It’s difficult to overstate just how vital effective collaboration between an executive assistant (EA) and a business leader is to the success and productivity of an organization.
And yet, the interpersonal dynamics of this relationship are so unique and nuanced that it can sometimes feel more like a marriage. For both to be successful, there needs to be innate trust, mutual respect and open and clear communication.
But good matches are hard to come by, which is why so many EAs follow their executives from job to job.
So, how can leaders create a symbiotic relationship with their assistants to forge these career-long bonds?
Understanding the role of an executive assistant
From a leader’s perspective, the primary role of an EA is to lighten their workload so they can focus on strategic, big-picture thinking to move their organization forward. Working with an EA gives them the headspace they need to solve business-critical challenges without getting bogged down by lower priority tasks.
And what ‘lightening the workload’ means has changed dramatically over the years. Today, executive assistants are multi-talented and have a long list of duties to fulfill that go well beyond basic administrative tasks.
An excellent EA needs to be an extra set of eyes, hands and ears for a leader. They need to be able to multi-task while also being incredibly detail-oriented and have outstanding organizational and time management skills.
But while these skills, and an EA’s experience, are critical, it’s often the personal chemistry that can make or break a successful EA/leader relationship.
How to foster a symbiotic working relationship
Leaders play an active role in creating a positive working relationship with their EAs. The most successful leaders approach this relationship as a partnership built on trust, respect and communication.
There are three key ways leaders can help strengthen this alliance.Taking an empowerment approach to delegation
Savvy executives give a lot of thought to what parts of their job can be delegated, reworked or partially managed by their assistant. They also consider how they delegate this work and how much information, instruction and guidance they provide to help their EA do each job effectively.
Most importantly, they help empower their EAs to problem solve, take initiative and figure out how to get work done when they don’t have all the answers. By championing your EA to be more independent, the delegation process becomes more efficient and streamlined as time goes on.Encouraging clear and open communication
The sweet spot in the EA/leader relationship is to get to a point where you understand each other so well, you automatically know what the other needs. But this doesn’t happen by accident - it requires both parties to actively listen and communicate.
It also requires intimately understanding your assistant's thinking and working styles and the kinds of information they need to get the work done. Only then can you provide clarity, set expectations and align on outcomes when you hand over work.Promoting collaboration and partnership
While the EA’s role is to support you, they can’t do that effectively unless they feel supported as well.
Great leaders support EAs as they would for any other team member. They schedule one-on-ones, give constructive feedback, invest in training and provide support for their career development.
And no executive wants to waste time and money finding, hiring and onboarding a new EA every couple of quarters because their EAs don’t feel supported in the role.
Taking your partnership to the next level
For many EA/leader relationships, a breakdown happens because they aren’t able to foster this symbiotic relationship. And they aren’t able to do that because they aren’t aware they have very different thinking profiles.
Leaders are focused on the big picture thinking and getting results. They’re concerned with thinking strategically to move the business forward.
And while that working style is great for leading, it’s not always helpful when it comes to supporting assistants.
With a focus on the big picture, executives can overlook providing specifics and details EA’s need to do their job effectively.
On the other hand, EAs can get so entrenched in the details they need to perform well that they lose sight of the big picture and the underlying strategy in the business.
How do we know this?
These were the results we found when we started to run our Mindset Reveal program specifically for business leaders and their executive assistants. The results showed a clear distinction between the two roles regarding their working styles and their approach to problem-solving.
When we were able to help them understand how they each uniquely approached challenges, leaders and EAs alike said they had a far greater appreciation for why each worked the way they did. And they were able to immediately act on the insights that helped elevate their working relationship.
Mindset Reveal is a short impactful program that helps people gain self-awareness about who they are as a collaborator and what makes them more or less effective as a problem solver.
Using the FourSight Thinking Profile Assessment, our Mindset Reveal program helps leaders and EAs discover their problem-solving superpowers to understand themselves and each other more intimately so that they can work through challenges more effectively, enhance collaboration and improve communication and delegation.
Mindset Reveal is also helpful in:
- Clarifying the working styles of EAs and leaders to help them achieve more
- Harnessing diverse ways of thinking to work more inclusively
- Enhancing well-being by offering immediately applicable insights to help individuals be more resourceful at work and home
- Reducing conflict
- Creating the conditions for individuals to feel accepted and valued for what they bring to the table
If you’d like help strengthening the relationship you have with your assistant or your wider team, book a 30-minute consultation call today.
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