Q & A with Jan Jones: Why is Emotional Intelligence Relevant for Executive Assistants?

In this article, Author Jan Jones discusses why Emotional Intelligence is relevant to the executive assistant role.

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FlyPrivate: Why is Emotional Intelligence relevant for executive assistants?

Jan Jones: Emotional Intelligence is about our inter-personal and intra-personal skills. It is typically abbreviated as “EI” or “EQ” (Emotional Quotient). It’s a hot topic, but it’s not a new idea. The term Emotional Intelligence was coined in 1985 by Wayne Payne in a paper he wrote about developing emotional intelligence. Two psychology professors, John Mayer and Peter Salovey wrote a paper in 1990 using the term. In 1995 Daniel Goleman wrote the book “Emotional Intelligence” and an article for Harvard Business Review called “What Makes A Leader”. The article contributed to the topic becoming important for business leaders and business people in general.

EI is relevant for assistants because they perform the tricky balancing act of facing outward towards the client and inward towards their executives and teams, so assistants need to develop all-around expertise in managing a multitude of inter-personal relationships.

So, it is highly relevant, but not in a soppy, touchy-feely way, which is how some assistants perceive EI, in order to vindicate their emotional responses to situations. EI is about bringing a level of emotional maturity that must be developed in order to handle the wide-ranging functions an assistant performs in the course of their day, dealing with an array of personalities, who sometimes are the opposite of each other.

During the lockdown, several EAs have been at the forefront of making sure their executives are demonstrating emotional intelligence. We have heard incessantly how leaders are having their emotional intelligence tested, and what they need to do to convey psychological safety, empathy and understanding to their teams, while remaining optimistic and encouraging collaboration. Since demonstrating emotional intelligence is important for executives, it has to also be important for their executive assistants who serve as their spokespersons.

Interestingly, a just-released report from Korn Ferry is good news for executive assistants. It’s also something I reported in my popular article for Chief Executive Magazine about how executive assistants were stepping forward to make an impact during those early days of Covid lockdown. From Korn Ferry: “There’s been a distinct and permanent mindset shift among leaders that tech skills aren’t everything,” says Esther Colwell. “They saw how people with agility, empathy, and emotional intelligence were the ones who really helped them through, and plan to invest in those kinds of people more.”

With this in mind, I revisited my earlier interview with UK business trainer Heather Dallas, to discuss the work she is doing teaching businesses about emotional intelligence, and more specifically, her work teaching assistants about emotional intelligence.

Jan Jones: Heather, during the Covid lockdown, demonstrating emotional intelligence seems to be a higher priority. Apart from the fact that their executives are serious about understanding and developing emotional intelligence, why is EI relevant for executive assistants?

Heather Dallas: I’ve seen growing interest in this topic over the past few years and during the pandemic, clients are wanting to learn about it even more. I teach a course on emotional intelligence for executive assistants, and have seen a considerable increase in interest recently. Assistants understand that as they serve their executives and the organization at large, they need to develop the vital skills that make up the components of emotional intelligence. Because executive assistants are the public “face” of their executives, it is even more important for them to embody the traits of emotional intelligence.

JJ: I heard Daniel Goleman speak at a conference. He said that
basically emotional intelligence is how we handle ourselves, manage ourselves, lead ourselves, and how we handle our relationships.

HD: Yes, and here are a couple of theoretical definitions I use to explain emotional intelligence:

– The ability to understand how emotions affect behavior, and do something with that information.

–  Developing awareness of your emotions and behaviors through self-reflection and noting feedback from others.

JJ: I like the idea that in addition to understanding how emotions
affect behavior, that there is guidance on what to do with that
information because we need to put the ideas into practice every day.

HD: Exactly. In summary, it’s inter-personal skills, meaning how you relate to others, your rapport skills, which are the central pillars in communication. Your relationship management, your intra-personal skills, meaning how self-aware you are, how authentic you are. What buttons are you pressing in others that you are not aware of?

JJ: How self-aware you are leads you to understand the effect your words and actions have on others. This is especially important for executive assistants who often have to relay messages from their executives to team members and employees across the organization. If the executive is tone deaf, the assistant must make certain that they finesse the message in order to make it easier for others to digest. In my early days as an assistant, I thought I was supposed to mirror the tone of my executive. This sometimes caused problems until a colleague helped me to understand that I could convey the message just as easily and effectively, if I took the edge off. It was an early lesson in EI about building business social skills.

Heather, what are some elements that can help executive assistants develop and expand their EI, in order to increase their effectiveness in the EA role?

HD: Some other building blocks that make up emotional intelligence are:

Self-Awareness: Understanding your strengths, weaknesses, needs, what drives you. Being authentic, aware of the buttons you are pressing in others. Do you perceive yourself as others perceive you?

Motivation: Level of energy, passion, personal drive and enthusiasm for work, and commitment to goals. Being optimistic and positive. The desire for achievement and challenge.

Empathy: The ability to recognize, be sensitive to and consider
others’ feelings, needs and perspectives. Being able to understand, help and work with others and take an active interest in their concerns.

Decisiveness: Willingness to make decisions. The need for control and the level of comfort you have with decision-making responsibility.

Influence: The drive to influence, inspire and persuade others. To be heard and have an impact.

