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The 10 Characteristics of A Rockstar Executive Assistant

You can’t make it on your own, and that’s not a putdown. It’s reality. And the bigger your goals, the more help you’re going to need in reaching them.  In this article, Michael Hyatt shares with us what every leader needs to know about the most important member of the team.

In the corporate world, I relied heavily on my executive assistants. When I struck out on my own, I thought I could manage without one. Crazy. I just couldn’t keep up.

It didn’t take long before I enrolled a virtual assistant. Now I have two and couldn’t run my business without them. But what makes a great assistant, whether virtual or in the office? If you’re a leader, you’d better know the answer to that question.

A good executive assistant is like an air-traffic controller for your life. Not just your business—your whole life. They help manage not only the intricacies of the office, but all the treacherous intersections between work, family, social obligations, and more.

An executive assistant is an extension of the executive he or she works for. In my case, Suzie and Danielle are thinking and acting on my behalf all day long—things I wouldn’t even think of or do because I just don’t have the bandwidth. And they help coordinate all the needs and demands of my life so there are very few—if any—collisions between the personal and professional.

They’re so good their reputation proceeds them. One of the men I mentor recently hired an executive assistant and asked me if he could get help onboarding his new team member.

I asked Suzie what she thought, and she (characteristically) outdid herself. Part of her training involved walking my mentee’s new hire through the ten characteristics of a rockstar executive assistant. If you’re looking to hire—or be—a rockstar executive assistant, Suzie’s list is the closest thing to a formal job description you’ll need.

These are the ten characteristics to watch for:

  1. They have a servant’s heart. This is the foundation for everything else. A rockstar executive assistant wants to serve—and not just your company or organization. A rockstar EA wants to serve you. Whether the task is big or little, he achieves his goals by helping you achieve yours. If potential EA’s don’t have this quality, no problem. But they probably should look for a different opportunity.
  2. They have personalized expertise. A rockstar EA is like a second brain. She knows what you like and don’t like. She knows where you are and where you need to go. She knows when to schedule meetings and when not to. A rockstar EA will gather as much of this information as possible as early as possible—and proactively keep learning.
  3. They master the calendar. In business we live and die by the calendar. Deadlines, appointments, meetings, presentations, calls—the calendar is the flight plan that keeps all of these moving parts from crashing into each other. And don’t forget scheduled commitments at home. If your EA doesn’t have mastery of the calendar, we’re not talking about a rockstar EA.
  4. They anticipate needs. A rockstar EA sees in advance what an executive needs and plans accordingly. If it’s lunch before a meeting, reports emailed to a client, whatever, she’s already seen the need and addressed it. Anyone can take a direction. But a rockstar is already moving the way you want to go.
  5. They prioritize the personal. When I said an air-traffic controller for your whole life, this is what I meant. If your EA defaults to prioritizing the professional at the expense of the personal, he’s not a rockstar—at least not yet. Protecting my personal time lets me maximize my professional time. A rockstar EA knows that and helps me guard that time.
  6. They are willing to push back. A good EA will keep you from burying yourself. I call Suzie my “calendar czar,” and that’s exactly what I need. At any given moment I don’t know the full range of our commitments, obligations, and initiatives. Because it’s her job—and she’s a rockstar—Suzie does know and will push back when I start getting overcommitted.
  7. They create and master systems. Whatever line of work you’re in, effective performance depends on a certain number of set preferences and procedures. What works best for you and your team? A rockstar EA will document and systematize these things so you’re not always reinventing the wheel.
  8. They know what’s on your plate. We all have too much on our plates. Your EA should know all that you’re dealing with and what’s critical to your success. If he knows that, he can keep you focused on the high-leverage activities and decline or delegate the rest.
  9. They respect your confidentiality. A rockstar EA will have all sorts of personal information and access. It’s critical she has integrity and a sense of discretion. It’s also important she sees when people are trying to get insider access or influence.
  10. They have great communication skills. And by this I don’t just mean he can carry on a conversation. A rockstar EA will help facilitate communication in your organization—especially if you’re bottlenecking things. Whether it’s email, calls, or other communication, a rockstar EA will accelerate response times and keep the messages moving.

