Real Careers: Advice for Execs (4) – Communication and Trust

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.

Janice Anderson, Australia/England:  Make the time to meet with your new assistant, explain how you like to work, and then find how she/he likes to work – you may have different styles and it will help to understand this from the start of your working relationship. It is one of the questions I ask during interviews and again during my first meeting with my new executive.

Amanda Barlow, England: What is your expectation of your assistant? Set these expectations out to your assistant early on, so that you both know and understand what is expected.

Laureen Dailey, Canada: Communicate, and trust in your assistant’s abilities.

Giulettta Driver, England:  Keep an open dialogue.  Meet with your assistant regularly and don’t be afraid to ask for her/his advice. Experienced assistants have a lot of knowledge – wider than their actual remit, and it’s always useful to pick their brains.

Sherri Eckworth, England: Find out how they like to work, and their preferences. Find out what you have in common, and shared likes and interests. Communicate how much your assistant is valued for what s/he does and the support offered. If s/he also supports others, don’t always expect to be number one and understand the need to prioritise.

Chantalle Freeborough, Canada: Communication is the key! Share as many of your ideas with your assistant as you can. Let your assistant know that you want her/him to succeed, too, because you are a team. Let your assistant know that you are approachable and open to his/her ideas; an idea can evolve and come to fruition through others’ input, and no idea is a bad one. You can also find out things you simply didn’t know, or methods you wouldn’t have otherwise explored when you work together as a team; it builds both your strengths and brings range to your portfolio. Also, be sure to show your appreciation for a job well done.

Melissa Francis, England: Commit to building a strong working relationship with your EA; really value her / his efforts to make your day a smoother, less challenging experience and recognise your EA’s skillset – you’d be surprised at what skills from previous roles and knowledge s/he can bring to the table. Treat the Exec and Assistant roles as an alliance and be mindful of your EA’s need, as well as your own, to grow, learn and develop inside and out of the organisation. As a result, you’ll both reap the benefits of an honest and supportive partnership.

Stephanie Fryer, England: There is no such thing as too much information! Sit down with your assistant and go through everything there is to know about you – from your favourite sandwich to how you like your presentations. It will make your EA effective quickly.  And always say thank you!

Kim Glover, England:  Invest time and effort in developing the relationship. If you’re lucky, your assistant could support you your whole career. Treat your Assistant as your business partner – the two of you are a team – and share information about the work you are doing, what you want to achieve, and how s/he can support you in it.

Invest time and effort in developing the relationship. If you’re lucky, your assistant could support you your whole career. Treat your Assistant as your business partner – the two of you are a team – and share information about the work you are doing, what you want to achieve, and how s/he can support you in it.

Jill Goertzen, Canada:  Have an open door policy. Be willing to give your assistant work (don’t think you need to do the whole PPT presentation on your own, or that you need to schedule your own meetings). The assistants are there for a reason … be sure to use them! Give priority levels for tasks you’re giving your assistant so s/he knows what to work on first and what can wait.  Any preferences you can give your assistant will help, as well; the assistant should write them down so s/he doesn’t need to ask again!

Leeanne Graham, England: Take time to understand exactly what you want to get from your assistant. Why have your hired her/him? Build a real relationship with your assistant and help her/him to understand exactly what you need from your assistant in order for you to be the best you can be at your job.

Cathy Harris, South Africa: You are in a strategic partnership with your assistant. Collaborate and communicate often, ask each other how your day is, and remember that your assistant has only your best professional interests at heart, all the time, and every day! Treat your assistant the way you would want to be treated.

Susan Henderson, England: Communicate effectively and meet regularly. An assistant needs to download her/his executive’s brain at least weekly to be sure s/he has everything on their radar and is aware of developments and changing priorities (some may have occurred outside the office).

Respect that your assistant has a job to do and work in partnership with him/her. Do not constantly cancel meetings with your assistant; it’s probably one of your most valuable meetings of the day, and it will make your assistant feel undervalued. You are your assistant’s priority, and s/he should be yours.  Make the time and it will pay dividends. Listen, support, value, appreciate, respect and help your assistant be the best they can be.

Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha, Uganda:  I am here to support you as your strategic partner, to ensure you shine professionally and deliver on all your assignments. For this to happen, you need to give me the opportunity to fully support you professionally and to allow time for face to face meetings to ensure we do not drop the ball. Your trust is very vital and critical for me to perform.

