I’ve worked with several executive assistants over the years, and I have found it is a make-or-break relationship when it comes to my success.
Think about it: None of us can do it all on our own. We need to bring others into our work to help us succeed in it. And the bigger the dream, the more help we usually need.
In my corporate days, I had some very effective executive assistants, and I couldn’t imagine doing the work without them. The same has been true since going on my own again in 2011, though at first I thought I could just operate as a one-man show. I was wrong. I couldn’t.
It wasn’t long before I was completely buried in email, speaking requests, travel details, calendar complications, expense reports, and more. I knew I needed help. Fortunately, I found a virtual executive assistant who enabled me to dig out of my pile, offload the stuff I hated, and get back to the essentials.
I now have two virtual executive assistants working on my team, and I can’t imagine it functioning without them. But that doesn’t mean an executive assistant is a silver bullet for all our big hairy problems. An executive assistant is only as good as the working relationship.
There are a lot of ways to blow it with your executive assistant, and I have identified the top-ten mistakes leaders make with their executive assistants, regardless of whether they’re virtual or sitting right outside your office. If we can avoid these, we can amplify our chances for success:
1– We undervalue our true worth. How valuable is your time? Most of us don’t know, which is why we keep wasting so much of it on activities that don’t really matter. Without a doubt this is the No. 1 mistake people make with their executive assistants.
Take your total compensation and divide it across your available work hours. Now ask yourself: Is mailing that package, scheduling that meeting, or processing those invoices really worth that much? I bet not. If we really understood how much we’re worth, we’d hand off far more to our executive assistants.
2- We undervalue our executive assistants’ true worth. Some of us don’t appreciate the competence, talents, and skills of our executive assistants. We don’t trust them enough to delegate the important but time-consuming tasks that take us off mission. It’s like we’re stuck in an old-school “secretary” paradigm. The truth is that an executive assistant is really a full partner in achieving our goals.
3- We don’t communicate enough. Communication is key to working with an executive assistant, and yet I constantly see executive assistant relationships that suffer because leaders fail to provide necessary details about their work and even their private lives. If an executive assistant is a partner in achieving our goals, they will only be as effective as they are dialed into what’s happening. Keeping them in the dark only hurts our ability to succeed.
4- We don’t give the why behind the what. No. 4 is related to No. 3. A good executive assistants can fill in the blanks of tasks and projects if they know the rationale behind a task or project. When we don’t communicate adequate background and reasoning, we’re hampering our executive assistants’ ability to help us win.
5- We just don’t know how to delegate. If there’s a magic sauce to leadership, it’s delegation. Nothing will sink a leader faster than the inability to assign priorities and responsibilities.
But many of us don’t properly delegate to the one person working closest to us, our executive assistants. That’s a recipe for disaster. One executive assistant was straightforward about the problem: “If you don’t ask for something to be done ￼￼and then explain how you’d like it accomplished, I’m no good to you!”￼
6- We refuse to surrender our email and calendars. Some of us actually like managing our inboxes and schedules; others are just control freaks. Either way, it sucks up tons of time. Leaders who don’t delegate these two functions are killing their productivity.
7- We don’t open up. Some of us don’t share our lives enough with our executive assistants, but we could delegate so much more if we were more transparent about both our work and home life.
A good executive assistant will see where they can plug in and take things off our plates we’re not even aware of – but that only happens if we give them access. How many unnecessary tasks and low-payoff activities could you offload if you only gave your executive assistant permission?
8- We don’t play fair. Executive assistants get used to extraordinary requests; it’s sometimes part of the job. But if we are hypocritical about things, we can really undermine respect. For instance, to demand that your executive assistant be hyper responsive and then sit on a request ruins your credibility. We have to work toward the same standard we expect from our teammates.
9- We’re lousy about feedback. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind and miss opportunities to give our executive assistant insight into how they’re doing or what they could do to improve. Not only does this hurt our working relationship, but it’s also like shooting ourselves in the foot. Who benefits if our executive assistant improves? Who suffers if they don’t? Regular feedback is a must.
10- We expect too much access. As leaders, most of us are always on. We’re thinking about our business all the time – probably too much, actually. And we assume that everyone on the team should be on as well. The result is that we assume 24/7 service from our executive assistant is reasonable. It’s not. Especially if you’re working with a virtual executive assistant who is giving a set number of hours, going beyond that strains the working relationship. In the end, the executive assistant will be less effective, not more.
Our work it too important to go it alone. It’s also too important to undermine the very people responsible for helping us reach our goals. Having an effective working relationship with your executive assistant will enable you to achieve your core objectives while minimizing the clutter and distractions that sets you back.
What goals could you accomplish if you could make the most of your relationship?