There’s being organised and then there’s being an Assistant. The critical and most important skill to master this industry and your career, is not only the stereotypical understanding of being organised, it’s more than that. It’s having a contingency plan for your contingency plan, leveraging your time, energy and resources and maximising opportunities before they have materialised.
Being an Assistant is much more than great organisation however, it is at the core of what we do and is one of the main reasons we are so well trusted when working alongside Executives around the world. Give yourself some credit! If everyone was as organised as you are, the role of an Assistant wouldn’t exist. You make the impossible possible. Remember that.
However ‘easy’ people perceive the role of being an Assistant is, our Executives could not live without us, yet that doesn’t mean we should push our own mental and physical health to the sidelines and compromise our ability to organise our own downtime as effectively as we do for our Execs.
In May 2018 at our annual PA Diaries Live event (you can apply to attend in 2019 here), our panel of expert Assistants could not stress enough the importance of making time for yourself and organising regular activities outside of the office to keep your own health in check. Your Exec shouldn’t be the only one who has your attention, practice some self love and embrace the time you have to yourself to indulge in some of of those guilty pleasures!
If you know, you know. Being a successful Assistant takes more resilience and determination than your ability to resist reaching for that bottle of wine when your ex starts dating someone new.
Coping in a crisis, in the face of stress and catastrophe is part of the daily grind and is something that does not come naturally or easily, despite what some people think. The need to feel ‘liked’ is an inherent part of human nature so putting yourself in the way of difficult, unempathetic people and risking your likeability in the office in order to get the job done, is something we can all relate to.
Feel like your suit of armour isn’t as strong as it used to be? Being an Assistant requires you to be made of tough stuff but remember, you are still human. When things get tough, don’t keep your feelings to yourself. Ignoring powerful, negative emotions is like playing with fire. Instead of sitting on these emotions, accept how you are feeling, come to terms with that, speak to others if you feel comfortable and you will soon see that how you feel will run its course. You might be the right hand man/woman to someone who can’t live without you however, if you don’t look after yourself, who else will?
Next Level Intuition.
Reading minds might be considered a superpower but as an Assistant, you are as close as it gets to the real thing. A certain ‘look’, a vocal tone variation in a ‘hmm’, a specific kind of walk, the way a door is closed or even a change in email/text behaviour, these secret signals all contribute to who our Execs are and what they need from us. It is this skill that makes us indispensable and is one of the largest contributing factors as to the reason why most of our job is largely unknown to the untrained eye.
Developing your gut instincts as an Assistant is something that comes with time for each Exec you work with. Most skills that we possess are transferable yet intuition per boss is a learned skill that comes as your working relationship evolves. When starting a new role, you don’t expect to automatically know everyone’s names before you have even stepped through the front door so you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself (and nor should your boss) when a few initial mistakes happen as you adjust to how people like things to be done. Let’s be honest, it really is not the end of the world if things go wrong occasionally, it’s part of the learning process.
Keep a level head, you’re doing a fantastic job!
Extraordinary Emotional Intelligence.
The value of emotional intelligence (EI) as an Assistant is often only recognised by those in a similar role. Building your EI is again, a skill that takes time to evolve and improve on, but as Assistants, does that EI only apply to our bosses? Absolutely not!
As a successful Assistant, you are a combination of many roles within the office including Chief of Staff in your own right. You not only balance and maintain the happiness of the person you work for, but the people who report directly into them and those who surround you. Promoting a positive workplace, embracing differences in people, personalities and working styles, celebrating successes and showing your own accountability towards your own working processes builds and strengthens relationships not only for yourself but on behalf of your Exec too.
Are you the go-to person for queries for your boss from direct reports and colleagues in the office? Being mindful of people’s needs and how to approach different topics which may be sensitive/delicate is an extraordinary trait that as Assistants, we all possess. Never take your own skills for granted or even the EI that you need to a should apply to yourself.
Great communication is a skill that not everyone is blessed with yet is part of the everyday job as a person within a support role. You are an influencer, a communicator and a leader. You have the ear of some of the most successful people within their companies and sometimes industries and you have the power to harness those relationships through conversation. Don’t push that thought to the side, make the most of it!
If you have a demanding Exec with sky high expectations that are simply unachievable (we’ve all been there), communication is key and is the solution to most issues that we encounter in the workplace. But, are you brave enough to be honest when you need to be?
Regardless of what happens behind the scenes and how much of a demand is placed upon us as ‘part of our job’ again, we are human and we are not always going to get it right. By the way…that’s ok. The relationship between Assistant and boss is the definition of teamwork and in order for a successful balance to occur, there has to be an understanding of each others emotional and physical capabilities when fulfilling every request thrown your way. Yes we are there to do a job, be flexible and accommodating, but working 20 hour days, walking the family dog over the weekend and organising board meetings while you sip your Sunday morning coffee due to your job description expanding beyond recognition is completely inappropriate.
Establish and work on your relationship with your Exec and keep an open line of communication at all times. Be firm in your need for your regular catch ups but also adapt to what you know works for both of you best. Perhaps a daily morning catch up is what you both need, or maybe a weekly catch up over coffee is suited to you better.