Last week I talked to two very successful Entrepreneurs who both expressed interest in hiring an Executive Assistant (EA). Smart move. An EA can work wonders for a busy Entrepreneur. However, both business leaders were unsure exactly what this person would do. Fair enough. The Executive Assistant role is one of the least understood positions, in part because it encompasses so many different responsibilities and can differ greatly depending on the industry or Executive/Entrepreneur. My husband doesn’t even fully understand what I do (and I talk about my work a lot).
In the past five years or so, I have seen significant improvements in both the perception of the position and the training available for this career. Yes, executive support and administration is a career. One, I was happy to discover, that was actually very fulfilling and lucrative, because it was made for me (a Type-A, overachieving, organized, detail-oriented, intrapreneurial leader).
SO, WHAT DO EXECUTIVE ASSISTANTS DO? WHATEVER IT TAKES.
Executive Assistants are the ultimate force multipliers and project managers. Their project just happens to be their Executive. From purchasing unique gifts for a business associate, to managing internal and external communication, to preparing speeches, to reorganizing staff roles, to managing social media, to creating business plans, and everything in between, we’ve got it covered. Executive Assistants are problem solvers and fixers. They are some of the most resourceful and connected individuals in your organization. If you have a challenge, bring it to your nearest EA, and I guarantee they will have a solution for you by the end of the day. Executive Assistants are leaders and seeing them as anything else is a complete underestimation of their ability and a disservice to you.
The Executive Assistant position is even more unique when you’re talking about working with a Founder, Entrepreneur, or public figure. Earlier this year, I attended a retreat just outside of Seattle where Monique Helstrom, Chief of Simon Sinek (i.e. Executive Assistant to, and Producer of, Simon), was a guest speaker. She was explaining a bit about her position and told us that she recently was talking to Brene Brown’s Executive Assistant about their respective roles. While, in theory, they are in the same industry (EAs to very prominent authors and public speakers) Monique said their roles were completely different. I think that is perfect illustration of why the role is so hard to define in any real specifics. A job description for Simon’s EA, Adam’s EA, or Elon Musk’s EA could all be very different. The Executive Assistant position varies so significantly depending on what industry you work in, how established the organization is, and the personality and behavior of your Executive.
Last summer, Adam published a blog called The 3 Most Important Things a Leader Must Do. They were:
- Casting the vision
- Providing focus, clarity, and direction for the team
- Removing roadblocks
That is a Leader’s (an Executive’s) 20%. Clear and concise. Well, what about an EA’s 20%? It tends to get a bit murky, but I think this sums it up:
An Executive Assistant’s 20% is ensuring the objectives, goals, and vision of the Executive is executed.
So, in theory, the Executive Assistant’s 20% is the Entrepreneur’s bottom 80%, right? An EA handles all the miscellaneous responsibilities, tasks, and administrative duties that allow an Executive to stay focused on leadership, strategy, and communication. But we all know EAs aren’t just going to focus on the 80%, part of their job is helping their Executive manage their 20%.
Adam has a really great analogy for this concept, that I like to call the 0-10 Principle. As a visionary, Adam has brilliant ideas on the daily. They may not be completely fleshed out, but he has the spark and then sees the end result crystal clear. It is my responsibility to take that idea from a 2 to a 9, bring the idea/project back to him so he can do his final finessing to bring it to a 10. Here’s what that looks like in practice. Adam wants to create an inspirational speaker series that raises funds for his Foundation. Great! That’s at about a 2. I will then take that idea, gather the necessary people, create a timeline, budget, put together a marketing plan, interview speakers, plan the event, and come back to Adam with a final plan, including the speaker line-up. He will offer additional insight, perhaps tweak the speaker order, and come up with an overarching theme for the night. Now we’ve got a 10.
That is how Executive Assistants help their leaders with their 20%. You can apply the concept to almost every aspect of your Executive’s 20%, from drafting a letter to include in the company’s annual report, to revamping their blog, to preparing for a quarterly offsite leadership meeting, to planning a 40th birthday trip for their brother. An Executive Assistant manages the people, details, timelines, etc. to make an idea come to life. This can happen on a large scale like helping them write a book or on a smaller scale like choosing the perfect anniversary gift for their wife. Let’s break this down even further and look at how an EA helps their Executive with their 20%:
FORCE MULTIPLY THE VISION. Communicating the vision is perhaps the most critical component of an Executive’s job. Casting the vision wide and often through strategic communication and branding initiatives generates new business, attracts talent, and boosts employee engagement. Branding and casting the vision go hand in hand.
- Schedule regular company updates. These can be in the form of Town Halls, a Letter from the CEO in the annual report, daily blog posts, quarterly video announcements, weekly emails, monthly company meetings, etc. What matters here is that there is a cadence to the communication and that the leader is casting the vision and keeping the team updated and informed regularly. It is the EAs responsibility to schedule these, make sure the cadence is kept and to even prep these letters, meetings, video content, etc. Make sure the CEO’s vision is heard often!
- Along with their marketing or brand strategy teams, EAs must specifically reviewing their Executive’s social media regularly to ensure the messaging is in line with the company’s mission and their Executive’s vision. Once the brand is established, EAs must protect it and ensure the messaging is consistent across all channels. How an Executive shows up at church, needs to be the same way he/she shows up on YouTube.
