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In Praise of Executive Assistants

If you read our blog with any regularity you will know that it focuses on issues related to CEOs and other executive positions. This week we wanted to look at executive performance through the other end of the telescope: the role of the executive assistant. In its simplest terms, we believe that a having a good EA is a critical part of any high-performing executive. They rarely get the recognition they deserve, at least outwardly, but just as a monarchy is marked by its courtiers, or a Presidency by its advisors, a great assistant is a critical member of any inner circle. We will naturally be forwarding this blog to President-elect Trump.

Now, if you are CEO you may well consider your inner circle to be the CFO, CTO, COO, and EVPs – and they are. But for many people their closest working relationship on a day-to-day basis will be their executive assistant, who is formally tasked with keeping the show on the road: the organizing of schedules, booking of flights and restaurants. Your EA might also read and respond to your correspondence, deliver company-wide emails for you, and make sure you arrive fully prepared to any meeting. In short, they make busy people more productive.

Moreover, if a company can hang on to good Executive Assistants they can ease the transitionary period for new managers who join the firm – the new hire therefore has a less arduous journey through the mores and culture of their new workplace. Someone, if you like, to show them the ropes. To be an internal ambassador.

The key managerial issue when it comes to EAs is how best and how much to delegate. This in turn depends on how much you trust that person. And while we have all seen assistants come and go, some good, some bad, and some average, anyone who has ever had an excellent assistant knows the full extent to which it not only helps you but helps the business. A good assistant, who knows what’s important to you, and can predict how you will respond or want to prioritize something, is frankly worth their weight in gold. They might not have the MBA and the corporate experience that got you to the top, but there’s no reason that your EA can’t make informed key decisions or give you good advice on pretty much anything. It’s not for nothing, even if it’s a cliché, that so-and-so is their right hand.

So, how do you find these unicorns? (Because that is really what they are). The first piece of advice is that if you find one, hang onto them for dear life because a) whoever follows them will never quite measure up, and b) like any other relationship, it’s very hard to predict who you’re going to match well with. And that is really what it is all about: fit. You need someone with the right intuition, but also someone with whom you have some emotional and psychological connection. When you find that person, respect and remunerate them for the key role that they play in your organization, and with you.


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