Real Careers: Advice for Execs (2)

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 again turning the tables, and looking at advice for executives who are new to working with an assistant. Here are some more recommendations from Real Careers alumni.

Joanna Campbell, Canada: Ensure you can trust your Assistant. If you can’t trust them, you need to find a new once. Once you have that trust, the two of you will be an effective team.

Bianca Constance, USA: I would encourage a new executive to take his/her assistant out for coffee and conversation – find out the assistant’s strengths, encourage him/her to join a professional association in order to engage in meaningful professional development, tell the assistant what your expectations are and find out what your assistant’s expectations are. If the new executive understands that the assistant is his/her business partner, then the relationship has a far better chance of moving in the right direction and being beneficial to both individuals.

Bonnie Cookson, England: Always keep your door open. Have regular 1:1s with your assistant and keep her/him up to speed with every single aspect of the business. Treat your assistant like a business partner. The more s/he knows, and the more responsibility s/he is given, the more likely your assistant is to be the best possible assistant and give you the best possible support you need.


Jennifer Corcoran, England: I think it’s good to sit down and go through the initial job spec together and flesh it out. Outline how you will work together, and preferred styles of communication.

Lorna Cowan, Northern Ireland:  I would advise to not underestimate how valuable a good assistant can be. Include your assistant in key business decisions and make sure that s/he has a good overall understanding and knowledge of the organisation’s goals and business plans. Trust that if your assistant is kept in the loop, knows who the key stakeholders are and the general direction of focus, they can anticipate potential issues, build good working relationships, identify networking opportunities and problem solve. Your Assistant is your representative and should be able to act on your behalf. Knowledge is power.

Debs Eden, England: Listen to us – we’ve got a lot to offer and a huge amount of experience to share.


Susan Engelbrecht, South Africa: Communication is vital! It is very important to have a strong and healthy relationship with your PA. Tell her what is expected of her; don’t let her guess. A troubled relationship will negatively affect her morale, productivity and happiness to work with you.

Debbie Grimshaw, England: Work as a team, and have a regular debrief. For me, the most important part of my working relationship with Phil is that we communicate well; he makes time for me and he has complete trust in me. We sit down once a week and go through the diary right to the end of the year. He keeps me fully briefed on upcoming events, changes, sensitive issues, his movements and times of pressure when he will need space and distance. This enables me to recognise when I need to keep his diary and his office door guarded, prioritising who or what gets his attention. He also allows me the opportunity to speak up about any concerns I have in the office that I think may have an impact on the business.

Support your assistant in her/his personal development. The assistant is the lynchpin keeping the office pumping at full speed, establishing and maintaining working relationships with staff at all levels and making things happen, so appreciate her/his talent, skills and competence. With support and the opportunity to advance their skills, assistants they can make your life easier by allowing you to achieve more with your time. Understand what matters to them and take an interest in their life outside of the office.

MistiLynn Lokken, USA: The first step in your success is to learn what your assistant’s strengths are, being aware that they may not fit inside a strict job description. I would recommend asking your assistant for ideas of how to best work together, they may have suggestions that you hadn’t yet considered. Admins who feel supported by their executive and are allowed to develop their strengths will go to the moon for you.


Michela Luoni, Italy: While time is precious, take 10 minutes at least once a week to sit down with her/him and review your priorities, plans, and expectations. S/he could be the best business card for your company, and a brand ambassador of your corporate values. Don’t underestimate your assistant.

Paula Moio, England: Trust, empower, stimulate and reward your assistant. Fulfilled, s/he will be your most reliable business partner and can be one of your best assets to ensure the success of the team.

Angela Parker, Germany: If the assistant has been in place longer than the new manager: Trust the assistant’s experience, judgment and contacts. Let her show you the ropes. Appreciate what she can do for you. Treat her with the same respect you want her to give you.


Marelva Rodrigues, The Netherlands: Build a trust. When the trust, understanding and mutual respect are there, it makes the job so much easier.

Michele Thwaits, South Africa: Communicate, communicate, communicate. This is probably the aspect most lacking in many a relationship between assistant and executive. Let your assistant know what is expected of him/her, and allow the assistant to let you know what s/he expects of you as the executive. Work together at compromise.

Respect and trust are also very important. If you want respect, you need to respect your assistant and appreciate him/her just as you would expect.

Barbara Unger, Canada: Take some time at the beginning of your partnership to learn about each other’s families, interests and annoyances, as it’s important to know the person who is supporting you. It’s also important to know how to best communicate with each other when you’re in and out of the office, so set up regular huddles to take care of business needs and to limit interruptions. Understanding what makes each of you more efficient will then allow for seamless completion of work, and productive days.

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