What Every Leader Needs to Know about the Most Important Member of the Team
You can’t make it on your own, and that’s not a putdown. It’s reality. And the bigger your goals, the more help you’re going to need in reaching them.
In the corporate world, I relied heavily on my executive assistants. When I struck out on my own, I thought I could manage without one. Crazy. I just couldn’t keep up.
It didn’t take long before I enrolled a virtual assistant. Now I have two and couldn’t run my business without them. But what makes a great assistant, whether virtual or in the office? If you’re a leader, you’d better know the answer to that question.
A good executive assistant is like an air-traffic controller for your life. Not just your business—your whole life. They help manage not only the intricacies of the office, but all the treacherous intersections between work, family, social obligations, and more.
An executive assistant is an extension of the executive he or she works for. In my case, Suzie and Danielle are thinking and acting on my behalf all day long—things I wouldn’t even think of or do because I just don’t have the bandwidth. And they help coordinate all the needs and demands of my life so there are very few—if any—collisions between the personal and professional.
They’re so good their reputation proceeds them. One of the men I mentor recently hired an executive assistant and asked me if he could get help onboarding his new team member.
I asked Suzie what she thought, and she (characteristically) outdid herself. Part of her training involved walking my mentee’s new hire through the ten characteristics of a rockstar executive assistant. If you’re looking to hire—or be—a rockstar executive assistant, Suzie’s list is the closest thing to a formal job description you’ll need.
These are the ten characteristics to watch for:
- They have a servant’s heart. This is the foundation for everything else. A rockstar executive assistant wants to serve—and not just your company or organization. A rockstar EA wants to serve you. Whether the task is big or little, he achieves his goals by helping you achieve yours. If potential EA’s don’t have this quality, no problem. But they probably should look for a different opportunity.
- They have personalized expertise. A rockstar EA is like a second brain. She knows what you like and don’t like. She knows where you are and where you need to go. She knows when to schedule meetings and when not to. A rockstar EA will gather as much of this information as possible as early as possible—and proactively keep learning.
They master the calendar. In business we live and die by the calendar. Deadlines, appointments, meetings, presentations, calls—the calendar is the flight plan that keeps all of these moving parts from crashing into each other. And don’t forget scheduled commitments at home. If your EA doesn’t have mastery of the calendar, we’re not talking about a rockstar EA.
They anticipate needs. A rockstar EA sees in advance what an executive needs and plans accordingly. If it’s lunch before a meeting, reports emailed to a client, whatever, she’s already seen the need and addressed it. Anyone can take a direction. But a rockstar is already moving the way you want to go.
They prioritize the personal. When I said an air-traffic controller for your whole life, this is what I meant. If your EA defaults to prioritizing the professional at the expense of the personal, he’s not a rockstar—at least not yet. Protecting my personal time lets me maximize my professional time. A rockstar EA knows that and helps me guard that time.
They are willing to push back. A good EA will keep you from burying yourself. I call Suzie my “calendar czar,” and that’s exactly what I need. At any given moment I don’t know the full range of our commitments, obligations, and initiatives. Because it’s her job—and she’s a rockstar—Suzie does know and will push back when I start getting overcommitted.
They create and master systems. Whatever line of work you’re in, effective performance depends on a certain number of set preferences and procedures. What works best for you and your team? A rockstar EA will document and systematize these things so you’re not always reinventing the wheel.
They know what’s on your plate. We all have too much on our plates. Your EA should know all that you’re dealing with and what’s critical to your success. If he knows that, he can keep you focused on the high-leverage activities and decline or delegate the rest.
They respect your confidentiality. A rockstar EA will have all sorts of personal information and access. It’s critical she has integrity and a sense of discretion. It’s also important she sees when people are trying to get insider access or influence.
They have great communication skills. And by this I don’t just mean he can carry on a conversation. A rockstar EA will help facilitate communication in your organization—especially if you’re bottlenecking things. Whether it’s email, calls, or other communication, a rockstar EA will accelerate response times and keep the messages moving.
I’ve worked with people whose assistants were more liability than asset. If you’re a leader, you can’t afford to get this wrong. Why? They’re hindering your goals and everyone around you knows it—even if you don’t.
I’ve had great assistants and not-so-great. All of them have taught me one thing: Few people are more responsible for your success than your assistant. It’s critical that you find a rockstar.
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