There is an old saying that a first-class Assistant can make an average Executive look very good, but an average Assistant can make a first-class Executive look very bad indeed. This is very true, and it suggests most forcibly the essence of success in the relationship between the Executive and their Assistant.
Too many Executives, and Assistants, I might add, don’t seem to understand the importance of taking the time, and steps, to build a long-term partnership, and still fall back on technology as the ‘answer’ to everything. Now, I am certainly one for technology – artificial intelligence and automation is a fact we have to face – but we have to remember that if Assistants don’t take the steps to showcase their biggest strength, that is their emotional intelligence, then the assumption is that their role is ‘replaceable’.
I teach all of my EA students that they must not sit and wait for their Executives to ‘enquire’ as to how they, the Assistant, adds value; they must show them, at every opportunity, that the Executive and his or her Assistant constitute a team of their own. And, a team which is just as much an integral part of the management function as the status and duties of the Executive on their own.
We should not expect, therefore, Executives to ‘know’ how to use an Assistant, especially with the younger bosses who often now come through the ranks without ever having had an Assistant before. In a technological world, it’s now paramount that the Assistant leads on the partnership and shows their readiness to support their Executive to make him or her more successful.
Executives don’t automatically have confidence in every aspect of the work of their Assistant and we know through Gender Intelligence (yes, that’s another piece of research), that Executives trust their Assistants by seeing results, execution and delivery on promises made. We also know that the prime purpose of any Assistant is to enable the Executive to have time to carry out his or her essential function. The Assistant’s main duty, therefore, must be to know what is, and what is not, the Executive’s work, and devise methods of working so that the Executive is relieved of unnecessary detail.
If Assistants get this right they show their Executive that the foundation is set for the Assistant to be doing ‘more’.
With today’s more modern leadership styles of Executives, we cannot take it for granted that the Executive knows the role of the EA. But, we must take it for granted that the EA does know the role – and will take small steps, along a time-consuming journey, to develop a partnership based on reciprocity, alliance and a complementary style of working. This is the reverse-mentoring at its most powerful, and something every Assistant can play a part in.