https://www.bonnielowkramen.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/bonnie-and-olympia-w-wht-frame.jpg 401 506 competenow /wp-content/uploads/2020/08/bonnie-low-logo.png competenow2015-02-13 20:26:342015-02-13 20:26:34A CEO’s Most Powerful (and Profitable) Secret Weapon
By Bonnie Low-Kramen, CEO of Ultimate Assistant LLC
As a CEO, do you yearn to have free time to do the things that feed your soul? If the answer is “yes,” I am going to make the case that your most valuable secret weapon to fulfill this wish can be your Executive Assistant. It is a relationship that can impact your life in profound ways. She can be your right arm, trusted ally, and even a surrogate at meetings. When deployed properly and fully, she can enhance your business by acting as a strategic partner and freeing you up to make even more profits. She can also enable you to have more free time to enjoy your life to the max.
(Note: I am using the pronoun “she” because 95-98% of the EAs in the world are women.)
In order for the relationship between you and your EA to be wildly successful, it is critical to look at it as a living, breathing entity that is going to evolve and change over time. It needs to be approached in a customized, personalized way, specific to you and your EA. It is not cookie-cutter or black and white. In fact, it is everything but that.
Here’s how to make it happen.
1. Be Selective. Take great care to select the right person to be your Executive Assistant. Create a clear and detailed Job Description which has generous compensation with opportunity for growth. Choose a person whose skill set includes strengths that are your weaknesses. Do a “working interview” where you will bring the top candidates in for a part of a day to work alongside you. This gives you both a chance to “feel” how it is to work with one another. If your EA will be interacting and working with your spouse, have them meet in person. Your new EA should meet with as many key people in your life as possible prior to being hired.
2. Setting the Expectations. The sky is the limit to what you can ask your EA to do. From gift buying (uh oh, it’s your anniversary next week) to prepping you for an important meeting (you wore that tie last time and remember to pronounce X’s name correctly, and Z’s son just got married so be sure to congratulate him,) to planning a vacation (Aspen sounds good but how about Whitefish, Montana?) your EA can take on anything and everything as long as you set it as an expectation that is agreed upon. Most EAs enjoy doing personal tasks for their executives and know that doing so enables you to be more efficient in your life. If in doubt, ask her and have a conversation, especially about new expectations.
3. Empower Her. Did you know that people will say things to your Executive Assistant that they would never say to you? That automatically means that your EA holds valuable information that you don’t know yet. Empower her to speak her mind and say what she knows. Your EA is your most valuable set of eyes and ears. Make it safe for her to be the mouth too.
4. Access. Some of the best CEO/EA relationships I know include the EA attending important meetings to take notes and participate. Some EAs listen in on conference calls and respond to a CEO’s emails. This requires the highest level of trust which takes time, but when it is in place, you will find yourself with more time because there is so much you do not have to say to one another.
5. Let her do her job. Your EA is a champion scheduler and the organizer of correspondence, especially if you have articulated your preferences. Allow her to do the things that she was hired to do and you get to focus on the things that only you can do. Even though you know how to do correspondence, does not mean that is the best use of your time. The given is that we all only get those 24 hours. The question becomes are you using those hours in the best way?
6. Face-time. Communicating by text and email is great but for you to get the most from your EA, be sure to meet one-on-one on a regular basis. For some, this means weekly and for others it is daily and for still others, it’s on Skype every hour! If your EA calls you and says, “I need 10 minutes with you sometime today,” give it to her. That 10 minutes will most likely give your EA enough information to get her through the next week. It is extremely important for you to speak and ideally see one another in person. That’s how relationships go from good to great.
7. Empathy & Mutual Respect. As a CEO, you have a very tough job. The pressure on you is enormous. Allow your EA to take some of the load off of you and respect her for doing so. She has a tough job too and you will both get to the end of the day stronger than the day before by showing empathy and respect.
8. Little things that are really big. It matters to your EA that you say her name and pronounce it properly. It matters for her to hear you use the words “please” and “thank you.” It matters that you remember her birthday. These seemingly small things matter a lot and do not cost one penny. I promise you the benefits of this will come back exponentially.
9. Handling mistakes and conflict. It is not a matter of if but when that differences of opinion and conflicts (of varying degree) are going to arise between you and your EA. It is a given that they are going to occur so the only question is, how do you handle them? Set the expectation that you will discuss issues on a regular basis, ideally when they happen. It is less about placing blame than it is to ensure that the same mistake does not happen again.
10. Feedback. The hallmark of the most successful CEO/EA relationships is the freedom to give constant and easy feedback to one another, resisting the urge to take things personally or offensively. It is important for a CEO to set this dynamic as an expectation from the interview. A CEO can benefit from an EA’s feedback as much as the EA can benefit from feedback from the CEO.
11. Listen to your team. The biggest untapped natural resource of companies is the administrative support staff. They are on the front lines to what is happening in your company. They are often the first to hear about a client’s needs and concerns that is – in part – why you pay them. Make it clear to your staff that you really and truly expect to hear feedback and concerns from them. Most staff will not feel free to share this information unless they are specifically and explicitly invited to do so. Typically, they don’t speak up because they are afraid of being the messenger. When staff does speak up, offer positive reinforcement and public acknowledgement.
As a CEO and former EA myself, I have the deepest respect for the responsibility and stress you have as a CEO. Empowering your carefully selected EA can make all the difference in your life.
Please contact me if I can assist you, your EA and your company.