Q & A with Jan Jones: Part 4
Jan Jones is the author of “The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness”. The book debuted at #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases in the Office Management Category. It has received widespread acclaim from executives and executive assistants worldwide. Jan spent 20 years as an esteemed international executive assistant to well-known business people, including personal development icon and author Tony Robbins. Jan is passionate about the executive assistant role and continues to champion the profession through speaking, mentoring and offering timeless, practical advice that is relevant to the day-to-day role of the executive assistant.
FlyPrivate: What are the top 5 traits an EA should have in order to succeed?
Jan Jones: In my book “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”, I devote 3 chapters to discussing the Crucial Characteristics of an Exceptional Executive Assistant. I categorize the traits into the “tangible” and “intangible” characteristics that make up an exceptional executive assistant, because I’m convinced that what sets the exceptional executive assistant apart from other assistants are these intangible traits which can be hard to quantify, particularly for an executive who has not had an assistant before.
- The Ability to Anticipate: The executives and assistants I interviewed for my book all said that anticipation is the number one most desirable characteristic of an exceptional executive assistant. Anticipating by constantly looking ahead and beyond what is happening now, so that the executive is always protected from any unwanted surprises. Executives who had assistants with good anticipation skills could not praise their assistants highly enough and gave numerous accounts of how their assistants saved the day and averted potential trouble. They repeatedly used the phrase “my assistant has my back”.
- Resourcefulness: I rank resourcefulness equal first with anticipation. Both traits require assistants to be solution oriented and quick on their feet. Being able to look ahead is vital, but being able to take action to avert a mishap, to know what to do, whom to call, which direction to go, this ability is crucial if you are to get the problem fixed, often without the executive even knowing there was a problem. That’s what makes a resourceful assistant so valuable. Publisher Steve Forbes told me his assistant is “always figuring out how to get things done”. An exceptional assistant doesn’t just identify a problem, they fix it. And their talent isn’t limited to fixing problems. Just as vital, they have the ability to look ahead and see opportunities that will benefit the company. I give examples in my book about forward-looking assistants who saved their companies money by being resourceful.
Other top traits include:
Decision-Making Ability: This allows the assistant to step in for their boss when necessary. Being able to make good decisions means the assistant must understand the business and the industry their company is in and understand thoroughly what decision their boss would make. This is why I say an exceptional executive assistant is a seamless extension of the executive. There is no doubt that what the assistant is saying or doing is what the executive would say or do. It goes beyond confidence. It means the assistant must have a firm grasp of the business and think like the executive would. They must have excellent “big picture” skills to be able to grasp the vision and objectives so they can make effective decisions. None of this is possible unless the executive and assistant communicate frequently and take time to meet face-to-face as often as possible. Face-to-face meetings allow the assistant to pick up on subtle clues about their boss that they can’t get from electronic communication.
- Organizational Skills: You can’t manage an executive or a team if you can’t manage yourself. The ability to create and keep order is a vital skill for an executive assistant who must be able to put their hands on whatever they need at a moment’s notice. In addition to an orderly workspace, all files must be up-to-date, the status of all projects must be readily known, work inflow and out flow handled quickly, outstanding issues followed up and status updated or finalized. Nothing can be allowed to fall through the proverbial cracks.
- Focused & Detail Oriented: Because assistants are constantly being pulled in many directions, they must have excellent ability to focus, to quickly re-group after distractions and get back on track. Exceptional executive assistants are obsessive about attention to detail, whether it’s sending out error-free correspondence, or having good spelling and grammar. An exceptional assistant knows how to apply the apostrophe correctly and never confuses “your” with “you’re”.
- Communication Skills: Exceptional executive assistants communicate with clarity and have strong speaking and writing skills. Since they are frequently speaking on behalf of their boss, they must communicate in a clear manner which conveys that they are in command, but also conveys approachability. The assistant must remember they are not the boss, they are the boss’ spokesperson. It carries a big responsibility and the tone and intent of the message must be accurate if the assistant is to engender credibility and respect.
- High Energy and Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm for the job and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done. A whatever-it-takes approach to the job is a major factor that separates an exceptional EA from the rest. An exceptional EA is a champion and cheerleader for their boss and their company, because many employees use the assistant to the CEO as a barometer of the company’s success and progress, or lack of it. High energy is imperative if you are going to keep pace with a demanding boss who is juggling a hundred balls and keeps tossing them to you.
Add in trust, integrity, loyalty, a strong sense of responsibility, diplomacy, and many other traits that I expand upon in my book, to scratch the surface of the characteristics that help the assistant function as the “eyes and ears” as well as the “right arm” of their executive. It’s what makes them so highly prized by the executive who understands the value they bring. Donald Trump told me, “I know my assistant can handle anything that comes along.” How reassuring for an executive to have that level of certainty about their assistant. How satisfying for an assistant to know they are enjoying that level of trust from their boss.
Visit Amazon to purchase Jan Jones’ new book and visit her website: The CEO’s Secret Weapon.
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