executive assistant leadership

Leadership Skills for Executive Assistants

I have always said, “You do not need to be a manager or senior executive to be a leader. Every executive assistant and administrator can be a leader and should be a leader.” Leadership is often defined as a set of characteristics such as being ambitious, broad-minded, dependable, forward-looking, intelligent, mature, and honest.

Kouzes and Psoner provide 5 Practices of Exemplary Leadership™:

  1. Challenging the Process
  2. Inspiring a Shared Vision
  3. Enabling Others to Act
  4. Modeling the Way
  5. Encouraging the Heart

You also have to practice being a leader and being confident communicating in front of a group, your executive, or when leading a team.

One thing that bugs me as a 30+-year corporate trainer trying to instill confidence in administrative professionals is when I am teaching a class whereby I have assigned leaders for each table, and they delegate their role to another person at their table instead of taking on the role themselves.

If this is you, this gives the perception that you are not willing to stretch, are shy (even if you are not), don’t have confidence (even if you do), lack good communication skills, are not flexible and adaptable, and lack responsibility.

So while you might be nervous speaking in front of your peers or other colleagues, it is imperative that you develop this skill. Assistants can longer back down or shy away from taking on a role or task because they are “nervous.” Granted, you can be nervous but have the courage to take on the assignment or leadership role.

If you attend any training programs, classes or administrative conferences where you have been asked to be the leader or spokesperson, take on the assignment with a smile and confidence.

In the meantime, you should be working on your speaking skills because every day, you are presenting yourself to the world. So while you might not be presenting at a podium, the skills you develop through formal speaking-skills practice, you gain confidence, know how to think on your feet, and communicate the message you intend. I teach presentation skills in our Star Achievement Series® program for executive assistants. While each participant starts out feeling nervous about presenting in front of others, they are always thrilled at the end of class to see the confidence they have gained by pushing themselves through something that is quite uncomfortable. We grow by doing things we don’t necessarily like.

My main point is, do not delegate your leadership role, especially not early in the day, in a course, or a meeting.  It really weakens your professional image.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

To develop confidence in speaking and leading, executive assistants can try the following strategies:

  • Practice, practice, practice! The more experience an executive assistant has speaking in front of others, the more comfortable and confident they will become.
  • Find a mentor or coach who can provide feedback and guidance on presentation skills.
  • Join a public speaking group or take a course to learn best practices and get feedback from peers and instructors.
  • Use positive visualization techniques to calm nerves and boost confidence before speaking.
  • Focus on the content of the presentation and the value it brings to the audience, rather than on personal fears or insecurities.

Taking on leadership roles and responsibilities can be intimidating, but it also has many potential benefits. By stepping out of their comfort zone and taking on new challenges, executive assistants can demonstrate their ambition and dedication, as well as gain valuable experience and skills that can help them advance in their careers. Additionally, taking on leadership roles allows executive assistants to make a positive impact within their teams and organizations, and can provide a sense of personal fulfillment and accomplishment.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. It involves being self-aware, self-regulated, and empathetic. Developing EI can be especially important for executive assistants, as they often work closely with people from different departments and levels of the organization, and may need to navigate complex social situations. Some ways that executive assistants can work on developing their EI include:

  • Engaging in regular self-reflection and self-awareness practices, such as journaling or meditation.
  • Seeking feedback from colleagues and mentors on their emotional intelligence.
  • Practicing active listening and seeking to understand others’ perspectives and emotions.
  • Seeking out opportunities to work on empathy, such as volunteering or participating in group activities that require collaboration and understanding of others’ needs.

To start developing their leadership skills today, executive assistants can try the following actionable steps:

  • Identify a specific leadership skill that they want to work on, such as public speaking or decision-making, and create a plan for how they will develop that skill. This could involve setting specific goals, finding resources or mentors to help them learn, and practicing regularly.
  • Seek out opportunities to take on leadership roles within their team or organization, even if they are outside of their comfort zone. This could involve volunteering to lead a project, taking on additional responsibilities, or speaking up in meetings and sharing their ideas.
  • Network with other professionals in their field, including leaders and executives, to learn from their experiences and gain new insights.
  • Read leadership-focused books or articles, and attend workshops or conferences to learn from experts in the field.
  • Practice active listening and seek to understand the perspectives and needs of others. This can help executive assistants build stronger relationships with their colleagues and become more effective leaders.

For more tips on confident communications, get a copy of my books, Become an Inner Circle Assistant or Underneath It All.

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have been working together for more than thirty years, studying leaders, researching leadership, conducting leadership development seminars, and serving as leaders themselves in various capacities. They are coauthors of the award-winning, best-selling book The Leadership Challenge.


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