Creating Transformative Partnerships with Your Leader – Joan Burge

Joan took the stage confidently on Friday morning, our final conference day. We had already received such wonderful information, and here was an additional rich opportunity to learn. Joan began by sharing a word picture example for administrative assistants: imagine your job is like being at a football game. It’s an exciting, close game. Do you see yourself on the sidelines as a spectator, or are you in the game, running down the field with your executive?

Issues Today’s Assistants Face:

  • Manage multiple managers
  • Stress levels are astronomical
  • Must have concurrent expertise in multiple software programs, devices and technology
  • Not enough hours
  • So busy, can’t be expert
  • Eager – hungry to know more depth, thinking and breadth in their work

Issues Today’s Executives Face:

  • Work around the clock
  • They forget to communicate
  • They live in a “blink of an eye” world
  • Struggling to stay on top of their game
  • Often, their physical well-being suffers

Is it any wonder most executives and leaders do not know how to properly utilize their assistants?

Joan advised that the beginning of creating a transformative strategic partnership is by communication.

Touch base every morning with your leader. What was the priority yesterday evening at 5:30 pm when you left for the day may no longer be the priority as of 8:00 am today! Your manager read emails, texts, and took phone calls between those times and the situation may have unfolded completely differently, requiring you to have new priorities this morning.

Joan said she views the administrative role as that of a funnel for information. Gone are the “old days” when every piece of information came by the administrator’s eyes! Admins should be that funnel and push the information out to their executive. We would then be much more productive, as would our executives. And, Joan advised admins and their leaders to talk, not text. 90% of the issues she sees in coaching admin/executive pairs centers around communication.

So what needs to occur and how should we evolve? We need to make meaningful changes. These need to center around process and people.

You can have the best process in the world, and then your company grows and it no longer works. You need to constantly access your process, and then fine tune.

Have human moments. Nothing will replace that. Be caring, supporting. Ask your leader not just how their trip was, but “What went well on your trip?” Ask the same question in a way that gets better responses so you can learn what does and does not work. Then you can fine tune.

One of the best questions to ask a busy leader is, “How can I get that started for you?” because they may be too busy to do that first step in order to then turn it over to you. Asking how to do that first step can take that project off their overflowing plate and onto yours sooner.

Joan advised us to reframe our questions. Remember that nothing is ever set in stone. It’s a mindset.

Work as though you were always writing a new operations manual. Ever evolving, ever changing and improving.

Strategic partnerships always involve chemistry.

If your leader wants to make time for you, they will. They can talk about football at another time! Respect yourself enough to command time with your executive. Be bold. Do what’s right for you.

Step 1: Mindset. It takes time to renovate. Be patient. Don’t give up. Recognize that change (true, lasting change) takes time.

Create means to fashion, design, innovate something. Strategic means planned, deliberate, tactical, and intentional.

Your partnership with your executive will grow when and if:
1. They can trust you.
2. You follow up.
3. When they see results.
4. When you protect their confidentiality.

Remember that one mistake is all it takes to break trust. And it may never be the same again, although it can sometimes in certain circumstances be rebuilt over a very long time.

Let your brilliance shine! A good leader will look for strengths within their admin, find their talents and utilize them effectively.

When you change your attitude, you will change your behaviors.

Does anyone ever say, “You are such a good admin; what are you going to do next?” We do not ask lawyers or doctors what they are going to do next, now, do we? We should be evolving in our career of choice, just like any doctor or lawyer.

Joan cautioned us to remember that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink. Not every partnership will be transformed to a strategic partnership. That’s okay. But, at the same time, be bold and lead your executive. They are not even sure how to use you!
It takes more than travel planning skills, organization and creativity. Don’t be afraid, take the leap to greatness.

Think like an executive. See how things connect and flow. Weigh the pros and cons. Look at profitability. Every time there is re-work in the office, it costs the company money that could have been used on something else. Did you know that 25% of manufacturing work needs to be redone? That’s a huge loss!

Speak like an executive. Use “executive speak” with your executive leader. They say things like “flawless execution” and we are human — but don’t be afraid of terms like that.

Having a strategic partnership means two people are involved. It takes both of you! And an admin needs to be told the outcome and goals in order to act effectively.

Be solution oriented. Don’t talk about problems. Don’t say “problem-solving” but instead, say “solution”. Manage expectations on both sides of the desk. Find out if you are doing things to their liking. It’s not one sided. You need to know!

Manage the day: block the calendar. Do not over schedule your leader. Read emails to be informed as the day evolves. Limit their interruptions. Give them quiet time. Differentiate between essential and optional meetings. Support their wellness. Keep a keen sense of what is truly urgent. Sometimes, they need to close their email to get things done.

Play to your audience. Find out what they want and then do it that way.

An assistant cannot take deliberate action if they do not know what the goal or expected outcome is to be. You’ve got to communicate with your leader!

Get better information, not necessarily more information.

Action Plan:

1. Keep business moving even when the leader is not available.
2. Create forward-thinking partnerships.
3. Knowledge share with your leader.
4. Be solution oriented even when it seems everything is going against you.
5. Manage expectations on both sides of the desk.
6. Manage the day.

You will need to read all communications and read behind the words. You will need to attend meetings with your executive. Check in more often with your executive. Send short status updates when they travel or are unavailable. Block time between meetings. Give them quiet time.

This session focused the learning over the entire 2.5 day conference onto the critical process of managing expectations and building a vital business relationship between assistant and leader. Joan provided concrete steps and a wonderful perspective (she coaches executive and assistants on being better team partners) so that we could go back to our desks with an action plan that is proven to generate success!

When we shift our thinking and shift our perspective, we will create a mega difference with our leaders. We will create a transformative strategic partnership!


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