During my first call with my executive coach, he inquired about my executive assistant (EA), to which I replied that I did not have one. He told me without a doubt that if I didn’t have an executive assistant, I was the executive assistant.
I’ve always believed that “if you want things done well, you must do it yourself.” However, I discovered that perfectionism is a stumbling block to advancement. While I didn’t think I required an executive assistant at first, I wanted to listen to the advice of someone who has been where I was now and follows his steps toward career and personal success.
I began by examining how I spend my time because I didn’t know where to begin. I made a spreadsheet and tracked each activity I completed over the course of a few days. After that, I labeled each activity with one of the following labels:
- Incompetent – A task that I am not capable of completing.
- Competent – A task that I am capable of performing.
- Excellent – A task that I am competent at yet dislike.
- Unusual – A task that I enjoy doing and would gladly do for free.
I immediately saw how much of my time was eaten by the first three categories and gained a deeper understanding of my anger at not having enough time to accomplish the ‘special’ things that energized me. My efforts to accomplish everything myself came at the expense of lost opportunities. What opportunities was I passing up by making travel arrangements or postponing meetings?
So my mind was set up regarding the necessity for an EA, and I now had the basic job duties to write a position description. I truly wanted to be more productive and efficient as a CEO, and now I knew how to do so. As I knew that help was on its way, hope-filled my heart.
Identifying critical abilities and attributes in my future EA
I identified character qualities, skills, and personality types in an EA that I felt would best support me, armed with a list of duties from the post description.
Personality is vital to me. I wanted to hire someone with integrity, honesty, and openness, as well as a readiness to learn from mistakes and a desire to constantly learn. A professional who is ambitious, respectful, dependable, and has a track record of trustworthiness.
To select the abilities that were crucial to me for my new EA position, I began with a list of areas in which I wanted to improve (aka, my weaknesses). I was looking for someone whose Kolbe Index was diametrically opposed to mine, a yin to my yang. Since my organization has a totally remote workforce, I added the abilities I knew were most critical for working within it to that list. The candidate must be a black belt in communication skills, which include active listening, conveying ideas in a logical and concise manner, and displaying professional body language. The candidate had to be technologically proficient, have great attention to detail, be an expert multitasker, follow through instructions, be super-organized, have research and analytical skills, and be creatively resourceful. I also wanted someone who understood my company’s mission and vision; someone who could foresee requirements and disputes, prioritize duties and requests, break down the large picture into sequential steps, bring answers to difficulties, and work autonomously while communicating with me completely. Perhaps I needed someone who could read my mind. Basically, I required the services of a superhero.
Complementary and compatible personalities are crucial in a successful CEO/EA relationship. This new EA would be someone with whom I would share my biggest highs and lowest lows regarding my business, with whom I would have complete mutual trust, and with whom I would spend a significant amount of time each day. I wanted to work with someone who is approachable, passionate, cheerful, and happy, as well as authentic and truly nice. I enjoy humor, thus I wanted an EA that shared my sense of humor and respected it.
I shared my hunt for an EA publicly and with my network in order to discover the ideal person. I gave each candidate explicit instructions on how to apply for the position, including having them write “Interview Me” in the subject line of their email. I asked each candidate to choose one of our key principles that spoke to them and explain how they live out that value. And, in order to get a greater sense of their personality and comfort with technology, I asked that they include a video highlighting their experience as an EA with their cover letter and resume. I felt that each of these inquiries would provide me with a better understanding of their character, skills, and personality.
How my EA has aided me as a business owner and CEO
As CEO, I am constantly bombarded with communication and competing expectations from my employees. Having said that, I am a very driven person who works long hours, yet occasionally I let the squeaky wheel to capture my attention, causing other jobs to be pushed aside. My EA assists me by holding me accountable. She checks in with me with a grin to make sure I’ve done chores by the deadline. Meeting deadlines has reduced my stress and strengthened my leadership since my team understands I will not let them down.
During the process of determining how an EA could support me, I discovered I was searching for a Strategic Partner rather than just an assistant. My executive assistant triages and prioritizes deliverables, texts, and meetings. She maintains the specifics of numerous projects and keeps me updated on their progress and what she requires from me to keep the project moving forward. In some ways, she serves as my ambassador, representing me and my brand to coworkers, clients, and other professionals. Her inherent strengths complement my deficiencies, allowing me to acquire traction and productivity in my business areas of competence.
Delegating work and projects frees up my resources to focus on building my firm, which is the most major intangible advantage of having an EA. I’m making the most of my opportunities because I’ve delegated these duties to my EA. I am more productive, devoting my attention and time to acquiring new accounts, locating new acquisitions, and leveraging my ‘special’ qualities.
My executive coach was spot on: I make a far better CEO than an EA, and my EA supports and assists me in becoming a great CEO.