Turning Your Working Relationship Into a Thought Partnership

What if your working relationship could go beyond the ordinary?

What if, in working with an executive assistant, you could develop a full-blown thought partnership?

You’ve heard of thought leaders. Many executives are or aspire to be thought leaders, at the forefront of innovative ideas and successful best practices. A thought partnership is a bit different, but is hugely beneficial to your career and your company. Here’s how:

What is a thought partnership?

We’ve talked before about how an executive assistant can become more of a strategic partner rather than simply “an assistant.” Being a thought partner is part of this idea. A thought partner is someone who shares their ideas and experiences, helping their partner to navigate complex challenges or decisions.

A thought partner is different from a mentor or advisor in that the relationship is mutually beneficial. This sort of partnership can take many forms – from research buddies to colleagues, even to a manager and a team member.

There’s often a stereotype of executive assistants (or other types of assistant, for that matter), that they take a “yes person” sort of role. The idea is generally that they’re task-focused and that their roles only exist to do the doing at the bidding of their manager, without any input toward strategy or ideas.

As with most stereotypes, this one is grossly outdated. Top executive assistants are a wealth of skills and knowledge that can be invaluable when you need an extra brain or set of eyes on an issue. They make ideal thought partners! 

This extract from an article by Kim Scott, who has worked in senior roles for Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter, shares the perspective of a manager looking at their high-performing team members:

“What you want to be is a thought partner. This is not just an abstract title, like ‘thought leader.’ It means approaching their work with curiosity and with an aim to be equals in discussing it. They know when they need to know more. You are thoughtful. And you are a partner,” says Scott. “From a reporting point of you, you may still be their manager, but, for these high-performers, you help manage their curiosity, not their work.”

What are the benefits of a thought partnership?

There are several benefits to forming a thought partnership. To begin, a thought partner can be someone who challenges you to broaden your thinking or to see new perspectives or ideas. When you’re relying on yourself for ideas or decisions, you naturally gravitate toward your own experiences and what you know. A thought partner can add valuable new insights, or challenge you to rethink paradigms.

A thought partner can prompt you to look at new avenues of thinking or potential solutions to problems. They can often speak from experience, relaying lessons learned from a similar situation. They help you to create more value in your career or business.

Another trait of a good thought partner is that they tend to ask good questions. They understand how to formulate a question so that it prompts more thought rather than a defensive response. You may be familiar with the exercise “yes, and” where people respond to suggestions by adding to them rather than coming up with a “but.” Thought partners tend to be the ultimate “yes, and” people, helping you to broaden your potential scope of answers.

In a sense, a thought partnership is also great support for you in your career and daily life. Your partner is someone who has your back and can be trusted to be a steady voice and reliable person in situations that may be difficult. An executive assistant is particularly adept at this, with discretion being a large part of their work.

Lastly, developing a strong thought partnership tends to create a better working environment. It’s about mutual respect for each other’s intelligence and abilities. Everyone wants to come to work feeling that they are valued and respected! It’s a great way to get the best from people.

An executive assistant can make a particularly adept thought partner Click To Tweet

How can you cultivate a thought partnership?

How do you reach the point where your working relationship with your executive assistant (or others) is a thought partnership?

Here are key characteristics:

  1. A thought partner is committed to the person who is seeking clarity or asking the questions.
  2. A thought partner offers both patience and accountability.
  3. A thought partner understands the subject their partner is exploring.
  4. A thought partner understands the set of values from which their partner is coming from.
  5. A thought partner understands the goals and desired outcomes of their partner.

One of the key features is being “mutually beneficial,” so both of you are operating on the same level and both get something out of it. From a manager’s perspective, part of cultivating this sort of relationship is avoiding micromanaging. It’s important to set the scene, letting your executive assistant know you trust them to do a good job and that your door is open for any questions or feedback.

Secondly, being encouraging and open to feedback is important. No one is going to challenge your thinking or ideas (particularly as a subordinate of yours in the company hierarchy), if you become defensive or dismissive of their thoughts. Being genuinely open is a compulsory quality for cultivating an effective thought partnership.

A third key factor is that your executive assistant (or chosen thought partner) must have had enough time to get to know you well. For example, you probably have certain values that guide how you respond to things or the risks you’re willing to take. You also probably have certain overall preferences for how you do things and how you conduct yourself. You’ll have your own strengths and weaknesses, and a thought partner should always play to your strengths. 

It takes time for a person to get to know all of those finer details about you and your work. If they’re a good match, the better they get to know you, the more in alignment they will be with your thinking, while also being able to present alternative ideas. You’re not after a clone, but you definitely need someone who “gets it.”

Lastly, a thought partner should be a good match in terms of key personal and work traits. For example, their values, personality and personal style should be a good match (either similar or complementary). If not, you could clash in key areas and that’s not conducive to getting things done.

Final thoughts

A thought partner can provide a valuable sounding board, idea generator and clarity on your path to success. They can challenge you to see things from different perspectives and help you to either affirm your choices, or consider new avenues.

Successful thought partnerships are mutually beneficial and create energy and momentum around your work. They can be a huge secret behind your success.

Finding the right thought partner is crucial. An executive assistant is well-placed to fill this role, especially if you have been well-matched. At Worxbee, we work hard to recruit top executive assistants and match them with the right people. Take a look here to find out more and to get started with us.

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