helping manager

Make Your Boss Look Good [Part 1]

As an executive or administrative assistant, you will find that your light will shine brighter when you help your executive shine. The more you enable your executive’s success and freedom to focus on their important work, the more valuable you will become.

Not all executives know exactly how to work with their assistant. This is Part 1 of a two-part series. I am sharing with you advice that I give in my live onsite training classes and my World Class Assistant™ high-end boot camp held in Las Vegas.

As you read the ideas below, rank yourself. How often do you do these things? Do you need to do a better job? Where do you excel? Do you need to start doing it? Remember . . . you benefit in the long run. You will be more productive, less stressed; you will feel more like a team member and business partner. You will have a competitive advantage over other administrative assistants who don’t do these things.

Help Your Executive Shine

6 Ways to teach your executive how to work with you.

  1. Ask for challenging assignments. Why? Because it will keep you energized about going to work and build your bag of skills. Your executive will be thrilled that you want to step up your game. A real win-win.
  2. Maintain your processes even during busy times. Most people fall off the wagon of their normal processes when things get really busy. But that is the very time you need to stick with your processes. For example, Jasmine and I have daily huddles to review our priorities and discuss any important items that should not be communicated in an email. When I get really busy speaking and training and we get caught up in business, we can easily stop meeting. I notice a difference in our effectiveness when we do that so we get ourselves back on track.
  3. Demonstrate what you can do for them. Don’t wait to be asked or told. Surprise your executive!
  4. Let your strengths shine. Does your manager really know all you are capable of doing? Does your manager utilize your strengths and natural gifts? If she or he is like most managers, the answer is “no.” It is your job to talk about and let your strengths shine through your work. This is another win-win because you will be happy using your natural gifts, the job will get done better and you will make your manager look great!
  5. Communicate your desire to help and be a strategic partner. If you really want to have that great strategic assistant/executive partnership, then ask for it. Don’t be afraid to voice your expectation for your relationship with your executive. But also know what it truly means to be a strategic partner. It is not the same as teamwork.
  6. Discuss and evaluate your processes from time to time. With the demands of your industry, the world, and your leader’s role,  you may need to change a process that worked for years, i.e., speed up e-mail communications with each other – internal use only – by agreeing on code words FYI; READ; IMPORTANT; TIME SENSITIVE OR URGENT

Model the behavior you want to see in your leader

This is one of my favorites and will work with any person you meet. The idea is that if we want to see someone treat us in a particular fashion, we need to start with treating them that way first.

–       Honesty, integrity

–       Open communication

–       Confidentiality and trust

I remember when I was a secretary in the mid-80s (yes, I said the mid-80s) and had been 17 years into my administrative career. We had moved to North Carolina for a great job opportunity for my husband, Dave. I eventually landed a very good job with Steelcase working for the top executive of that division. He did not know how to fully utilize or interact with an executive assistant. That was because of his previous training with his past assistants. Well, things changed when I came on board. I showed him how to be open, honest, work as business partners, share in each other victories, and support each other through the tough times and more.

In celebration of Administrative Professionals’ Week this April, ask your executive to support you by sending you to our World Class Assistant™ high end boot camp in September. You will gain the confidence and communication skills to develop a strategic partnership. It is the best gift you can get because it will last you a lifetime.

In what ways do you “make your boss look good”?

Joan Burge


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39 thoughts on “Make Your Boss Look Good [Part 1]”

  1. I work part time in a payroll position right now, but am hoping to move into a full time position. While I’m not considered an administrative assistant, I still am able to take many of the hints and tips offered. I’m in relatively regular contact with executives in my company since I work at the headquarters office, so I make sure to keep my appearance and attitude positive because I never know who’s watching.

  2. My boss and I are currently working on developing a more dynamic relationship. We’ve implemented meeting twice a week to discuss the week and any special prep that is needed for his meetings. I’m hoping to meet more often and show him how valuable an assistant can be.

  3. Thank you for the advice. I work for an Executive Director of a Hospital we also handle all the hospital’s affiliations as well, needless to say we are a very busy department and he is an EXTREMELY busy Executive. We meet annually for Performance Evaluations, he always says he is going to utilize my skills more. One thing leads to the other, time passes, it gets busier by the minute, I find myself doing the same thing as the year before, just more paperwork or more meetings to schedule. Your words have moved me to once again address how I am feeling and remind him of the reason he hired me in the first place… To be his strategic partner.

    1. Tonya, the scenario you described happens everywhere. That is the hard part of executing the strategic partnership. Even in our office, we get so busy with time critical projects that we sometime miss the opportunities to strategically connect.

      From an executive’s perspective, we get extremely busy and have numerous responsibilities and people we are accountable to. It is good for you to continue to place yourself in front of your executive and remind him of the goals you both want to achieve. Nudging is good as long as you don’t go over the edge and you do it in a way that the partnership is a win-win.

