`Outstanding EA’s are invaluable assets to their employers, in many ways indispensable members of the management team.’
‘A stretch’ I hear some say, usually the ones who insist on some outdated view of an EA as a run of the mill administrator come typist. I am a firm believer in the live and let live philosophy so I am very happy to agree to disagree … but here are some of the reasons that I think we are a step apart from the average bear.
Getting Things Done
I excel in my career because I enjoy self-management, the opportunity for decision-making, ongoing and broad scope learning and recognition for my participation in corporate achievements. I know and understand my boss’s high level goals, have the ability to make effective and knowledge based decisions based on them and proactively follow through to further corporate goals.
As competent, confident and resilient professionals EA’s are able to grasp the big picture as well as track operational detail … all whilst juggling a to-do list that would make most weep.
The working day of any EA is fast-paced, requiring an extraordinary number of skills displayed in quick time. Processing information with a dedication to accuracy, making quick and effective decisions, grouping tasks and exercising intuitive judgments on the fly are hallmarks of the role.
They are often the “go-to” person in the office and are called upon to fill several different roles on a daily basis. It is a comprehensive and complex responsibility.
A Partnership Like No Other
Relationship is the key word here and a two way one at that. I share my boss’s goals, we work together on setting/ achieving agenda’s and leverage our joint time. None of that can be done effectively and (most importantly?) enjoyably without mutual trust and respect. I have been lucky enough to have some truly great bosses along the way and have learned that an interview absolutely has to be about picking each other.
In many instances, I work without specific direction on a blank page on which I script the intent, design the structure, manage the team and accept responsibility for the outcome. The last thing my boss wants is for me to keep asking for permission and endless questions, where would the time saving be?
The ideal situation is to get to is to read each other’s minds and be able to shorthand everything. It doesn’t happen immediately but is well worth the effort to get to the stage when you are asking each other the same question at the exact same moment or saying ‘Already done’ to every query about tasks.
The Brain Trust
Aside from all of the specific competencies, assistants are often the most trusted confidant to the executive they serve.
Through my attendance at board meetings and being privy to highly confidential email correspondence I know and understand more about the day to day happenings, long term strategy and goals in the company than most of the employees.
And that is not to mention the personal, the things that need to be vented but never, ever disseminated. The ability to be a great listener is just the beginning, being trustworthy beyond reproach is the whole enchilada!
I spend the majority of my time in the company of and supporting the brain trust and it is gratifying that it never crosses anyone’s mind to question my loyalty when being entrusted with their most unguarded moments. Most importantly, it never crosses my mind to break that trust.
CPD … Every Single Day
My role adjusts with every new innovation in technology, shift in business strategy or change in the global economy. And on top of that I have to have more than a passing knowledge of how every department of the company works and a moving knowledge/ understanding of the roles and personalities of the main players.
In many roles you can focus on your area of chosen interest and expertise. Not so here, an EA has to have the remarkable capability to repeatedly reinvent themselves, to hit the ground running, bounce back, and renew themselves again and again.
On a daily basis I bounce between project manager, confidante, team member, upward manager, on the run problem solver, motivational coach, guru on all questions Powerpoint, bookkeeper, friend, Excel whizz, volunteer giver of time to the receptionist to eat, solver of Word formatting glitches, a shoulder, an ambassador, a gatekeeper, shining light of all the company values … and all this in addition to my actual day to day job description.
My one greatest attribute that my boss mentions above all else as my most valued skill ? My hard won immunity to all things drama/ flapping. Perhaps paddling like crazy under water, but on the surface a vision of serenity, positivity, cheer and approachability.
Could you bend to meet every curve, yet stand straight and firm to push through obstacles?
Interpersonal Skills, And Then Some
Executive Assistants develop proficiencies in building and maintaining strong relationships, understanding the importance and impact of human interactions.
EA’s are often the local experts who have built strong interpersonal and business relationships, and not just with executives but across every department in the company. It is important to develop an ability to motivate others and manage differences through their skills of persuasion, consolidation, and innovation.
The role of the Executive Assistant is inextricably interwoven with management and leadership tasks. Planning, coordination, project management, time management, establishing priorities, multi-cultural relationship management, financial intelligence, strategic decision-making capability, and proactive skills are now the new norm.
The requirements for effective senior management leadership are mirrored in the support role of the Executive Assistant.
It Isn’t About Positional Authority, It Is About Attitude
The emerging leadership profile is hard to deny. Do you, like me, define authority as the ability to make decisions? Like me, define influence as the ability to crystallize, frame and present issues in a manner that encourages others to support and achieve a goal?
Do the following strike you as qualities of a leader?
Courage, tenacity, coping with change, tolerate chaos, interpersonal ability, inspiring others with great passion, commitment, ethical standards, goal pursuit, the ability and discretion to work behind the scenes for daily quiet victories without fanfare
They are the very basis of my working day.
The best leaders desire to support and inspire others, not promote themselves. .
The effective Executive Assistant has grown in recent years with the changing world of corporate business and updated the traditional role profile with an instinct that has proved “on point”.
EA’s have always responded to the needs of executives, whose priority is to have the best and the brightest. Through cultural awareness, analysis, communication, and decision-making we continue to transform the traditional role to one with clear strategic responsibility and leadership accountability.
These major shifts have taken place as Executives realize that their assistants should be capable of challenging assignments requiring management and leadership skills. Executive Assistants possess the confidence and capability to skilfully provide leadership support for the senior management team of which they now are an integral part
The job description has changed and the Executive Assistant has stepped up and adapted accordingly. A new Executive/ Assistant relationship has emerged and I, for one, love it!