Executive assistants: how to improve your relationship with your executive

08 January 2020 Anastasia Kelly

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When an EA and executive work together harmoniously, the results can be powerful. Of course, a tight-knit relationship like that takes cultivation. If you’re an EA striving to establish a stronger relationship with your executive, here are 12 tactics to consider. 

Seeking solutions 

When problems arise, instead of asking what to do, consider potential solutions instead. That way instead of asking “what should I do?” you can say “I’ve thought of X, Y or Z.” You can still seek guidance, but showing you’ve at least thought of potential solutions will make life easier for your busy executive.  

Keeping up-to-date with your skills

Technology changes fast. Are you on top of the latest project management tools like Asana, Monday or Trello? What about Xero for finances or other cloud-based efficiency tools? It’s your priority to keep up to date with the best modes of working. If you stick to your old favourite processes, you could quickly find your skills becoming obsolete. 

Getting along with stakeholders

As the EA you’re the gatekeeper, making sure your executive isn’t inundated with pressures and constant requests for appointments. But, it’s important to remain positive, harmonious relationships. So, even though you’re often saying no to requests from stakeholders, remember these people are still important. So, always be polite and respectful. 

Staying humble

It’s a bit of a cliche, but humility is important. It’s natural to enjoy your senior position within the company. With such exclusive access to the company's leadership, EAs enjoy a unique set of responsibilities and power. I’ve seen a few EAs who let that authority get to their head. The overconfidence can be damaging. 

Being grateful 

Let’s face it, the role of an EA is amazing! You get to work alongside a senior leader of your company and have a genuine supportive influence over the performance of your executive. Contributing their KPIs is really rewarding. So, be grateful. It’s only natural that you’ll have a few gripes from time to time. But, if you complain often about things that don’t really matter, you’ll damage your relationship, perhaps irreparably. 

Following up without pestering 

You can’t stop at every hurdle you find in the completion of your duties. The simple act of following things up is an important, yet commonly overlooked skill. Simply making a single request and then waiting for it to be fulfilled is a common mistake. On the other hand, you don’t want to excessively pester people either. Finding a delicate balance between chasing up outstanding deliverables while maintaining positive relationships is the hallmark of the high performing EA. 

Showing enthusiasm

With any position, there’s bound to be elements of the role you find less than enjoyable. Nevertheless, the duty must be done and it’s your responsibility to do it. Even seemingly trivial, dreary or menial tasks deserve your best efforts and your positive, enthusiastic attitude. Better off getting it done with a smile on your face. 

Confirming in writing 

Plenty of things are agreed over the phone or in meetings. This opens you to the risk of confusion later when people forget what was agreed. So, develop the habit of distributing an email promptly after such discussions, clarifying exactly what actions are agreed. EAs who do this tell me it has saved awkward conflict later. It’s a great way to ensure clarity on projects. If necessary, it protects you with evidence in case of conflict later. 

Being respectful of confidentiality

At your senior level, you are privy to plenty of private information about your executive. You know matters that include their priorities, whereabouts and personal life. Everyone always wants to know what the CEO is up to. It can be highly damaging to be questioned. By maintaining firm boundaries and respecting confidentiality at all times your executive knows you can truly be trusted. 

Knowing your priorities 

Whatever your executive wants doing is your top priority. It seems simple, but with so many demands on your time, it can be easy to get distracted with requests by others. It is unwise to put any project ahead of a specific assignment from your leader. 

Being autonomous

An EA who needs minimal input and direction is a godsend for any business leader. Don’t surrender all initiative and rely on them for minor decisions and doing all the thinking. Being a self-starter and able to finish things without constant supervision is a highly valuable commodity.  

Creating a great working relationship takes time. 

It’s well worth cultivating. When you prove yourself reliable, efficient and trustworthy, you’ll establish a harmonious, easy relationship and be relied on even more. I’ve seen many EAs achieve this, and they’re rewarded with spectacular career success.