Real Careers: Advice for Execs

Throughout April, I’ve been highlighting Real Careers alumni’s insights.  We’ve looked at time management, how and when to say no, and celebrated individuals’ career accomplishments.


We’re turning the tables, and looking at advice for executives who are new to working with an assistant. How do these suggestions resonate in your world? Do they reflect your executive’s approach to working with you?

Whether your and your principal are new to one another or have been a team for some time, these recommendations from Real Careers alumni might stimulate a meaningful conversation with your boss.


Margo Baptista, Canada: Provide lots of information, background and context so the assistant can understand how s/he fits in a situation and how the situation fits into the bigger picture. Even the simplest request or task is often connected to something bigger and meaningful.

Juliana Carneiro, The Netherlands: Your assistant deserves the same professional respect that you have for all your other direct reports. Remember that, and you two will go a very long way together.

Kerry Dawson, England: Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more. We do not bite; we are there to help and support you in achieving your aims. Let us support you in the best way we know how, by being awesome support for you. Have your PA involved (even if it’s just on the fringes) in everything you are working on, and you’ll have a cheerleading section with you at all times.


Stacy Leitner, USA:  I would recommend that the new executive spend quality time with the assistant in sharing information, asking questions, and getting to really know one another. The work partnership between the executive and assistant is so critical in today’s workplace.

Anel Martin, South Africa: Assistants are much more intelligent and resourceful than you think. Recruit an assistant that has the right attitude and someone that you get on well with, the rest can be learnt. Once you have built up trust, learn to delegate!

Diana, Germany: Loyalty, trust and transparency are extremely important for assistants in their working relationship with a boss. It would be hard for me to work with a boss who did not trust me. I always commit myself 100% to my manager and expect the same in return – just like a good marriage!


Emeka Otoba, Nigeria: Delegate some of your work and trust your assistant. Give your assistant the chance to develop a good working relationship with you as an executive; it empowers him/her to be more effective.

Jacqui Quigley, Republic of Ireland:  Have that first important meeting, and get to know your assistant. Your relationship, regardless of the role, is based on trust, honesty and sincerity. Your assistant is going to have your back at all costs, so treat her/him well. Flesh out the role, and discuss how you both work and the tasks that are most important for your assistant to prioritise, i.e., how long you would like your meetings to run, what times you start and finish, if you have lunch or work through lunch.

Your assistant knows how to do her job, so leave the rest to her. As I was told once by a former boss, “You are more than ‘just’ a PA to me, you are the influencer behind it all”.

Julia Schmidt, Norway: Firstly, I would say, “Make your EA feel a part of your management team.” Then I would add, “Give priority to your one-to-one meetings with your EA and come prepared to the meeting. Bring feedback with you, and feel comfortable to delegate any tasks and trust your assistant.”


John D. Shaw, USA:  First and foremost: trust and transparency. When you have those two things established, everything else will fall into place.

Catherine Thomas, Wales: My advice to a new executive would be to talk to your assistant all the time and, if possible, have a morning catch up and an end of the day one.  I always call my Director in the morning if she isn’t coming into the office, and at the end of the day before I leave, to find out what has happened in the day that I need to be aware off – it’s invaluable.

As an executive you need to share what’s happening and when. What and when are the pressure points? What are the things to look out for?  How do you as an executive work? Do you like to take your time to write papers or work up to the wire? If you had a fab assistant in the past, what did s/he do that was so good? Would you allow your assistant to attend meetings with you as an observer? How do you like your minutes taken? This is a major one for me, and why the majority of PAs struggle with minutes. If you don’t know how your Chair likes them done, you will never get it right – always ask the question.

Catherine Williamson, England: Keep communications open and keep your assistant informed. S/he will learn to know how to prioritise according to your requirements by getting to know what’s important to you.

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