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Executives: How much effort do you put into your assistant’s career?

ID-100111377Behind every great boss is a great assistant…wouldn’t you agree? The sheer variety of tasks they’re required to demonstrate and the attention to detail they need to apply demand a hugely diverse range of skills. Consider: could you do your job anywhere near as well without them?

According to the Global PA Association, too few bosses place much thought towards their assistants’ careers. Rosemary Parr, assistant to Sir Christopher Bland when he was head of BT, said: “Sir Christopher told me that once I’d got to the top, as his PA, I didn’t need any more development. He was being a devil’s advocate but often that’s what chief executives are thinking. They need to understand that the more you help people to develop, the better they will do their job for you.”

I’ve spoken before about the merits of delegation. Involving key staff in decisions means they’re able to contribute relevant information. The eyes and ears of the executive assistant, for instance, reach far wider, and across more levels, than the goal-driven, one-track-mind executive.

Degrees, initiative and emotional intelligence

Statistics show that only 40% of UK PAs have degrees, perhaps one area ripe for development. That said, it’s not easy to get an assistant with whom you have a good working relationship, who can think like you think and spot things you miss. If you have this kind of connection, with an executive assistant who’s professional and intuitive, it’s common sense to consider boosting their skills gaps than hiring, instead, a new graduate who may consequently have little experience and initiative, and possibly, poor emotional intelligence and a lack of self-reliance.

Given the deep understanding an executive assistant has of their boss’ role, it’s not unthinkable that they may be an appropriate replacement if he/she moves on – another reason to be concerned with the boosting of any skills/qualifications gaps. And carving out a clear development path for your executive will lead to a more engaged and productive employee.

A pivotal role, not just a fetcher/carrier

One of the main aims of an executive assistant is to make their boss look good, to pick up on any mistakes he/she has made before they’re noticed, to prompt and to feed back, and also to build a contingency for the unexpected. Some days, they’re expected to work miracles. They’re time-savers, as well as occasional life-savers, filtering what’s urgent from what can wait. They’re pivotal to an executive’s operations, making what’s commonly a hectic, over-committed 9-5, a smooth and rewarding day. Is it unfair, therefore, to reward them, perhaps with a leadership role of their own?

Clearly they have the skills, and it’s unwise to make them feel as if they’ve reached their ‘limit’, in case they look elsewhere for more challenges than what you may perceive as simply booking your next flight or collecting your Starbucks. Do you know, for example, how much your executive assistant does in his/her daily role? Have you an idea of the range of skills he/she applies during their working week? Whilst it’s crucial that your PA knows your role inside out, do you have a similar understanding of what you expect of them?

Standing in for the boss

For instance, a recent survey of over 1700 PAs and Executive Assistants showed that, “nearly 20% regularly make recommendations that their bosses act upon, regarding important strategic and financial issues. 20% take regular meetings in place of their manager, and over 30% manage vital company-wide projects.” More ‘heart of the organisation’ than ‘right-hand man/woman’.

The role of the executive assistant is, nowadays, more than just a support role. It’s one that can be moulded into a bespoke, highly specialised position. Some executives clearly value their assistants, demonstrated by their insistence that they go with them when offered a new executive position with another organisation. It makes sense: why spend time creating rapport and a well-crafted, smooth working relationship with someone who may not have the same diplomacy, people management skills or ability to organise fine details, when you can bring this with you?

Michael Hayman, co-founder of Seven Hills, adds this: “They say that knowledge is power. And it is. An assistant of mine was once snapped at by someone who insisted they speak to the boss. They obviously did not understand that they already were. The conversation never happened.”

Perhaps it’s time to take stock and consider not what your assistant can do for you, but what you can do for them….

Angela Sabin is an executive coach who helps her clients succeed and progress within their career, and to also remove obstacles that are impacting their life. Contact Angela on 01302 220021 for a free, no obligation chat about your needs and circumstances, or email her at angela.sabin@executive-life-coaching.co.uk.

With thanks to stock images at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the image.

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