I’ve worked with people whose assistants were more liability than asset. If you’re a leader, you can’t afford to get this wrong. Why? They’re hindering your goals and everyone around you knows it—even if you don’t.

I’ve had great assistants and not-so-great. All of them have taught me one thing: Few people are more responsible for your success than your assistant. It’s critical that you find a rockstar.

Michael Hyatt is a best-selling author, and the founder and CEO of an online leadership development company helping overwhelmed high achievers get the clarity, confidence, and tools they need to win at work and succeed at life.

Campbell Knowledge Corporation | Training Workshops and Training Events

How Executive Assistant Jobs Will Change in 2015 and Beyond

These times, they are a-changing. In this featured Q&A with Emily Allen of the International Association of Administrative Professionals, Nicole Dieker of Brazen Life Magazine points out that executive assistants don’t sit behind a desk with a stapler anymore. Here’s what this career looks like in the new digital world.

When you think of executive assistants, what comes to mind? Someone like Joan Holloway from Mad Men? A secretary behind a desk with a stapler?

The truth is that executive assistants have long expanded beyond administrative roles. Today’s executive assistants take on project management, are involved in strategic planning, and often work directly alongside the executives they support.

I should know—I worked as an executive assistant for four years, assisting first the vice president and then the president of a non-profit organization. During that time, I also took on the roles of project manager, event planner, photo editor, wiki editor, document drafter, and countless other jobs far above and beyond answering phones and making photocopies.

Today’s executive assistants work hard, take on complex tasks, and are well compensated. U.S. News and World Report lists executive assistants as one of their “best business jobs,” and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average salary at $51,870. Here’s a sample job listing for an Executive Assistant for Treehouse, an educational technology company.

How will the executive assistant role continue to change in the future?

I talked to Emily Allen, Director of Programs and Services at the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), to learn more.

Brazen: How has the executive assistant role changed in the past 20 years, especially pre-Internet and post-Internet?

Emily Allen: The role has changed significantly.

First, candidates for these positions receive more education. Many executive assistants now have either two-year degrees or four-year degrees.

Second, the role itself has expanded from what it was 20 years ago—and even from what it was 10 years ago.

The executive assistant role used to be pretty singular. It was a support role, and the EA’s primary job was following orders. Now, the executive assistant is being brought in on decision-making processes. Executive assistants are being put in charge of whole projects.

Because of this, today’s executive assistants need overall project management skills and critical thinking skills.

As the job has changed, the perception of the EA role has shifted. People are seeing the necessity of having executive assistants because of the variety of their skills.

How do you see the executive assistant role changing in the future?

To answer this question, let’s go back to the 2008 recession, when we started to see a shift in positions. Middle managers were being laid off, and executive assistants were handed the extra workload. They weren’t managers, but they had projects to lead and watch over.

I’m not clairvoyant, but I do see that trend continuing. Managers and executives will continue to realize that they can hand over their projects to their assistants.

You’re not going to see executive assistants doing overall strategizing, but they’ll be in the room where people are strategizing and they’ll help carry the strategies out.

What skills should today’s college grads build if they want to become executive assistants?

First, they need to understand Microsoft Office. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Sharepoint, along with basic office skills.

To set themselves apart, they can get certifications. The Microsoft Office certification is good, and we also offer an IAAP certification. Getting certifications tells an employer that you’re taking this career seriously.

So the first way people can set themselves apart is by having the certifications that show that they’re serious about the business. Another way to stand out is by having a clear understanding of project management and how project management fits into the role of an executive assistant.

Critical thinking is essential. Don’t wait for your boss to give you instructions. Have an ear to the ground and come to your boss with ideas.

Don’t be a follower; be a leader, even though you’re in a support role. (Click here to tweet this quote.)

Demonstrate to your employer that you’re actively seeking continuing education. Like my mother told me: “We teach people how to treat us.” So prove to people that you’re serious about your work. Let them know that this isn’t a career that you’re marking time in.

Writing for Brazen Life Magazine, Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist. She writes regularly for The Billfold on the intersection of freelance writing and personal finance, and her work has also appeared in The Toast, Yearbook Office, and Boing Boing.

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