The following interview was published by C-Suite Executive Support Professionals in their September 2016 newsletter and is shared here with their permission.
CSESP: How do you believe the Executive Assistant role will evolve in the future?
Andersen: I think executives, CEOs especially, will need EAs who can partner with them and who will be intrinsic members of their teams. The true executive level EA will need to become increasingly comfortable in an online and social media‐based world; increasingly comfortable managing a variety of internal and external resources on behalf of his or her boss; increasingly comfortable with a high degree of change on a variety of levels. At the same time, the traditional function of the EA – doing everything possible to make his or her boss’ work life more efficient and trouble‐free and to allow him or her to focus as much energy as possible on building a team and a business – will be, if anything, more important.
CSESP: What are the essential requirements for success in the workplace?
Andersen: Curiosity, resilience, flexibility, solution‐focus, a passion for excellence, and optimism. I think these are essential in any responsible position, but are especially important for an EA. Having a solution‐focus is so important these days. It’s not enough to simply say “I tried to do what you asked and it didn’t work.” A great EA will say,”Hmmm....that didn’t work; what else can I do to achieve the goal?” Otherwise, your boss will have to put his or her attention on how to solve the problems you run into – and that’s not the best use of his or her time. A passion for excellence means you’re always looking for ways to make things better: simpler, faster, higher quality, less expensive. Employees who get personal satisfaction from improving the way work gets done are truly valuable.
Being curious means you’ll want to keep learning and that you’ll not fall prey to limiting assumptions. Being resilient allows you to bounce back from obstacles, challenges and change quickly, without getting caught in a negative loop of emotion or action. Flexibility is critical: most executive’s lives and businesses are in a constant state of change these days, and if the EA holds rigidly to “the way we’ve always done it,” he or she is going to be an impediment rather than an enabler of great results.
Finally, being optimistic provides a daily emotional support system not only for your boss, but for everyone in your office – and you as well! I’m not talking about being a Pollyanna, or pretending difficulties and obstacles don’t exist. True optimism means having a core belief that problems are solvable, that most people are well‐intentioned, and that goals can be achieved. Research shows that optimists tend to live longer and are healthier, as well!
CSESP: What is the single most important advice you would give to your executive assistant?
Andersen: Communicate fully and honestly with me, and when you come to me with a difficulty, bring potential solutions. I can’t read your mind and I’m focused primarily on doing my job as well as I can; if you have an issue with me or another person, or with something that’s happening at work, let me know and engage me in working it out with you. My biggest pet peeve (and I suspect this is true of many CEOs) is to find out weeks or months after the fact that my assistant has been upset about something and hasn’t come to me about it. AND when you do come to me – be flexible! If only one solution is acceptable to you, and it’s not feasible or acceptable to me or others...then we’re stuck.
CSESP: What new learning is required for executive assistants to keep up in a global work environment?
Andersen: Being truly comfortable in this online world is key. For instance, if your boss needs to set up a webinar with three colleagues in India, six in Israel and one in Portugal, will you know how to do that? If your boss wants you to keep track of the people opting‐in to her new marketing e‐newsletter, will you be able to recommend the best way to go about that (or find a resource that can)?
It’s also becoming more and more important to know something about the cultural expectations of the countries where your company and your boss do business. If your boss regularly travels to China, for instance, do you know how Chinese executives expect to be treated? How basic travel and meeting protocols are different from or similar to those in the US?
CSESP: Please indicate three subtle distinctions that define the extraordinary executive assistant.
Andersen: The extraordinary assistant considers herself a partner in her boss’ success, and in the company’s success. She makes it her business to understand what that success looks like ‐‐ the vision for the company’s success, and how her boss can best support that success — and considers that in doing her job every day.
The extraordinary EA finds the “sweet spot,” the best balance of respect and confidence; that is, he treats his boss with courtesy and with an understanding that his job is to make his boss’ job easier, but at the same time, is willing to disagree when he thinks the boss is moving in a direction that may not be best for him or her or for the company. That same balance of respect and confidence needs to be there when dealing with clients, other executives and colleagues.
And finally, the extraordinary executive assistant has a positive impact on every person she comes in contact with: they say, when speaking of her to others, “I love dealing with ___. She makes everything work better and does it with grace and ease.”
The role of the Executive Assistant has evolved dramatically over the last twenty years or so. Most C‐suite assistants would agree that their role is not solely supportive in nature; rather, they are predominantly partners to the executives with whom they work. Because they are close to all areas in which their executive is involved, they understand the full‐picture needs of both the executive and the company – oftentimes better than almost any other position in the organization. C‐suite assistants put the pieces together – orchestrating the executive’s professional (and oftentimes personal) life, often on a 24/7 basis. In forming C‐SESP, we hope to inform and educate the business world about the true nature of this profession. We also aim to develop and educate Executive Assistants, to help them reach the level of acumen they need to be as effective a partner as possible.