  4. Very thought provoking Joan – still need a few days to digest. Having just started in a new position, this is very timely. My boss’s last assistant worked for him for 16 years! Big shoes to follow but also much different styles. I think we’re both a little impatient that I need to learn the people and the business to catch up.

    1. Hi Janet!

      It is hard to follow an assistant who had been in a position for long time. And if that assistant was really good, the executive tends to refer to her and what she did, often. As you said you have big shoes to follow. The good side of that is you will elevate as you try to fill those big shoes and that will make you an even stronger executive assistant. Patience is important as you go through the stages of learning to work together and build a partnership. But it is worth it.

      1. Thank you Joan! I know you are correct in “patience” but sometimes it is a luxury that is not always gracefully taken. We have made great strides and are learning from each other and taking each bump as it comes and learning. He can’t take for granted that I will know what to do (or what he wants me to do is more accurate) in given circumstances. We are at the crossroads now where we can joke about it and clarify details. I believe he thought that I would “know everything” in a month or two – unfortunately, it takes a bit longer with all the moving pieces. Is that something like, keep moving so you’re not a target? I am enjoying the new position and my new boss.

  5. great tips both from the article and the comments, thank you! i operate under the belief that i’m helping my vp look good by making myself look good also. i believe that i represent him and our dept always, so keeping that in mind, i try to represent him well by making sure he’s on time to mtgs, giving him a heads up when “corporate” are visiting, conveying an open door policy to his reports and others outside, etc.
    if you truly like your supervisor and your work, then doing these little things should come naturally. his success is your success!

  6. This posting really reinforces my belief that, in our roles, we are ambassadors to our bosses and it is very much a mutual partnership. If they look good, we look good and vice versa. The investment we place in ourselves for training and development is their investment as well.

  7. I try to help the boss see the big picture, when sometimes they are task oriented. One of my bosses was to have a conversation with an employee about his/her future and I reminded him that this employee would be in a meeting later that evening with 40 of his/her closest associates. I think my boss appreciated my reminding him of that and he chose to wait until the following day to have the conversation. This allowed the employee to absorb the information and hopefully not incite negativity with a large group of others.

  8. I try to make sure I am aware of everything going on around our site, or as much as possible anyway. Even if I’m not specifically invited, I try to hover when there are certain topics being discussed. (NOT eavesdropping, and never sneaky.) I often have something to share to help my executive know more of what is going on and I am able to step in when he is unavailable.

    For example: We are looking at getting some floors done. Because I “hovered” when my executive was talking with one vendor, I was able to step in when a second vendor came by to measure for another estimate and my executive was offsite.

  9. This is a great reminder of what it is really all about — rewarding people who believe in you – even the “boss”. I think making your boss look good reflects on their good taste for hiring you and proves they made the right decision. One way that I do this is by paying attention to small details that make guests in our office feel welcome – make sure the meeting room is orderly, offer guests a drink or a snack if they are meeting with my team. Greeting people with respect and courtesy sets the tone for the meeting, even if you are not in it.

  10. Roxanne Lundin-daire

    Urgent, Need Response, FYI goes a long way when it comes to email, it will get their attention and a response from them more timely. I always try and squeeze in “Prep Time” before major meetings. This really helps.

    1. Hello Roxanne! In our office, we use special wording in our subject lines to easily communicate the important of the email. We will state something like: FYI, IMPORTANT, TIME SENSITIVE, URGENT, and then of course include the specific subject.

      Subject lines are very important because most people sort, prioritize and open their emails by the subject line (and person). Many people do not take the time to think about their subject line–does it make sense to the receiver? If they have to sort or find your email later, does your subject line let them know what the email is about.

      Thank you for your great tip!

      1. Sandy Middleton

        Thank you Joan! I have been using some of those words in my subject lines, yet in some cases the Time Sensitive wording is needed and just hadn’t thought of that one. I will definitely keep it in mind and use it!

  11. Another way you can make your boss look good is giving open, honest, in-the-moment feedback. A couple of examples: 1) more times that not, executives are surrounded by “yes men/women” who say what they think the executive wants to hear or too intimidated to challenge ideas or opinions. 2) Execs may not be aware of certain behaviors or actions they demonstrate. As their partners, we should feel empowered to tell them what others may be afraid to say or give the feedback to course-correct behaviors or actions.

  12. This comes at a perfect time for me as Reviews are right around the corner. I’ve been in the same position for 12 years, supporting 3 different executives and their direct reports. I’ve had the same challenges with each of them. I’m always told I do an exceptionally well, but I always come away from the meeting feeling a little bit empty. I’m not really sure if it is the executives who don’t know how to use an assistant. I’m really frustrated that after this length of time I’m not being used to the top level of my competencies. In other words, I am awesome with calendars, and losing touch with all my other skills because I am not given an opportunity to prove what I can do. This has been mentioned many times. PLEASE! I need clues to be able to get close to my executive strategically and to make her shine. Are any of you out there dying in the sea of calendars? I really want to be able to list positives here!!

    1. Jo, time may be an issue but have you considered joining a committee or project team for something that doesn’t use your strong calendaring skills but gives you the opportunity to showcase another skillset that you love to use but don’t really get the chance in your day-to-day work?

    2. I agree – I feel out of touch in some aspects of my job. I ask for more involvement in projects other than calendaring and the executives do not seem to utilize my skill level. If there is any advice on how we can be more aggressive in letting them know please advise.

      1. Ask to be on a committee that your bosses are not on – as a committee member, not a support staff. Strategic Planning, Assessment, HR needs (succession planning, recruitment), budget review – the list really depends on the type of business you are in. I also received some strong “kudos” when I was a support staff on a committee in a separate department and they told my boss, which opened more opportunities. Find something you would enjoy though. Twelve years gives you a lot of experience and puts you at an expert for your business 🙂

  13. This is a wonderful article and very helpful reminders. The best thing I can do is look ahead and ensure that deadlines are on the calendar and be accountable for flagging things in advance so that we don’t get into “crisis” mode.

  14. I’m anxious to build a strategic partnership with my executive. The one roadblock that I have is that my executive worked with another assistant for 13 years, so she’s been trained to do things in a certain way. Also she is planning to retire in the next year so I don’t know that she sees the value in a strategic partnership at this point, her focus is on other things. We get along well and I get all her meetings scheduled same day, work closely with her direct reports on different projects, and build relationships with the people who are important to her position. I fully expect that I will have the opportunity to build a strategic partnership in the future and I am immersing myself in all the educational opportunities I can by participating in webinars and certification courses so that I can be ready when the time comes next year to train a new executive!

    1. Remember, a small percentage reach the top of that pyramid, Becke. But that fact that you are striving to get there is great. If it doesn’t happen with this leader, know that it’s very likely you’ll get there with the next one because of your efforts to continue to learn, grow and show stellar support to your business partner.

  15. A large part of my company’s culture is respect and positive attitudes. It is heavily emphasized that no one is above any one else, we are all treated equally, and every one contributes evenly. I can firmly say I am treated this way on a day to day basis. As an assistant, not once have I been degraded.

    I believe the way some of us here make our executive look good is by portraying these qualities to those outside our organization. Whenever we are dealing with people outside our company (and even within), we/I treat the person with respect. If we are interacting in person, we always remain friendly and positive. I believe this is a great way to not only make your executive look good, but your company as a whole.

    Another way to let the executive shine is by taking initiative and being one step ahead. Provide documents for meetings a day ahead and provide copies for every one at the meeting. Confirm tomorrow’s meetings, today. Keep in touch regularly with outside contacts and build professional relationships.

    Overall, maintain a professional and positive attitude. I believe this is the best way to make your executive look good.

  16. I’m just a week into my Executive Assistant role so this is great timing for me. While my new boss and I have worked together on special projects while in my previous position with the agency; we’re learning how to be a team (she’s new in her position as the CEO of the agency as well). I love these tips and am going to incorporate them into our day immediately. We already have daily huddles (borrowing your phrase Joan) scheduled. The rest we’ll work on…..

  17. Great information, as always Joan. I am presently working with a new boss and we have some challenges with communication. I am trying to find her communication style so that we can work strategically. I realize I have to change my communication style to meet hers, or we will never move forward.

    1. Patty, you are welcome. I am glad to hear you are figuring out your communications styles. That is huge especially if they are different. The goal is to complement each other’s style and use them to your benefit instead of a barrier. Good luck!

  18. In what way do I make my boss look good? I proofread every presentation/speech that has been drafted for him …. I almost always find missing or mispelled words.

  19. I love the idea of discussing and evaluating your processes from time to time. You don’t realize sometimes how things change over time. It’s a great idea to revisit why you set something up in the first place and review to ensure it’s still working. Thanks, Joan!

  20. Managers often don’t know how to utilize their admins. You do have to show them. Once this process is in place, it makes a much better working environment. Everyone is happier and the manager didn’t even realize!

  21. Knowing his/her expectations up front on anything I have been asked to do and asking the right questions to make sure we are both on the “same page”.

  22. Good article. I had the perfect boss and she retired. Now I am in limbo till they hire her replacement. This is good info for the next boss I get. Thank you.

  23. I am always asking to learn more, to take on more responsibilities. I always set time limits for myself to get projects done and stick with them. I have in the past taken on a project without being asked.

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