What’s one key requirement that all executive assistants should have?
There are several we can name, but one underlying trait is having an executive mindset. It’s what sets an EA apart from other assistants - they adopt a mindset like their executive which helps them to be at their most successful.
This sort of synergy makes for a much more effective partnership between executive and executive assistant. Communication becomes easier and execution can happen more quickly, delivering better results.
So, what goes into this executive mindset? Let’s take a closer look:
You might argue that strategic thinking is one aspect that really sets good executive assistants apart from the rest. How is strategic thinking demonstrated? One clear way is that rather than being task-focused or honing in on duties as “part of my job,” an EA with true strategic thinking will think big picture and consider goals and outcomes first.
This mindset means that executive assistants should be forward-thinking. Rather than being too focused on a task list for that day, they’re thinking well beyond that to a desired future state. They’re also not overly attached to the notion of what tasks should be part of their job or not - pitching in to get to the desired outcome (or ensuring that tasks have been appropriately delegated) is a good EA trait.
When we talk about “value” here, we’re referring to it in the sense of demonstrating value. A good EA isn’t doing “work for work’s sake” or simply filling in time, they take pride in demonstrating the value of their work at all times.
This is related to that point about strategic thinking too - busy work is pointless from a strategic viewpoint. As an executive, you don’t fill your days with that sort of work and your EA shouldn’t either.
It’s the role of executives to demonstrate leadership and set direction for the organization. An executive assistant should be a close ally, in lockstep with the direction or goals set by the leader. In a sense, they become a “force multiplier” of that vision, helping to communicate plans and ensure that they are executed on.
For example, an executive assistant can help by listing and tracking the actionable items that are needed to execute the vision. They can follow up and make sure that key items are on-track and that the people assigned to them will have them done on time.
One thing that sets an executive assistant apart from other assistant roles is the high level of initiative they are expected to have. They’re proactive about getting on with what needs doing, rather than being reactive or waiting to be told.
A key trait related to this is that executive assistants often have to anticipate the needs of their executive. For example, if they’re aware that the executive is to host a catered meeting next week, they’ll be proactive about ensuring the suitability of the venue and that dietary requirements of attendees will be taken care of.
The most successful executives tend to get where they are at least in part because they are exceptional relationship builders. They cultivate a network of people through whom they can source information, get particular work done or even seek advice. Their relationship-building skills also mean that they’re more likely to be personable and have the support of those that they need to do work.
An executive assistant should have this relationship building trait too. Much of the success enjoyed in business and life comes down to relationships. For example, the EA should have the people skills to motivate others to get key tasks done. This means being able to engage with other employees and building strong connections with them. They remember and document details, and pass on key information to their executive. The EA remembers any promises that have been made to team members and ensures they are kept.
Executive assistants should also have strong networks. Time and again we’ve seen networks of contacts pull through for executive assistants, from sourcing rare tickets for their boss to taking care of last minute travel hiccups. There’s definitely an art to building those networks, and not everyone has those skills, which is one thing that makes EAs rare gems for the companies they work for.
Executives are leaders in the organization and as such, they take ultimate responsibility for actions and results. They drive philosophies, culture, strategy, and goals. The most successful executives tend to have an “internal locus of control,” which means that they accept that their own actions drive results and they don’t look to blame others.
Similarly, the best executive assistants also take ownership. They’re not always responsible for key results, but they know who is and can help executives to hold those people accountable.
In terms of their own work, an EA always owns it, good or bad. If they make a mistake, they quickly take action to rectify it. We’ve seen EAs swing into action and resolve mistakes quickly by tapping into their networks. Missed a booking? Who do they know connected with the company?
Importantly, EAs don’t wallow in excuses. They get on with it and make it right.
How can an executive mindset be developed?
People have asked, “are people like this born or made?” Mostly, it’s about developing the right habits and behaviors in an environment that encourages them. You can absolutely help someone to develop an executive mindset.
For one thing, it’s important to remember that even the most seasoned executive assistant doesn’t know your mindset yet when they’re first starting with you. However, they tend to be adept learners and will pick up your preferences relatively quickly. This is one reason that we advocate the EA-executive relationship to be a partnership - it takes time to build and you will always get better results with a long-term outlook.
For anyone in another assistant role wanting to work their way into an EA position, gradually increasing responsibilities can help. One that is particularly important is taking ownership and initiative - they should be looking for what needs to be done to help achieve goals. This also means that they should be given the opportunity to be involved and develop a clear understanding of what those goals are. It’s difficult to take initiative if you have no clear context.
Top executive assistants have a range of background experiences that contribute to their bank of knowledge and skills. An environment that exposes people to different situations and helps to build communication and problem-solving skills will help to develop that executive mindset, too.
It’s fair to say that not everyone is capable of being a good executive assistant. Quite honestly, the executive mindset is just not for everyone and some people will not be comfortable with it.
However, in those who are determined to forge a successful career as an EA, the executive mindset can be fostered and developed over time. EA duties tend to require a higher level of initiative than a regular assistant, but this can be developed by delegating more responsibilities to the assistant.
Here at Worxbee, we work hard to source highly skilled EAs who already exhibit that all-important executive mindset. If you’re looking for a good match for your organization, talk to us today about how we can help you.