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The Most Important Person in Your Office Isn’t Who You Think

No, it’s not your CMO, CFO, or even you. It’s your assistant. These unsung heroes are the ones who really run the show.

Victoria Rabin, founder and CEO of Executive Assistants Organization (EAO), which she launched in early 2012 and continues to grow exponentially. Photo from the Behind Every Leader official website.

Victoria Rabin, founder and CEO of Executive Assistants Organization (EAO), which she launched in early 2012 and continues to grow exponentially. Photo from the Behind Every Leader official website.

Executive assistants spend endless hours catering to- and anticipating the needs-of their bosses. A good assistant keeps a business owner on time and in the know – in other words, it’s an assistant’s job to make the CEO look good, and keep him or her organized. But while there are conferences for entrepreneurs, magazines (plug: like this one), executive assistants have typically been on their own.

That’s why Victoria Rabin, in 2012, founded the Executive Assistants Organization, (EAO) which runs conferences, mentorship programs, and training workshops for EAs. She held the first Behind Every Leader conference in February 2013. EAO now has 12 chapters, and more than 1,000 members, including executive assistants who have worked for the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson.

I recently spoke with Rabin about her trade group why every entrepreneur needs an assistant:

What inspired you to launch Executive Assistants Organization?

I began my career as an EA, working for a hedge fund in London. It was the first role I had where I had not only empowerment, but was responsible for the entire team. Having those two burdens on my shoulder was a huge honor. It was also terrifying.

There was no support or resources for assistants. Being in that position and having to not only lead your team, represent your executive when they’re present and not and dealing with all the crazy things they ask you to do, no one could prepare you for that.I started reaching out to EAs from all over the world and asking questions. What are you getting training-wise? Are you hungry for growth? I wanted to find out as much as I could. I started getting messages back like, “What’s in the works?”

Suddenly, I had some allegiance behind me. So I was basically inspired by being an assistant, myself, wanting more, and not getting more.

You’ve called executive assistants “the most powerful person in the office.” How so?

They are the backbone of an organization. They know everything about an executive. It’s not just administrative work. They know what the executive needs, how they think, and they know without having to ask them what they need to do in order to make that executive better.

When they get into the office, they drop all of their own self needs and dedicate everything to that executive or that company. Everything they do is to make the executive successful.

Sounds nice. So, why then are so many entrepreneurs resistant to hiring an assistant?

They don’t want to lose control. I have an assistant. I’ve been on both sides of the desk. It’s scary for small to medium sized business owners, who have lived and breathed their business that’s their dream and vision, and all of a sudden they give control to another person who isn’t even their cofounder. It’s hard for them to give up that control.

Also, a good and trusted EA has access to the finances, the accountants, everything about the business. I was daunted when I hired an assistant because I knew how much I knew when I was an assistant.Then, once you do realize you can’t live without him or her, you worry about them getting poached. Not only because you’ll miss that person, but because you don’t want that person who knows your entire world to go work for a competitor or another entrepreneur.

What makes for a successful EA/CEO relationship?

It starts with trust. That’s the main thing to establish. You do that by having both parties manage expectations. An assistant needs to go into the workplace immediately and say, “What do you need from me. How do you want me to work with you, and how do you communicate it?” That how they know what the boundaries are, or they’ll know not to take a one-word email personally. Or they’ll know they need to have a whole essay presented to that EA to make them feel comfortable.

It’s all about learning each others intricacies and learning what makes then tick. And after trust, you need respect on both sides. It’s crucial, because it’s really a partnership if it’s done right.

Source: Article from Issie Lapowsky, published in January 2014.

Campbell Knowledge Corporation | Training Workshops and Training Events

Don’t Call Me a Secretary. I’m Much More Than That

Never underestimate the power and influence of an executive assistant. Just as technology has rapidly evolved, so too has the role of a secretary. In fact, calling an executive assistant a “secretary” is about as archaic as that typewriter. Article by Sarah Daffy.

What was once a low-paid, subservient “secretarial” gig is now a valuable career that comes with great benefits and opportunity for career progression.

The job requires a high level of intellect, professionalism, and resilience. Often times your intelligence needs to match that of your boss and you need to be three steps ahead of them all the time. It’s just as rewarding as it is exhausting.

And for those of you who still think executive assistants are just secretaries or admin clerks, it’s time to update your knowledge.

So what’s changed?

It’s not breaking news, but these days we live in a digital age and staff productivity has tripled. We’ve needed to upskill our workers to take on larger responsibilities in all levels of business. Large companies and even small start-ups are now tackling things like innovation, strategic development, multi-channel social profiles, operational effectiveness, and cyber security. Companies have reshaped the way in which they operate to facilitate the expansion of unpredictable market trends and demands.

An executive who oversees the interest of a company needs someone reliable to depend on — a right-hand man, or woman, in most cases. The secretary who used to sit on the end of the phone opening mail and making coffee doesn’t cut it anymore. Power players in the digital age need a smart assistant they can rely on to oversee much larger responsibilities. Someone who can think for them and de-clutter their brain when they’re managing smartphones, laptops, ipads, desktops, tablets, blackberry’s, Skype, and global video conferences from their desk.

Successful EAs are born with the ability to be abnormally intuitive. We know what our boss is thinking before they’ve thought it and it’s our job to deliver on that need before a request has been made.

We are the masters of multi-tasking and pro-activity. The most important part of our role is discretion, so you need to be able to prove that you can keep your mouth shut.

I’ve done just about everything during my time as an EA. I’ve sprinted in six-inch-heels to florists and jewellers on the uneven surfaces of Brisbane’s CBD in a last-ditch attempt to buy roses and diamonds to save my boss from divorce when he “forgot” his wedding anniversary.

I’ve worked 24-hours straight with execs on multi-million dollar proposals and strategic reports. I’ve been the eyes and ears for my bosses who have climbed the corporate ladder high enough to not know who they could trust. I’ve coached staff members on how to approach my boss for a pay rise or the best way to confess to making a catastrophic mistake.

I’ve been privy to the types of conversations that could bring businesses unstuck. I have been the confidant, adviser, friend and ally to executives who needed to know that there was one person in the building that they could rely on.

The thing that I love most about being an EA is that the scope of the role is endless. If you work hard and show your boss that you can manage their correspondence and schedule with your eyes closed and demonstrate your insight and knowledge about their business ventures — eventually you’ll be asked to provide your opinion on massive business decisions before your boss has made them.

You’ll get phone calls at all hours of the day or night to help with something that’s come up unexpectedly. You’ll be the sounding board they need and the person who they see as more than a “secretary” or “assistant”. You’ll be the person that goes to their meetings with them, no matter how confidential. You’ll be the person they trust to give advice to others on their behalf without their consultation.

If you’re really good, you’ll be their shadow, they won’t be able to get through a day without your help, and you’ll be someone who they call into their office one day to promote.

So please, don’t underestimate the ability of an EA or her intelligence. She may be the person sitting outside of the chief’s office letting you in, but she knows exactly what he’s going to say to you before you’ve walked in and she knows that by doing more than getting his coffee order right.

Sarah Daffy is an Executive Assistant at News Corp. Her article, “Don’t call me a secretary. I’m much more than that”, was originally published in The Daily Telegraph on 23 February 2016.

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