Adaptability: The desire for, and enjoyment of, variety in the workplace, the capacity to keep an open mind and be flexible with different and creative approaches. Being willing to make adjustments as necessary.

Conscientiousness: The need to plan and have structure, be diligent and meet deadlines, the level of comfort with conforming and following the rules.

Stress Resilience: The capability to relax and deal with the day-to-day pressures of work, the level of comfort with showing and managing emotions. For example, controlling or hiding your temper when provoked.

JJ: It has to start with self-awareness. The statistic is that the average person experiences emotions 90% of the time. Even though we are emotional beings, we don’t typically make much effort to become aware of our emotions and there are times when we actually indulge our emotions, like we see with bullying and hate speech on social media, for example.

HD: We have to become aware of our emotions in the moment they are happening and understand the effects those emotions are having on ourselves and others. When you are experiencing emotions such as anger or frustration, just slow down for a moment.

We have to learn to consciously control our emotions so we can respond appropriately. And there are times when there is no need for a response. Awareness is enough. Self-regulation shows discipline. It is a sign of maturity. There are some EI habits we are already good at and others will require practice.

JJ: I was surprised when I first heard of Motivation as being part of EI. I’ve always thought of motivation as an internal drive, something that is propelled by my personal passions and desires, pushing me to high achievement. I thought of EI as being external, influencing my inter-personal actions, how I related and acted with others.

HD: You are spot-on about motivation, Jan, but remember, EI is not only about the social side (our behavior with/towards others), it’s also about our behavior with ourselves. Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation and Motivation are the Self side of EI and Empathy and Social Skills are the Social side, the inter-personal, people skills side of EI.

Note: I’ve deliberately highlighted this response from Heather, because it is key to assistants staying engaged and motivated. To elaborate on your comments about motivation, Jan, it is important for assistants to have a regular personal check-in to examine what they need to do to keep motivated. Reminding yourself of your purpose is one way to rekindle your passion. What are you passionate about at work? Is it appreciation, more involvement, power, authority, intellectual stimulation, the culture and working environment, promotion prospects? Whatever it is that keeps you motivated and excited, find ways to do more of it. One daily exercise my clients find useful for motivation is to list “3 Good Things that Happened to Me Today.”

JJ: I hope assistants will take note of this, Heather, because there are assistants who wait for their executive to motivate them. They expect their executive to provide exciting projects for them to work on, or find ways to keep them happy and challenged. When assistants tell me they need more challenge in the job, my response often is that they should look for ways to challenge themselves. What can I do to keep interested and motivated? What’s not getting done that I can do? What initiative or project can I take on that doesn’t rely on my boss for direction or approval? What task will help excite me to stretch my ability and thinking, so when it’s done, I can truly appreciate myself and the effort I made?

Can you share an example of how you have worked with EAs on EI?

HD: Sure. A good example is the work I’ve been doing with an executive assistant who, even before the pandemic, was remotely managing other EAs in her company’s European offices. When we started working together, Elizabeth’s Empathy was an 8 (out of 10). She needed to bring that down as she was spending too much time on not offending her team and giving them feedback in a sensitive way. This linked in with her Stress Resilience that was only 2. Through awareness and coaching, Elizabeth is now a 7 on Stress Resilience, a 5 on Empathy and a 7 on Decisiveness.

JJ: What I like about the work you are doing is how EAs can learn to increase their EI, not only in developing their talent for management and leadership within their role, but also to make them more effective in growing that ability to take on additional opportunities.

HD: In my 30 years of experience working with EAs all over the world, I’ve seen a lot of under-utilized EA potential. My work with emotional intelligence can give assistants a framework to develop their skills, their awareness and fine-tune their communication ability.

JJ: Thank you Heather for sharing these specific tools for executive assistants to develop and refine their emotional intelligence skills. Now that we know the principles of emotional intelligence, we can start responding to life in emotionally intelligent ways.


Heather Dallas: A former executive assistant, Heather Dallas’ last EA role was at Deloitte UK. In 1990 she was asked to move into a new training role to introduce inter-personal skills training for the 1500 support staff at Deloitte UK, as well as many of the Deloitte offices globally. Heather left Deloitte in 2000 to set-up her own training and coaching business. After 19 years, Heather is proud to say she is still running programs for Deloitte.

Heather offers a range of programs for executive assistants in the UK and internationally.  Jan Jones Worldwide has proudly presented Heather’s training skills for events in numerous international training locations, including The Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.  Heather has been passionate about developing the role of the executive assistant for nearly 30 years and has an outstanding record with satisfied clients. To book Heather Dallas for your event, contact www.theceossecretweapon.com. www.dallasdevelopment.com


©The CEO’s Secret Weapon. The ideas expressed in this article and any text extracted from “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” are the intellectual property and copyrighted to Jan Jones. All rights reserved. No unauthorized usage or duplication by any means is permitted without the express consent of the author.

Author: Jan Jones

Want more from Jan Jones? Check out her Q & A Series!

Jan Jones is the author of “The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness.” The book 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 Tony Robbins, the world’s #1 business and life strategist. Jan continues to champion the executive assistant profession with her writing, consulting and speaking. She offers timeless, practical advice that is relevant to the day-to-day role of the executive assistant. 

Jan Jones Worldwide

Visit Amazon to purchase Jan Jones’ book and visit her website:
The CEO’s Secret Weapon.

The CEO’s Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness

Jan Jones

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