Thursday, December 20, 2012

7 Defining Traits the Most Successful Executive Assistants Have - Part 1

The most coveted executive assistants that appeal to senior management and recruiters are the ones that have either worked for a Fortune 500 CEO, reputable talent agency, or the ones that show great promise because they are hungry, smart, and can be easily managed. While it goes without saying that every EA should keep things confidential, be organized, and reliable, the best ones stand out for the below reasons.




1. Understand the chain of command

Whether you work in a very corporate environment or not, there is a succession of power and authority. There are steps that go in sequential order to get approval, finish a task, or communicate out a piece of information. This is basic business acumen among professionals when executing a decision. Each dept or company will also have a different way of functioning in atypical circumstances and at times you may need to make the executive decision. The more you ask questions before an emergency or unusual situation occurs, the better you will be able to handle the situation. The more you understand what is important to your boss, their priorities, and values, the better you will be able to execute the smallest decision in an office "emergency." For example, if your boss is on a business trip for 2 weeks, how will signature approvals be taken care of - fax, a signature stamp, by the 2nd in command, or will things have to wait? As an EA, often times you are the first and last person anyone deals with. Any time you pass on information, decide if it’s your place to share that information. If you do, perhaps say you are pretty certain, but you will check and get back to them right away. Understanding the chain of command helps you serve your executive better because you can help your boss forecast what needs to be done and who he will want to call on to help execute. This is why I always strongly suggest not only do you learn your own role, but how the other departments and executives fit into the organizational chart and how.

2. Observe seniority

Closely linked to understanding the chain of command is observing seniority. This means certain actions should be taken based on an executive’s rank in the company. If two executives are having a meeting, the meeting is in the higher-ranked executive’s office, unless a more convenient, logical reason arises. Seniority matters when seating everyone at a formal dinner table, deciding who to assist first or has the most urgent business, and making introductions. Everyone should always be treated well and with respect. The seniority rule helps dictate in what order someone gets a turn.

3. No explanations are expected

This means when you are assigned a task you do it without any questions asked on why you have to do it or what/who it’s for. If you can’t carry out the task without that information you can ask, otherwise, an executive shouldn’t owe you an explanation. They are your boss.

4. No choice

When you are asked to carry out a task, unless you feel it is illegal or immoral and feel uncomfortable doing it, it’s best to do the task. Even if it may not be in your domain, do it. If you feel the task should not be handled by you, bring it up later when it’s a better time. If someone besides your immediate boss asked you to do something and you have issue with it, tell your boss at a later time and ask them to hash it out with the other person. It’s best to provide a suggestion or three on who should handle that task - perhaps an intern or another assistant. In the moment, it’s best to treat it as if you have no choice, but to do the task. Taking time to argue your points when something is time sensitive is poor form and doesn’t help anyone.

5. Understand how delegation works

The point of delegation is so that your executive does not have to think and do minor tasks. This way they can focus on the bigger projects. Even if you have to ask a lot of questions and it seems best if they just do it, they rely on you to lessen their load. The back and forth in little steps is actually easier for them instead of them trying to carve out a chunk of 5min-15min to do the task themselves. The goal of delegation is for your executive not to do the task, that’s it, NOT for the task to be done more efficiently, faster, or easier in general. It’s for your executive to not have to think about the task at all. This is also where seniority takes place, if someone who is senior to you asks you to do something, you do it.

6. Know your place in the organizational structure

Whether you work for the CEO or you don’t, it’s important to know the role you play at your company in the bigger scheme. While you run their life and are the central cog, you are also one of many, many aspects. Your boss has a boss and other people he also must answer to, whether it's the chairman of the board, the public, shareholders, or his family/loved ones. Often being an assistant is a thankless job or one filled with minute duties. However, someone needs to do it. Just like being a Fed Ex delivery person isn’t that glamorous, they are needed in the business world, and they get paid a salary that isn’t too shabby. Being a happy assistant is the best trait. CEOs and senior management love their job, that’s how they became the boss. To have an assistant they work with closely who is just as passionate and excited is great. Yes, you will have your bad days, yet try not to let your emotional tone permeate the office. This also means realizing your boss has a lot on their plate. So much that even if you are their assistant, they are dealing with so much confidential stuff that you also don’t even know about it. I can only relate it to being a parent. When you were a kid you only thought about your friends and what you wanted to eat, play, and the present. Now that you are an adult, you realize what your parents juggled and what caused sleepless nights - cash flow, debt, saving for college, and getting from point A to point B while sick with three kids and a dog to take care of. It’s the same with your boss. They are thinking about the merger/buyout, layoffs, hitting that big deadline that the last 2 years have been about, how what is going on in Asia affects America, or how their mother is dying and they are fighting with their teens at home. How you act and behave as the face of the CEO's office and on behalf of your company is to realize sometimes you are "just the assistant" and sometimes you are the pivotal good woman or man behind every powerful leader.

