For my new book, The CEO’s Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness, I interviewed the world’s #1 leadership thinker, Marshall Goldsmith and management guru Ken Blanchard, who expressed a deep appreciation for the value executive assistants bring to the lives of time-constrained executives. Business leaders Richard Branson, Donald Trump and others echoed their sentiment.
Yet, despite the ringing endorsements of assistant’s capabilities by these and other business luminaries, many executives don’t capitalize on this resource that can help smooth out their day and relieve them of untold minutiae.
By not capitalizing on the advantage assistants bring to the table, executives are cheating themselves out of an abundance of talent. While a minority of executives do this because they just can’t let go, many executives are oblivious to the expertise of their assistants because they’ve never learned how to utilize an assistant, or experienced top quality support before. But you can have this support if you consciously recruit and develop an assistant who can take on a leadership role and serve as your “right arm.”
To find your exceptional assistant, start with a candid analysis of yourself. What is your work style – big picture, or myopic? Do you prefer someone whose work habits mirror yours? Are you a micromanager? If so, you will be irritated with a self-starter who takes the ball and runs with it. If you don’t want to be bogged down with details, a self-starter will suit you just fine.
Next, work on your wish list. Get input from your current assistant, or any assistant you particularly admire for their ability to get things done. Don’t rely solely on HR because they don’t always understand the mindset and soft skills required to support an executive (particularly at CEO level). Start by compiling your non-negotiables. What are you willing to give up if you find someone who is a good personality fit for you? Don’t overlook the talent and know-how of older assistants. They carry a wealth of experience you could utilize, especially if you are a younger executive, or your company is a startup.
Solid secretarial and computer skills are a given. Other characteristics include good anticipation ability, resourcefulness, strong organizational skills, meticulous, staying focused, persistent in following up, and a clear, confident communication style. Integrity is crucial.
Once your assistant is hired, establish the ground rules to avoid future misunderstandings. Take time to build the relationship with as much personal interaction as possible. Don’t start out by only relying on technology to communicate. To be your true representative, and not hesitate to take charge, your assistant must know who you are, how you think, what’s important to you. These are things they will learn from interacting with you. Educate them about your company, the industry, and your competitors. Explain your vision. Help them to understand your goals and ask what contribution they can make to help you reach those goals.
Trust your assistant. Let them handle your calendar. Sending out invitations to meetings is a poor use of your time. So is making your own travel arrangements, or answering your business phone line. Once they are confident in their job, hand over your emails. Decide together on a system that will work best. While you are involved in meetings or traveling, your assistant can be acting on any number of issues that may be time sensitive, or that don’t even need your attention. Give your assistant authority to make decisions for you. Start slowly if you are not completely confident of their ability, but then let them take charge.
Give your assistant the resources they need to get job done. This might include temporarily hiring additional personnel if you have a big project underway. Help them to develop their skills with training courses. Check in frequently. Give feedback and encourage them to talk to you if there are major challenges. Give constructive input and be respectful. Treat your assistant as a true professional. An exceptional executive assistant will perform at levels far beyond your expectation, and in many cases, well beyond the financial compensation you offer them, so show your appreciation for the talent and care they bring to the role.
If you are sharing an assistant the same rules of trusting them to do the job apply. Help the assistant by establishing chain of command. Whose work takes precedence? If the assistant is experienced, they will know how to prioritize and avoid conflict. If they are less experienced, they may need help. Don’t make them the “meat in the sandwich” between you and other executives. Even if you are sharing an assistant, make sure you are involved in the hiring process. At a minimum, give HR your must-have list. Just because you are sharing, don’t abdicate responsibility. The executives you are sharing with might be clueless about the caliber of assistant needed and you will all pay the price.
Working with a virtual assistant? These days, many qualified assistants are offering their services virtually and not having an in-person assistant doesn’t have to be a challenge. When taking on a virtual assistant, make certain they have all the requisite skills. Check references. Be clear about your priorities and deadlines for job completion. Let them prove their capabilities before they make important decisions on your behalf.
The comfort of a high-functioning relationship with a capable assistant who “has your back” will give you peace of mind and enhance your effectiveness and productivity. Your investment of time and commitment will be rewarded as they evolve into your trusted business partner.
– Jan Jones is founder and president of Jan Jones Worldwide Speakers Bureau. Previously, she served as executive assistant to personal development icon Tony Robbins and spent 10 years as exclusive representative for small business guru, Michael Gerber. Jan enjoys mentoring assistants and showing executives how to get the most out of their relationship with their assistant. She is the author of The CEO’s Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness (CLICK HERE to get your copy). Learn more at www.theceossecretweapon.com.
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