Here are three things that highly successful assistants do:
They believe, truly, that what they are doing is helping not only the individual they are supporting but also the company as a whole.
Assistants who believe this tend to get annoyed less, are bothered less, and view everything that comes across their plate as important. If they don’t know how to do it or don’t think it’s in their job description, they either learn and add it, or find the right person to take it and make sure they don’t need help while doing it. If your assistant acts like tasks are beneath them (within reason and ethical standards, of course), it’s fair to ask them what they think their job actually is. Invite them to consider how their work more generally ties into the organization’s mission, too. Help them to see how their work is both necessary and important.
They actually like being an admin and have goals to stay in that role, rather than move out of it.
Of course, people can grow, and I am in no way insinuating that one shouldn’t strive to get bigger and do better. But the true assistant sees their value. They see their job as valuable. They become indispensable and so congruent with their leader and company values that it would be extremely hard to replace them. That is, in effect, their goal—to be worth their weight in gold, not to move out of the role eventually.
They don’t have an adversarial attitude.
True-blue “lifers” don’t have a chip on their shoulder. They don’t have an attitude about their job or your bad habits/shortcomings, and they certainly don’t roll their eyes behind your back or get together with the other employees to complain. If you have a gut feeling that this is happening, trust your gut and bring it to the forefront. Be honest about areas where you struggle and be open to ideas for improvement, but also share your expectation that your assistant step up in these areas, too. You are, after all, a team—not adversaries. Covering for your shortcomings is actually part of their job. If they don’t think so, then they are in the wrong profession.
Being someone’s personal and executive assistant can be extremely rewarding and fun, and it should be a lasting relationship built on trust and mutual respect. Make sure you feel that now, and if you don’t, find out why.
Are you running low on bandwidth? Need someone to head off disasters, thin out your inbox, manage call and demands for you? Someone to tackle these projects the way you would, but isn’t you? If so, you’re either in need of an executive assistant (EA) or a better one, or you may need to train your EA to be an ambassador.
An executive assistant can and should be your ambassador—someone to think like you and confidently make decisions like you would. To serve in this capacity, though, they need to know not only what needs to be done, but how and why. Learning your values and beliefs (and how they align with the organization’s mission, vision, and values) will give them a solid base from which to act. Without providing this essential “you” and “we” material, however, it will be hard for them to make day-to-day decisions in a fast-paced environment.
In one amazing company that I worked for, the mission, vision, and values of the company were made real in almost every situation. My leader would give me examples of why she would do something and then ask me, “What value does that embody?” Once I learned to see and implement the guiding values, I was able to act for her with confidence. But I also asked her a lot of questions to better understand her preferences and beliefs: “Why did you choose that?” or “Why would you prefer this over that?” I viewed each time we were together as a learning opportunity and cherished every minute. She was driven by a desire to learn and demonstrate competence, and I strove to do so as well.
When leaders are willing to receive a little respectful and informative push-back from their EA’s, they may learn inconsistencies in their values and beliefs, discover a slight misalignment with the organization’s mission, or find a new and better application of their values and beliefs. Great assistants can sometimes make better decisions than the leader would on the spot. In those moments, the leader may learn something important and also feel better understood. This sort of mutual affirmation grows trust between the pair and allows the leader some room to breathe, knowing that the EA truly gets it.
Not every EA is capable of and interested in understanding how and why you want things done. If that’s your current situation, then you either need to search for a new EA or provide more ambassadorial training. When your EA gets it and can act fully as your ambassador, you will likely get compliments from friends, colleagues, and clients. You will start to get your questions answered before you ask them.
A lot of executives refer to and consider their assistants “gatekeepers” who control access by means of managing calendars and warding off time-wasters. When assistants act as gatekeepers, executives don’t have to have some unpleasant or tedious conversations. And those who get past the “gate” may feel the glow of entering the inner circle. But at what cost—to the assistant, the executive, and the organization?
When an executive assistant (EA) is assigned to keep people out, the result usually isn’t greater efficiency. It tends to lead to more work and work-arounds, in addition to bad press. People don’t like to be told “no” without getting at least a semblance of a proper audience. They want to be and feel heard. If they’re not, they may be upset and take their business elsewhere. They may bad-mouth the executive and the organization as a whole to important clients, prospects, or industry players. And those kept outside the gate may decide to pester the EA with calls. Or if the EA always says “no,” they may bypass the EA entirely and go directly to the leader themselves.
Executive assistants should not be saying no for the sake of saying no or because they are unwilling to re-arrange a day of meetings to accommodate something that has high priority. Instead, they should be willing to listen to the needs of the caller and make a decision based on what would be the best choice for the leader and the company at large. The EA’s role is to think like their leader and to understand who is coming in and going out of the office and why. Their responsibility in handling the calendar is huge, as it could make or break a day’s work for an executive if done improperly. However, the viewpoint of the EA should be that every person that reaches to them for a meeting or call with their leader is important enough to be heard and their purpose understood.
An EA should be a strategic partner to the leader and someone the leader can trust to make decisions rather than just someone at a desk who knows how to put Outlook invites on a calendar. Naturally, if they’re going to be true strategic partners, leaders need to stop seeing and referring to EA’s as gatekeepers. And they ought to coach their EA on how to prioritize meetings (i.e. clients first, family second) and tell them why and how they themselves would say yes or no so EA’s are able to embody that.
We all know what an unpleasant gatekeeper experience feels like. As a leader, your goal should be to employ and train an EA who will be unfailingly friendly and cheerful, who listens well, and who knows the appropriate place to put people on the calendar. And if it doesn’t make sense for a person to meet with you, your EA should refer them to someone in or outside the organization who is the right person and then makes sure they are connected.
This article by Forbes depicts the 10 workplace trends you can expect in 2017 and it’s no surprise that #2 is a blended workforce. More and more business owners and entrepreneurs are hiring 1099 workers to boom their business without the overhead costs and Virtual Assistants are becoming one of the higher-valued type of contractor in this new culture.
This is a great article by Inc.com, that describes 6 ways you can use a virtual assistant to boost your productivity, free yourself from day-to-day monotony and create time to be creative and focus on your enterprise. Inc.com Article
Entrepreneurs are burning themselves out and aren’t delegating tasks, thus freeing themselves from monotonous days, repetitiveness and extreme multi-tasking. Check out this article from Entrepreneur.com about how a VA can provide relief.
Does your assistant feel like a partner and do they have managerial skills and leadership within your company? This article by Jan Jones, author of The CEO’s Secret Weapon, talks about the very important relationship between an assistant and their leader.
Downtown Los Angeles, CA – Commenting on the Harvard Business Review’s guide to balancing parenting and work stress, Mackenzie Doheny, owner of the eponymous virtual executive assistant firm, notes that many of the recommendations for balancing parent and work stress can be addressed by hiring a virtual executive assistant.
Read more here.