7. It is what it is
The best assistants realize that what is currently happening is most likely how it always was and always will be. Instead of trying to fight the system or process they just go with it and adapt. You can’t change anyone else so the best route is to change yourself to better handle the chaos at work. It might be a mental/state of mind change, or action and changing the process and implementing new procedures, or realizing there is nothing to be done and do the best you can. There is no perfect answer, and sometimes there is no answer, except learning to cope better.


***New “rule” - when you ask me a question and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you read the post? You can just write “Thx!” or something! :)

As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 3-4 days to answer.

I also write over at Jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant.

http://jobstr.com/threads/show/4303-hollywood-executive-assistant

20 comments:

  1. This is really great and informative post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantDecember 26, 2012 at 10:06 PM

      Annamarie - Thank you for reading! I will be posting a new piece in a day or two! :)

      Delete
  2. I just wanted to comment because not all EA jobs function in the way described in this article. In fact one of the unique aspects of being an EA is that it can be a different job based on the organization you work for. Points 1-6 seem to me to be the same thing--the core message is know your place in the hierarchy. While I agree it's important to work within the constraints of the chain of command--I certainly don't believe this is the most important aspect of being an EA. I've worked in many environments where the EA is thought of as a partner to their executive and in some cases an EA has the authority to speak on behalf of their executive. Many EA's function not just as "I do what I'm told to do" but more "I do what it takes to get the job done". I believe an article such as this would benefit from focusing on tangible skills that successful EA's have such as knowing your executive, communication skills, technology, critical thinking, etc. I definitely disagree with number 7. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn't mean that it has to continue to be done that way. I believe an EA has a responsibility to assist their executive and the company in doing things more efficiently when possible. Many EA's even serve in a consultant capacity which means that when a problem is identified within the department or organization, the EA takes the time to explore options for solutions by doing the research, summarizing findings in a report and making recommendations to their executive who then can decide whether or not and when to implement any changes. I think this is especially true of EA's at the C-Suite level. The more your executive trusts your judgement and abilities, the more you can help them by taking things off their plate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Muser at Musings of a High-Level Executive AssistantJanuary 9, 2013 at 4:58 PM

      Thank you for your comment! I'm glad you wrote in so other readers can see another perspective besides mine. I agree, not all EA jobs function in the way I described in Part 1. You bring up excellent points - tangible skills, getting the job done, and what doors open once trust is established and one's boss sees the talent in an assistant. As you mention, there is a partnership and it leads to being the honorary Chief of Staff and Ambassador with bigger and better job duties. I admit, if one is already a C-level executive assistant, my blog isn't all that insightful or revelatory. I had previously written 3 posts on 10 tips to be an executive assistant so I wanted to change direction. I also write a column at jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant. Between the two, my target audience is admin assistants wanting to be executive assistants, EAs to VPs or higher who are trying to make that jump to a President, CEO, or Chairman's office. I'm hoping my posts will bridge that gap of wanting to excel, but not knowing how or where to start because one is just entering the professional world. I've also wanted to explore what no one talks about or teaches you unless you've been groomed the same way right out of college under various CEOs, which was my experience. My grooming in Fortune 100 offices were exactly the same for the fundamentals in soft skills and hard skills. This year, and in part 2 of my post, I was moving more toward "things to think about/business acumen" and not just "things to do." I've been promoted out of the EA role, but continue to work directly for C-level executives at Fortune-ranked companies. So at over 100 posts, I know at some point I will start covering how to transition up the corporate ladder and adapting to those changes, though my main loyalty is to anyone starting out, fresh out of school, or transitioning. If you have any other topics to suggest, I'd love to hear them!

      Delete
    2. Great insight. Thanks for posting.

      Delete
    3. The Muser at Musing of a High Level Executive AssistantMarch 14, 2013 at 5:21 PM

      Glad you liked my post! :) Thank you for reading!

