Great Executive Assistants Communicate, Communicate & Communicate
4 Ways to Ensure Successful Assistant-and-Executive Communication
By Julia Schmidt and Carla Stefanut
Julia Schmidt and Carla Stefanut were inspired to write this post after reading the book “The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness” by Jan Jones. Julia and Carla agree that the CEO and the Assistant are both responsible for making their partnership a success.
Adapted from “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” here are 4 recommendations to ensure successful Executive-and-Assistant communication:
1. Start laying the foundation for good communication during your interview.
Ask the executive you will be working for what skills they want to see in the new assistant. Ask why these specific skills are important to him/her. Discuss the company’s values and ask how the executive applies these values to the workday. Clarify expectations – not only the executive’s, but yours as well.
JULIA: When I was interviewed for my current job, I was curious to find out how the CEO would explain to me the company’s values. I was positively impressed by the way the company lives the leadership values. I could feel authenticity from a great CEO and founder.
CARLA: When I was interviewed, my boss asked about my favorite hobbies and sports and I asked about his. Soft skills are important to set the foundation for an open relationship.
2. Understand the value of feedback and ask for it often.
Feedback from your executive is an excellent benchmark for you to know if you are performing up to expectation.
“An assistant, in order to help her manager helps her, needs to learn to appreciate feedback. If my boss gives me feedback that I don’t like, I can’t take it personally. I’ve realized that he’s helping me to improve.” (Assistant Ann Weaver, quoted in “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” by Jan Jones).
Get in the habit of asking for feedback and find out if your boss is open to feedback from you, not necessarily about his or her performance, but about things you notice happening in the business. If you are asking for feedback, be prepared to take the criticism along with the praise. That is how you will learn and grow in your position.
“An assistant cannot passively wait to be told something.” (The CEO’s Secret Weapon” by Jan Jones)
An assistant must be proactive in asking the boss about a phone call or meeting, in order to find out if there is any follow up the assistant must handle. Some of Jones’ standard follow up questions are:
- “Is there any follow up for me from this meeting?”
- “Is there anything I should be aware of from this phone call?”
- Or, “Do you need me to...”
3. Become a mind reader
Get in the habit of finding out the actions you can take independently to become your executive’s best business partner.
“When the boss communicates frequently, the assistant develops a knack for knowing what the boss wants, and over time appears to be a mind reader.” (The CEO’s Secret Weapon” by Jan Jones
To learn the skill of anticipating, the assistant must ask questions, listen, be curious, take notes, read up about the industry and develop an understanding about the business. Don’t be afraid to ask your executive to explain things to you, or to recommend how you can develop your understanding of the business and your executive’s job. This will allow you to start taking independent action.
“If you need to ask the boss something, ask yourself the question first. A lot of times you’ll know the answer already and save your boss time.” (Donald Trump, a businessman who was interviewed for the book The CEO’s Secret Weapon” by Jan Jones)
4. Face-to-Face conversations are an essential routine to make certain you are in sync with each other
"A lot of issues between assistant and executive can be resolved through dialogue. Assistants should not use technology as an excuse for not having that dialogue." (Adam Fidler a top trainer of EAs, who is interviewed in “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” by Jan Jones)
The above quote refers to a trend among younger assistants and even younger executives of sending each other text messages when they are sitting next to each other in the office.
One-on-one meetings give you the opportunity to check in with each other relevant information, make sure projects are on track and that each person has whatever they need, nothing is being overlooked, or any miscommunications are happening.
These times together give the assistant the opportunity to learn first-hand what the executive is thinking, what are the latest projects, business goals, etc. They are good opportunities for learning about each other and building the personal side of the relationship so that you can build trust and rapport with each other.
Change and urgency are ever present in all C-level offices. As assistants we know that what is a priority today, might not be a top topic on the agenda tomorrow.
Put your one-on-one meetings on your boss’ calendar and come prepared to get down to business. Have your questions ready, and be willing to answer questions about any projects you are working on.
Remember top executives have to make good use of their time. Use this opportunity to learn about current projects, new products and customers. If you are informed and show interest, your executive will realize that you want to know more about the business and will start sharing the big picture and goals with you.
Being proactive is crucial to earning the trust of your executive and helping the relationship to evolve into a valuable partnership. You need to take responsibility for growing the relationship.
We wish you a successful journey.