One of the questions I’m often asked is “How can I become a senior executive assistant?”. My answer is always the same. Make yourself indispensable as an EA.
From the outside, it’s easy to identify an executive assistant who has made themselves indispensable. They’re well-respected, hold a position of trust within the organisation, and they’re seemingly everywhere and across everything. All while making it look effortless. But what practices have they put in place, and what qualities do they consistently demonstrate, to have earned this respect and trust?
To earn trust, you must prove yourself as trustworthy. As an executive assistant to C-suite members or high net worth individuals (HNWI), you’re often privy to the most sensitive of business-related and personal information. Whether it be navigating a difficult political landscape, media relationships, financial markets or many other situations requiring the maintenance of confidentiality, your executive will often rely on your absolute discretion.
In your role as their right-hand and representative, you will be continuously aware of correspondence, documentation, and conversations that are vital to keep on a need-to-know basis. Always be mindful that when working at a senior level, once trust is broken, it's rarely repairable, and your reputation will likely suffer.
Having a sound understanding of your skills, strengths and weaknesses, is key to matching yourself with leaders with complementary attributes. If you know that you’re particularly gifted with managing project timelines and deliverables, then find ways of demonstrating this to your current or prospective leaders who need help staying on track. Conversely, if you’re someone who thrives best in a feedback-rich environment, working with a distant leader who prefers staff to be self-motivated and directed, may not be the most fulfilling or successful fit for you, or your leader.
Being honest with yourself about where you shine, and where you need development, will help you consistently highlight your strengths, and then deepen your skillset where needed.
It goes without saying that top-level executives and HNWIs are always busy, with many competing demands on their time and attention. As their executive assistant, they need to know they can rely on you to own and deliver upon tasks, challenges, and opportunities as they arise. Your leader needs to be able to trust your judgement, your decisiveness, and your autonomy.
This will require you to trust in your own abilities without needing their constant reassurance, guidance, and validation. By being clear on your leader’s needs, acting with due diligence, and finding solutions to problems (within your scope), you take much-needed pressure off of your leader, building their faith in you. Through curating a reputation of dependability, you will quickly elevate yourself in the eyes of your executive.
Effectively applying emotional intelligence within your executive assistant role, is more than simply reading the mood of your leader or team on any given day. When developed and applied consistently, your emotional intelligence can prove to be an undeniable asset for your leader.
A high level of emotional intelligence will cause you to take note of the reactions of other stakeholders, often allowing your leader to take this information into account when deciding next steps. You may be able to observe the feelings of others in a difficult meeting, gauge the reactions of shareholders to an announcement, or even alert your executive to changes in morale.
Importantly, you will be able to effectively and accurately read your leader and other senior team members, guiding you to know when assertiveness is required to keep tasks on track, or when a more passive stance is needed. This skill will prove invaluable in raising your profile, as it will make sure you never overstep, yet still deftly navigate your way to achieving outcomes.
C-suite executives and HNWI often prize adaptability and flexibility in their executive assistant, but there’s an underlying quality that supports this mindset. Resilience. Described in the Oxford dictionary as meaning “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”, having well-developed resilience is critical for success in your role.
In a high-pressure and fast-paced environment, change is often the only constant. Some examples might be a change in strategic plans, sudden developments occurring in an industry, or a downturn in financial markets affecting your organisation. In each of these cases and more, your leader will be forced to change direction fast, and so will you.
While it can be frustrating and disheartening to have to constantly set initiatives aside to pick up new ones, having a resilient attitude will help you adjust quickly. Your leader will deeply value the ability to switch your focus in an agile and unresentful manner, knowing they can again rely on you, no matter the circumstance.
To truly become indispensable as an executive assistant, you must be able to anticipate your leader’s needs at any given moment. Through diligently paying attention to their habits, preferences, routines and typical responses, you can learn how to respond to each scenario without being asked. Having the ability to anticipate the needs of your executive smooths the communication between you and hastens responses to a situation.
Responding to the needs of your leader may be as simple as having their coffee ready as they walk through the door in the morning, or it may be as complex as remembering their process of calling a board meeting and issuing a company-wide email in the rare event of a negative mention in the media. A proactive and anticipatory approach might result in you immediately consulting calendars, booking a meeting room, issuing invitations, setting up an agenda and action register, and arranging catering, all without having to be asked. For an executive leader or HNWI, walking out of their office door to find the next five or six steps already taken care of, relieves pressure from them, builds trust, and causes appreciation for being able to depend on you.
Continuing your growth
As you grow your career as an executive assistant, you might also like to read my articles on seeking a new position, or how to best support your executive's decision making.
I'm passionate about placing executive assistants within roles that are the perfect fit for them, and their employer, as it's never simply one-size-fits-all. Contact me for a confidential discussion on 0421 16 55 96 to discuss your career goals, and your next steps to achieve them.