Florence Katono, Uganda: The executive-assistant relationship is a partnership. That’s the one that should be worked on first; everything else will flow. Good communication is important. Many times executives think things and do not communicate them. It’s important to communicate even the flimsiest of things. I would also advise forming a strategic partnership. If an executive gives the assistant support and values the assistant’s efforts, s/he would do anything to make the executive shine.

Sofie Koark, Sweden: Take the time to really get to know your EA. Let him/her in 100% in your life. Give free access to calendar, emails, task lists and meetings and encourage him/her to be proactive and act when appropriate. Have a default mode in your mind: “Can my EA help me with this?” Don’t spend your time on things your EA could be doing. Read the HBR article “The Case For Executive Assistants”, which really emphasises this.

Don’t undervalue your time; delegate more. A good EA will see where s/he can plug in and take things that you are not even aware of off your plate, but that only happens if you give your EA total access. Communicate much more than you think. Copy him/her on emails. We need all the details and the “why” behind the “what” to be able to fill in the blanks and execute things in the best way possible.

Form a partnership with your EA and invest in him/her long-term, helping her/him develop and grow. Encourage and push your EA to try new things and take on projects to be fulfilled in the role. Give regular feedback, and acknowledgment and praise in front of others. Choose someone with a high EQ; someone who is skilled in communication and dealing with people. Someone you are comfortable with and can have fun with. Acknowledge that “ordinary things done consistently bring extra ordinary result.”  If things just seem to run smoothly, then you can be sure that there is a lot of work behind it – and problems solved that you never even had to be bothered with.

Helen Le Poidevin, England: Spend time getting to know your PA on both work and personal levels. Your PA is going to be your right arm, so you need to work well together as a team and understand each other.

Marion Lowrence, England: Tell your assistant what you liked about your previous PAs and, more importantly, what you didn’t like. Tell your assistant what works for you and what doesn’t. However, do accept that new systems by your PA could work better once you are used to them; so listen to your PA – s/he may have a solution or a short cut to make your working life better. Have regular catch ups, and I mean at least weekly and preferably have an additional 10 minute catch up daily – it will help the days run smoothly, your meetings be what you actually need them to be and you will have a happier PA by just listening and discussing the day ahead at those catch ups!

Kelly McAulay, Scotland:  Communicate with them, believe in them and trust them.

Christina Martinez, USA: Executives need to communicate effectively how their EA can make their life easier by stretching their skill set. If you know they are inquisitive and capable, even if they have never done a particular task before, give them the opportunity to try. As the workplace continues to evolve, companies are realising their EAs are an integral part of their business – and companies are beginning to structure training opportunities for them.

Catrin Morgan, Wales:  Communicate with your Assistant! If you’ve got time to answer only one email, make sure it’s the one from your Assistant that’s marked “urgent”.

Donna Olliver, England: First you have to build the trust. Give your PA something that you are too busy to do and then let her/him do it. If you would like it changed to your style, explain how you’d like it changed. Next time, s/he will be able to hit the target first time, and it will save time.

Don’t be afraid to ask. Learn what things both of you are good at and you can work from there. Ask what s/he is struggling with time wise or in general, and start with that.  If you can take the burden off, then you are half way there.

Rosy Painter, England: Take time to find out about your assistant’s background and what connections s/he has. Previous experience could do wonders for the executive.  Also, spend time to find out what s/he is capable of; it could save a lot of headaches.

Teely Pearson-Webb, England: Let them support you, do not try to mirco-manage them. This is what THEY have chosen to do for THEIR career, so let them do just that.

Dalya PerryBernstein, England: Get to know each other. By that, I mean ask the assistant to attend meetings with the executive so that s/he can see what you do, how you work, how important the work is to you, and ascertain goals. Ask for and respect the assistant’s opinion. Value the work s/he does and show appreciation. Allow the assistant to progress in his/her career by encouraging attendance at CPD events and networking, even if it means time out of the office; it will benefit you in the long run.

Melanie Sheehy, England: They need to set expectations and use their PA rather than leaving her/him to get bored.  Communication is key to making it work.

Katherine Vaillancourt, Canada: Keep open communication. I have been very lucky with the executives with whom I’ve worked. By being able to communicate with one another, you gain a perspective of expectations, what is required and what you both want to accomplish. By having continued open conversations, your relationship builds into a partnership.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: