Supporting Your Executive

Supporting Your Executive—Your Sole Purpose

Note: While this blog refers to being in a physical office space, you can apply the concepts to a “working from home” situation.

As executive assistants, sometimes you become so caught up in how busy your job is and the many tasks you must complete that you can forget that your sole purpose is to support your executive (or multiple managers). Sometimes your executive comes to your desk when you are already hard at work handling something she or he has assigned to you, and you feel like your executive is interrupting you. Yes, they are, but … that is your job.

While you are juggling the many tasks, projects, programs, and policies, your utmost responsibility is to juggle all that, welcome your executive’s interruption … and still smile about it.

The Power of “Yes”

The point is, never underestimate the power of “Yes” in your thoughts, attitudes, and the first word you speak to others. Your executive will remember you as a positive, can-do person, even when they interrupt the work they gave you earlier!

Sage advice was given by a very successful salesperson who said that when anyone approaches our desk and interrupts us, we need to just smile and think, “Yes!” In that same situation, how often do we think instead, “Oh no!”  The “Yes!” changes our thought patterns, attitudes, facial expression, posture, and more.

This great salesman went on to speak of the old marketing strategy where a client’s question is never responded to with a “no.” Instead, if someone asks something you cannot do, say something like, “So here is what I’d like to do for you. See what you think …” or, “Let’s discuss what I can do,” or “Yes, I wish I could do that; here’s what I can do …”

Let’s look at ways to add value to your executive or multiple managers:

See Big Picture

Why? Think of a jigsaw puzzle. If you open the box, pour all the hundreds of pieces out onto the table, but you don’t have the cover to look at for reference, it will take you much longer to complete.

Just like that large puzzle, as an executive assistant, you can get the job done … but without the big picture, it will take you longer. You may do many small tasks every day, but you may not be getting anywhere or making great strides.

But when you know the scope of your leader, organization, business, and industry, then you can make those great strides toward adding more value to your organization.

  • Ask more questions of your executive that encourages her to share the big picture with you. Focus to gain your executive’s perspective and know what her version of “blue sky thinking” looks like. It will help you frame the work she gives you, and help you grow as you support her by emulating her vision as you work.
  • You may not be a predominantly big-picture thinker … Instead, you are a more detailed thinker; you will want to purposely make time and look at what events, projects, trips, or meetings your executive has coming within the next 2 and 3 months.
    • You may need to stop physically and mentally.
    • Put your daily task aside for a half-hour and then use calendars, retrieve projects, and deadline dates to connect the dots of her schedule and what it will mean for the two of you and the work.
  • Ask questions; be inquisitive. Being interested leads to asking cognitive questions and that leads to demonstrated learning and raised awareness that you are an executive assistant who grasps her battles as your own.
    • One assistant greets her executive some mornings by saying, “What battles can I fight with you? What dragons may I slay?”
  • Follow trends. Read the news, industry-specific publications, and company blogs; then ask questions. (You may have to ask your executive about it until you understand what you are reading.)
  • Be an investigator who is eager for knowledge, unduly curious, and inquiring (a research worker). Knowledge is power, so devote a portion of your time weekly to educating yourself by researching appropriate subjects so you can elevate your knowledge level.

Consolidate weekly objectives and communicate back to the executives and/or all team members.

Can enough ever be said about the need to promote consistent, clear communication that is circular?

Ask, “Is there anything additional I can take off your plate?”

Asking this question raises your awareness of your executive’s work and will show her you mean business. Initially, she may say “No,” but over time, she will offload work to you.

Be intuitive and proactive to the needs of your executive.

Does she need to keep snacks in his credenza for late workdays? Does she need a medical appointment for immunization or a sleeping aid for upcoming international travel? Would she like a copy of her itinerary emailed home so he doesn’t have to remember to take it?

Make a point daily to be aware of your executive’s goals for the day.

What’s cooking hot on her griddle that morning? What meetings does she need to prepare for, and what does she wish to see come from her subordinates that day?

Share your skills with your executive.

Do you have hobbies (like wine tasting) that could assist your executive in entertaining clients? Can you edit like a genius? Are you a graphic artist and can nail that presentation’s animation woes?

Assist and create your executive’s work/life balance.

Sometimes, just leaving a cold bottle of water on her office coaster or reminding her it’s time to go home helps a lot.

Organize your executive.

Busy people need organized people to make it all work well. Keep your executive’s schedule on time, arriving where she needs to be with tools in hand, knowing who will be there and what the objectives are.

Keep your executive on track.

Sometimes you need to gatekeep for your executive by being a pit bull or sometimes as a teacup poodle.

Align your goals with your executive’s goals.

This may sound basic, but really it isn’t. Don’t let yourself be so caught up in the work that you aren’t on track with your executive.

Ask your executive, “Is it working for you? Is this what you want?”

Who would not want to be asked this, as it demonstrates professionalism and a focus on results? By checking in periodically, you can gain knowledge and thus avoid unpleasant surprises at your review time. Don’t let people “save up” and comment because you did not ask them for feedback.

Use the start, stop, and continue process. What would you like me to start? Stop? Or continue?

This tip is a great way to open a conversation and to gain details, especially from a quiet executive or one who is a barebone, no detail type.

Partner with Your Leader.

Do you partner with your leader? That means if she brings you something, do you do it as you see fit or synergize together to form a common mindset?

Synergizing partners you and your leader together and allows for a higher level of excellence, communication, and resulting success to occur. Partnering with your leader means you have “skin in the game” and you are not just working at a job. It means you wish to demonstrate to your leader that you have chosen to rise or fall with him, and you wish to see him succeed.

Partnering also depends on her; you cannot partner with your executive without her consent and participation.

Make your executive look good.

It’s what you say, it’s how you speak about your executive to others, and how you address her.

Represent your executive when she is not there as she would want to be represented.

  • When your executive is not present, do you represent her as though you couldn’t be bothered?
  • Do you respond quickly when your executive lists you as her point of contact on her out-of-office message?
  • Do you respond to visitors and callers in a harried, rushed manner? (Doesn’t that present her as being behind the 8-ball (even if she is …) and make her look bad?

Anticipate the who, what, when, where, and why.

The ability to anticipate and to prepare is always critical. Asking the right questions and the appropriate follow-up questions means the difference between success and failure.


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