Have you ever experienced times when you and your boss don’t see eye to eye? Have you ever felt insecure and uncomfortable? Have you ever felt overlooked and misunderstood? Or have you ever felt you’re taken for granted and no matter what you do it’s just not good enough?
I completely understand! I run a small company myself and some bosses just don’t get it! But let’s face it, we are all human beings and we’re not going to get it right all the time. I know from my own experience in running a company and working with other senior decision-makers that sometimes we can be blind to those around us and live in our own fantasy world. However, although senior executives are often under huge pressure with the responsibility of keeping shareholders and clients happy, they need to keep the people that work for them happy too.
There are six ways to help you become a more efficient and pro-active assistant and help your boss manage these competing pressures:
Create good chemistry
There is nothing worse than having a boss that you clearly don’t get on with, which is why having the right chemistry is vital. Let’s take the American legal drama, Suits, shown on Freeview channel ‘Dave’, where Executive Assistant, Donna Paulsen, works for Harvey Specter, at a fictional New York law firm.
Donna is Harvey’s right-hand woman. They both trust each other implicitly. She is extremely confident and has very sharp wits. Harvey relies on her, viewing her as essential to his role and irreplaceable. In turn, Donna is very loyal and takes great pride in anticipating Harvey’s needs and business challenges. She takes great pride in being able to provide Harvey with what he needs without him having to ask. She views her job role as looking after and protecting him.
If you get a chance to watch Suits, ask yourself about Donna and Harvey’s positive chemistry. In my opinion, they are a true team and have great synergy (well most of the time!). What kind of positive chemistry do you want to create with your boss? Think about the behaviours Donna exhibits in Suits and whether you can use any of these behaviours to help create the right chemistry with your boss!
Understand each other’s expectations
This is absolutely vital, especially when starting a new role. You have to work with the same person for 8-9 hours a day, five days a week. Often the reason why relationships break down is because people make assumptions and/or they haven’t both made the effort to sit down and have that all-important conversation about what they both expect from each other.
A good boss will take an interest in your development and give you the necessary tools to help you advance your career, enabling you to become more efficient. A good assistant understands the needs of the boss and aims to help them grow the business. You have to learn to trust and respect each other and value each other’s opinions. Another vital consideration is to make sure you’re really happy with your role, not just with your boss, but also with the whole company culture as well. I’ve had conversations with executive assistants who are just doing the job to pay the bills. While money’s clearly important, your role is about much more. Your job must always match your values. Never compromise those values – they are personal to you and will determine whether you’re going to be happy or not in your role.
Use your initiative and be pro-active
There is nothing worse than having an executive assistant who can’t think on their feet and who has to be constantly told what to do or ‘babysat’. I always tell my teams to think about the worst that could possibly happen because then you can be prepared for all eventualities.
This way of thinking helps you to stay in control and get ahead of the game. It’s also important to realise that it’s OK to make a mistake and it’s equally liberating to own up when something does go wrong. As I say to my team: “Honesty is the best policy”. Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help. Sometimes we can be fearful and develop negative thoughts about rejection or feeling stupid. Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.
Thrive not survive
Continuous personal development is critical; you have to sharpen your axe in order to improve. In my consultancy practice, I say to all my staff if you’re not learning you’re not achieving your true potential.
We all have dreams that we aspire to whether that means advancing your career into senior management, becoming a mentor or coach to other assistants, or even starting up your own business. Executive assistants are more than just someone that helps out, they are an integral part of any successful organisation. Remember you should never allow yourself to be overlooked or held back from what you aspire to be. Don’t let yourself be treated as a neglected second spouse!
Create your own development plan together with your boss. This should be designed to help improve your skillsets and improve on any weaknesses. Ask your boss and colleagues what your strengths and weaknesses are so that you can take these into account when putting together your development plan and deciding on any relevant training courses.
It is also vital that you connect with other executive/personal assistants in different industries through networking and attending social events to compare and contrast different experiences. I highly value the assistants I’ve had in the past, which is why I created a social enterprise, ‘The Association of Extraordinary PAs’.
The purpose is to help build synergy between personal and executive assistants and their bosses, to develop human connection and nurture top talent amongst the PA/EA community, especially when it’s increasingly hard to recruit top talented assistants as so many stay loyally with their bosses for many years.
Think like your boss
Put yourself in the shoes of your boss! Don’t be afraid to speak up if you have ideas that would benefit the business or could make your boss’s life easier. Take some weight off his or her shoulders show interest and make suggestions that could increase business efficiency. We all have limiting beliefs, but the best way to overcome them is to be confident and to use your power when you feel it’s right. Understanding your boss’s emotions and feelings at all times is critical. Show empathy and listen to his or her needs. Become fully conversant with your organisation and its business needs.
In the drama, Suits, one of Donna’s most important traits is that she is a great networker. Her network is extensive across the New York City area and there is not much that Donna doesn’t know. As a result, she has great people skills, allowing her to create and maintain relationships and develop new opportunities. She is highly social, fun, witty, charming and people love to interact with her. If you’re new to networking, and maybe nervous about it, don’t be! We all have to try new things. Initially, this can often be scary. However, focus on what’s the worst and best thing that could possibly happen! Research and find organisations that can fulfill your career needs.
Seek a mentor or coach
It’s imperative that we have role models, mentors and coaches in our lives. It could be someone whom we idolise, it could be a work colleague, a former boss or even someone who’s decided to take you under his or her wing. The last organisation where I worked had someone we all called ‘Mother Theresa’ she was the one who looked out for all of us and was a great person to go if you ever needed advice. There are many different types of coaches and mentors who can help you accelerate your skills and increase your understanding of your job role. Just make sure you choose someone who can empathise with your needs and help deliver the results you want.
It takes experience and time to develop the necessary skills and mindset to anticipate your boss’s needs. Every boss has a different personality and needs, so inevitably you will learn to adapt through your own experience of working together. Learning new skills is like running a marathon not a sprint. Use these strategies to fast-track your career and to ensure you achieve more recognition in your role. Think big to achieve more!
About the Author
Adam Strong is an Ultra High Achiever, Corporate Productivity Authority, Serial Entrepreneur, Elite Speaker and Thought Leader. He is also a Former Elite Athlete that trained with Mo Farah for 3 years, he takes the same skill-set that he learned as an athlete to teach his clients on how to create high performing work cultures by up to 300%.
Adam is champion for supporting women, personal assistants and entrepreneurs and is the Founder of ‘The Association of Extraordinary PAs. He was awarded the ‘Best Man of the Year’ award for supporting women in business and helps EA/PAs become more recognized through the results he delivers for their bosses. Please connect with him on www.adamstrong.net or on LinkedIn (https://uk.linkedin.com/in/adamistrong)