Robust Communication: The Key to a Dynamic Executive-Assistant Partnership

For the past five years, FlyPrivate has been a proud partner and associate of Jan Jones. Jan brings valuable, actionable information to EAs across the globe. We hope you enjoy her blogs as much as we do! In this article, Author Jan Jones discusses robust communication for executive assistants.

The idea that an executive assistant is a “business partner” with their executive is widely held and enjoying popularity today. Of course, astute executives have forged successful working alliances with their stellar assistants for eons, by understanding the immense talent an exceptional assistant brings to the table.

How did they come to understand it? Mostly by observing assistants in action throughout the various stages of business. As executives came up through the ranks, they saw assistants at every level of the organization taking on increasing levels of responsibility and developing their capabilities. These executives skillfully harnessed and nurtured that assistant talent as the assistant grew in stature, developed their confidence, deepened their business acuity and became a “seamless extension of the executive”© as I say in my book, “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”.

How often have you heard it said about an exceptional assistant “she runs the place?” Have you ever wondered how these assistants came to “run the place” and have the self-assurance to do it? I was fortunate to be one of those nurtured talents known to “run the place”, so may I share first hand that we didn’t do it by sheltering behind email and voicemail when our executives were sitting in an office beside us. We didn’t send text messages to our executives instead of getting in front of them to have a conversation about things.

Assistants who “run the place” understand that the responsibility for developing communication with our executives is in our hands, so we take every opportunity to be in personal proximity to them because we know that to gain their confidence and respect, and help them run the business we need to:

  • Know what they know
  • Think like they think
  • Sound like they sound
  • Experience their emotions, body language, verbal cues in order to be clear on how they feel about things, and act on their behalf accordingly
  • Use the terminology they use so they know we understand what they are talking about.

Executives need big-thinking assistants with a wide range of talents, who give them the edge in a hyper-competitive global economy. Getting this in today’s technology-dependent environment may be another matter because of the way many assistants are choosing to interact with their executives and teams.

When the practice of assistants texting and emailing their executives who are sitting right next to them came to my attention, I reacted with disbelief. How, I asked, does an executive tolerate such a thing, but more importantly why would an assistant not take the opportunity to get face-to-face with their executive so they are constantly on their executive’s radar?

“My boss doesn’t let me” is a common refrain from assistants. On closer examination, often it is because the assistant did not previously step up, became complacent, or got discouraged and stopped trying after initial approaches failed. One executive told me, “She better try harder to get my attention”. I urge assistants to remember your success or failure is always in your hands. Persist, but be smart about it so your executive doesn’t see you as a nuisance. You are responsible for taking the initiative because you have the most to lose in terms of opportunities, job satisfaction, growth and advancement if you don’t.

Assistants, your executive is your best advocate and integral to your success. If you’ve been passive in your communication, if you’ve been cloistered behind electronic communication, or relying too much on AI and technology to increase your value and skills, then forgive your boss for forgetting you exist. If your boss rarely interacts with you in person, you won’t spring to mind when an exciting project comes up that you’d be ideal for. They won’t use you as a sounding board, treat you as a confidant, rely on your counsel, or consider you their “eyes and ears”. You’ll struggle to be an influencer and won’t have credibility because you haven’t established it.

If your relationship with your executive is to function as a dynamic partnership, and not just today’s feel-good buzzword, begin taking steps to spend time in each other’s company as frequently as possible. Schedule time to meet and catch up, even briefly. Pop your head in the door and ask that question you might otherwise text about. Often, when I did that, my executives would invite me in to discuss further, or ask my opinion about something they were working on. Those exchanges established rapport. I discovered my opinion mattered to my executive. In those one-on-one sessions I learned far more than I realized at the time. They helped me become expert at my job and grow in stature as a valued assistant. It was not a mere partnership, it was a dynamic partnership – compelling, productive and effective. Listening and learning directly from my executives set the foundation for the business know-how I apply in my own business today.

Now, I’m not saying don’t e-mail or text your executive. Electronic communication is the lifeblood of business and the convenience and practicality is irreplaceable in today’s workplace. What I’m saying is use your discretion. When you can communicate face-to-face, do so. If your executive is away and you have a challenging situation, pick up the phone, or use FaceTime, etc., to talk it through. You’ll quickly gauge where things stand when you hear tone, agreement, disagreement, pleasure or frustration. From that you’ll learn how to handle a situation the next time it arises. Over time, your confidence and independence will flourish and your value to the partnership will be strengthened.

Commitment is paramount. If face-to-face communication has not been a frequent practice your executive may object, so you’ll need to persist. Pick your moments, but keep getting in front of your executive. Make your presence known. Elevate your profile. Earn their confidence. They may feel confused by your new-found desire to take charge and expand your influence. But if you explain that you want to develop a proactive partnership, your executive will probably welcome your initiative. Always be clear with your executive that you are not claiming you are their “partner”, but rather you desire to function in a partnership, like allies working together. It will make a difference to those executives who feel hostile to assistants who claim they are a “business partner”. Yes, many don’t like it, especially if the assistant has not yet proved themselves in their executive’s eyes.

Every executive who wishes to be more effective will appreciate a proactive, resourceful assistant who wants to learn and contribute more. Once you and your executive experience the value of frequent, face-to-face communication and commit to it, you will start functioning in a true alliance, sharing vision, responsibility, knowledge and experiences that enhance your performance and keep you productive, energized, engaged and fulfilled by your work.

©The CEO’s Secret Weapon. This article and any text extracted from “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” are the intellectual property and ©Jan Jones 2019. All rights reserved. No unauthorized usage or duplication by any means is permitted without the express consent of the author.

Author: Jan Jones

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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.

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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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