As a successful Executive Assistant, I often get asked by young assistants, who are just starting their career, what the secrets are to my ability to support my manager so well. I’ve moved up the ranks in numerous companies, in numerous fields from private industry to local municipalities to government contractors, and no matter where I start, I move up quickly. The secrets to my success revolve around these key elements:
Above all else, an assistant should adapt to the working style of his or her manager. And the higher up the corporate ladder that manager sits, the more adaptable the assistant must be, as the demands of the job will be greater. Adaptability allows for a seamless transition between managers when organizations rearrange departments, promote managers, or hire new managers from the outside. In order to succeed in this type of changing environment, an assistant must be able to learn the manager’s style quickly and efficiently, and roll with the changes.
Trust and Discretion
A successful assistant should be both assistant and sounding board for his or her manager. Trust is built, not just given freely, so it’s imperative to keep private conversations between assistant an manager exactly that: private. Don’t share information that the manager has specifically said to keep between the two of you. Treat all information coming in and going out of your office with the utmost discretion. Don’t gossip about goings on within the office. Be the pillar of trust that your manager can depend on, and your reputation for being a solid confidant will serve you in the future.
Protective, but Not Insulating
As the assistant, you manage calendars and assist in ensure manager’s are where they need to be, as well as prevent certain meetings from taking place by negotiating meeting times with other admins in your organization. However, while you need to protect your manager from unwanted visitors, meetings, or phone calls, never insulate your manager so much that he or she seems unapproachable. Be willing to work with others in the organization to ensure your manager is available and approachable. It’s a fine line to dance, but if you can perfect it, your manager will come off looking stellar to anyone requesting meetings.
Projects come up, deadlines are unmovable, and late hours are sometimes necessary. The old adage of ”your procrastination is not my emergency” does not work on a high quality assistant. No matter the notice, no matter the task, an extraordinary assistant will find a way to make it work. Be flexible in your hours, be flexible in your problem solving, and think outside the box when necessary to get things done. Meet those deadlines. Complete those projects perfectly. Go the extra step to ensure everyone is happy who is involved to make your manager look good. If he or she looks good, then you also look good.
Boundaries are key to a successful relationship between manager and assistant. Friendship is not necessary, in fact, in my experience, it can be a detriment. Mutual respect and professionalism should be the foundation of the relationship, not friendship. Save friendship for after work, and for your friends. Keep the focus at work on the work, and your manager will be grateful for it, as this minimizes drama, and sets the tone for a good reputation for your office. While a drink at an office holiday party may be inevitable, happy hour at the bar across the street with the boss on a regular basis could cause undo gossip and problems down the way. Keep the boundaries clear, and your manager will respect you for it.
It’s these five key elements that have allowed me to support executives at very high levels, and do so successfully. Every time I’ve made a career jump, it was always with the support of my current manager, as the respect they had for me, due to my extraordinary performance was something they championed. Follow these five key elements, and any assistant can go from ordinary to extraordinary.