Human capital professionals spend a lot of time touting the benefits of identifying, training, and nurturing high potentials for future leadership positions – and as they should. Effective leadership is critical to the health of organizations. But while they are strengthening and advancing leaders, human capitalists must also consider how the individuals that directly support leaders are being developed.
Most senior executives now rely more than ever on their professional Executive Assistant, who fills the roles of “advance person,” and “right- and left-hand person.” This individual is at the level of business partner, whose job it is to provide strategic support with traditional administrative acuity, and serve as communication expert, technology resource, trouble-shooter, translator, help-desk attendant, diplomat, human database, weather advisor, travel consultant, sales executive, amateur psychologist, spousal interface, and ambassador to the inside and outside world. To this end, these individuals must be trained, developed, and constantly re-engaged to ensure effective problem-solving and relationship management to increase leadership performance.
The secret of a great Executive Assistant (EA) is threefold, and based on the principle of attitude, the breadth of collaboration, and the attention to detail. This is an experienced individual whose judgment, creativity, and skill saves executives’ time (which impacts company revenue and expenses), and expands executive span of control (which directly affects executive efficiency). Most EAs are positioned strategically in organizations, but the most effective are also empowered to act strategically. Great executive assistants are comfortable abiding by the dictate of probability: that professional life for the EA is a matter of probabilities; the predictable is seldom the outcome. Professional Executive Assistants are differentiated by five key behaviors. They:
- Think like the executive; see the business as a whole; know and understand the executive; watch him/her in action; observe non-verbal reactions; respond accordingly
- Read and digest all information that crosses executives’ desks; highlight and bring to executives’ attention the essential points; acquire a keen sense of where problems are most likely to exist and with whom, and seamlessly integrate all of this information into the planning, prioritizing and executing of each day’s events and tasks
- Flawlessly manage carefully engineered schedules and contingency plans
- Have a wide breadth of knowledge about relationships inside and outside the organization, and manage such relationships with poise and confidence
- Focus on results, maximize efficiency, utilize technology to manage information flow, storage and retrieval. Logic dictates.
Possessing and applying these skills are manifestations of intelligence and adaptability to change. Smart assistants pay attention to clues in executive behavior and shifts in temperament, because timing and judgment are the foundation of a smooth working relationship. Logic dictates. Assistants know that priorities and concerns change, and that they have to be on top of these shifts, all the time.
While Executive Assistants might not be perceived to fit the mold of up-and-coming organizational leaders, they play an essential and strategic role to ensuring organizations run smoothly and efficiently. Spending adequate time to identify, train, and nurture these individuals is an opportunity that should not be neglected. Does your current administrative staff behave in alignment with the organizations’ high-potential population? If not, perhaps they have been overlooked for training opportunities or access to job-improvement resources.
If you have hired the assistant who (1) is engaged in your work (2) knows your company’s business criteria, (3) knows what drives your decisions, (4) knows your triggers and sources of stress, (5) knows your areas of responsibilities and for what you will be held accountable, (6) knows how to incorporate his/her work into yours, and your company’s mosaic, (7) is “able to see around corners” and prepare for the worst, then compensate that person well, provide expanding challenges in the role, and support educational opportunities to enable this assistant to evolve into someone who will, even more strategically, contribute to your effective bottom line.
Guest Author Bio: Melba J. Duncan is the Founder and President of The Duncan Group Inc., a retained search and consulting firm. Since 1985, the firm has been advising CEOs and other corporate leaders regarding specialized senior management support resources. The firm operates on a national basis, and offers expertise in four practice areas: recruitment, organizational consulting, coaching and “executive-level” training for professional assistants. The Duncan Leadership Institute, with academic professionals, makes available educational programs in highly specialized skills to maximize the capabilities of current and next generation Senior-Level and C-Suite Assistants.