      Delete
  3. Best blog ever You get it, which helps me relate This is a huge job and people minimize it, but when your boss knows how important you are to not only his success, but the business. It makes it worth it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dear Anonymous - Thank you so much for the comment. I am so happy my advice was spot on and resonated with your experience too. I agree, many don't understand the intricacies of the job, but when others do, it's very fulfilling and rewarding work.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A thoughtful insight and ideas I will use on my website. You've obviously spent a lot of time on this. Well done!

    George Marchelos

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantFebruary 10, 2013 at 9:51 PM

      Barbara/George - So glad you liked my post! Thank you for being a reader!

      Delete
  6. I'm just running across your posts. I've been an EA for about 15 years. But this is really helpful... Even to an old dog like me. Thanks a bunch!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantSeptember 11, 2013 at 2:14 PM

      Dear S. Davis-Harris,

      You are welcome! Thank you for the comment! So glad you liked this post and it is helpful to you even if you are a veteran! I hope you also visit my other column too.

      http://jobstr.com/threads/show/4303-hollywood-executive-assistant

      Delete
  7. omg!!! Amazing advice soo helpful! so timeless! just what I needed to better myself on this new role... Thank You So Much!!!

    ReplyDelete
  8. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec Asst.March 4, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    Anon - Thank you so much for the kudos! Glad that you love my blog! Don't forget to find my column at jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I dont completely agree with everything. Todays EA DOES ask questions. She is not just a taker-of-orders- and instructions, but a strategic partner together with her manager and his management team. Yes, she is proactive, intuitive, organised and all those wonderful things, but above all she is in partnership.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec AsstOctober 28, 2014 at 5:41 AM

      Thank you for your comment! I'm glad you wrote in so other readers can see another perspective besides mine. I agree; you bring up excellent points that it is a partnership and there is collaboration. I did not mean to imply there was not, nor that one couldn't ask any questions. My main point was not to ask why one had to do a task or for whom, but first and foremost take care of tasks before tackling overhauling systems, processes, and wanting to change everything. In general, I admit, if one is already a C-level executive assistant, my blog isn't all that insightful or revelatory as it means you are already well into your EA career and have proven yourself and there is such a solid, strong foundation in a partnership or collaboration setting. I had previously written 3 posts on 10 tips to be an executive assistant so I wanted to change direction. I also write a column at jobstr.com under Hollywood Executive Assistant. Between the two, my target audience is admin assistants wanting to be executive assistants, EAs to VPs or higher who are trying to make that jump to a President, CEO, or Chairman's office. I'm hoping my posts will bridge that gap of wanting to excel, but not knowing how or where to start because one is just entering the professional world. I've also wanted to explore what no one talks about or teaches you unless you've been groomed the same way right out of college under various CEOs, which was my experience. My grooming in Fortune 100 offices were exactly the same for the fundamentals in soft skills and hard skills. This year, and in part 2 of my post, I was moving more toward "things to think about/business acumen" and not just "things to do." I've been promoted out of the EA role, but continue to work directly for C-level executives at Fortune-ranked companies. So at over 100 posts, I know at some point I will start covering how to transition up the corporate ladder and adapting to those changes, though my main loyalty is to anyone starting out, fresh out of school, or transitioning. If you have any other topics to suggest, I'd love to hear them!

      Delete
  10. This is very informative and helpful. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec AsstJanuary 27, 2015 at 10:42 AM

      Roro - I am so glad you enjoyed this post. Thank you for your kind comment.

      Delete
  11. My list would be quite different. I would say that the defining traits are (in no particular order):
    1. Extreme multi-tasking ability, especially under pressure.
    2. The ability to exhibit grace in all circumstances.
    3. The ability to communicate clearly and concisely at ALL levels of the organization.
    4. The willingness to stay late to get the job done, and keep a smile on the face while doing it.
    5. Extremely high organizational skills - able to create order out of chaos - including your bosses chaos - in a way that nobody feels threatened.
    6. Extreme flexibility: Be able to turn on a dime from one direction to another because circumstances have changed, be willing to do things in a way you don't necessarily agree with, be able to smile in the face of rapid change.
    7. Extreme resourcefulness: Finding solutions to immediate-need challenges that others think are impossible.

    Oh, and a bonus: 8. Forward thinking / Anticipation (Like getting your boss's itinerary rerouted when you see that a monster storm is suddenly threatening his flight plans - before others do, and everything is booked.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AsstFebruary 12, 2016 at 1:24 PM

      Detta Miller - This is also a great list as well! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!

      Delete