- EAs are in a unique position to pitch their Executive for interviews on blogs, national media publications, podcasts, radio shows, etc. They know their Executive’s story, they know their language and how they would answer questions. Submit for awards and as many media mentions as it make sense. EAs are able to craft the message that their Executive wants to be heard, and usually these opportunities lead to even bigger opportunities. Don’t be afraid to start small and build up the brand presence.
- EAs can help their Executives write a weekly blog or do a weekly YouTube or Instagram show. The key is consistently delivering the vision and positioning their Executive as a thought leader in his/her industry.
FORCE MULTIPLY COMMUNICATION. Casting the vision means communication with both internal and external stakeholders, so how can an EA enhance these activities to maximize the leader’s reach?
- Listen on calls and participate in meetings to listen for anything that their Executive says will be done, delivered, or followed up on. Does their Executive say he’ll make an introduction or get the name of a book to someone? It is an EAs job to ensure that promises made are promises kept.
- Managing internal and external relationships is critical. Maintaining a database that houses important, and sometimes seemingly irrelevant, information about people can be a lifesaver. This can be family members, employees, candidates, vendors, community members, former employees, competitors, business leaders, etc. As the EA and their Executive meet with people and conduct research or meeting prep, store any details about the meeting or the individual. Set reminders for anniversaries, birthdays, or important life milestones. I recommend using an inexpensive CRM so you can set tasks and follow-up reminders so you don’t miss an important date. Create a VIP list of people that the Executive wants to either maintain or create a relationship with. Then set up Google alerts that keep you in tune with what these people are doing, awards their company’s receive, etc. It’s a perfect opportunity for the EA to remind their Executive to reach out, call, email, or send a hand-written note. Executive’s will run into these players at conferences or networking and social events. Keep this information handy so it can be pulled out and given to the Executive as a quick refresher before they go to a community event so they don’t forget to congratulate a potential business partner on their recent merger.
- The art of the handwritten note is not dead! Incorporate handwritten notes into the correspondence with an Executive’s VIP list. It could be one of the most impactful ways to maximize an Executive’s reach and build relationships. Whether that is thanking someone for coming in to meet with their Executive, or congratulating a competitor on building a new office, handwritten notes get noticed. Pop a business card in there (because not everyone can interpret the Executive’s handwriting and signature like an EA can). To really maximize this, EAs should write thank yous and general notes to vendors or the concierge who went above and beyond helping them book a massage for their Executive when he arrived at his hotel. The more relationships that an EA is able to create will only help them help their Executive. And you never know when a kind word or just knowing the name of the right person at a restaurant will come in handy. Provide value, expecting nothing in return, and it will be returned tenfold.
- If an EA travels with their Executive for speaking engagements or hosts training events where their Executive is the keynote presenter, they must pay attention to the audience. What content is resonating? What content could be removed for the next training event? After the event they can update and refresh the Executive’s content accordingly. EAs are the eyes and ears while their Executive is presenting. Watch the room. Who is fully engaged and asking questions? Who is leaving the room every five minutes? Is there talent in the room? After the presentation (especially if it is a day-long event) their Executive is going to be fried, and may need to catch a flight home, and yet everyone is going to want to talk to him. Often an Executive will have a line of people who want to thank him or ask questions. The EA should position herself/himself near their Executive to take business cards, take notes on who to follow-up with, answer questions, or take photos. And perhaps most importantly, to grab their Executive and steer him towards the exit so he doesn’t miss his Uber!
FORCE MULTIPLY FOCUS, CLARITY, AND DIRECTION. This is all about leading and managing up so the Executive is making the right decisions, has the right meetings on his calendar, and is in relationship with the right people in order to achieve the company’s objectives. If one of the Executive’s primary goals is to ensure the team is on track and focused on what must be done that day, week, or month, then that’s the Executive Assistant’s goal too.
- When an EA is scheduling or drafting regular communication for their Executive make sure the message is clear and ties back in specific tasks that keep everyone focused.
- During key leadership meetings, note all action items and follow up accordingly. If no action items are clear, do not leave the meeting without everyone agreeing to what the next best steps are or what the course of action is and who is doing what.
- Perhaps most importantly, when the Executive is getting hit from multiple angles or when they start chasing a shiny object, remind them of what is important and what the team had agreed to focus on that quarter. Entrepreneurs are visionaries and will have endless ideas. Make note of them and if they aren’t part of the overall goals, table them for now. If the Executive asks about them twice, then it’s time to bring them to the forefront and get their buy-in that they should be moved to the 20% for both the Executive and EA to tackle.
FORCE MULTIPLY REMOVING ROADBLOCKS. Once the vision is cast and everyone is clear on what they need to focus on for success, help the team get there!
- Research tools and provide cost/benefit analysis to the Executive so they can make the best decision for the team.
- Make sure the Executive is regularly available for impromptu meetings. While EAs are often the gatekeeper, do not block access to the “throne”. Schedule in time for the Executive to walk around and check in with people. Do no over schedule them so much that they are not available for a quick question that if unanswered could hold up a project for days.
- Be the eyes and ears for the Executive and bring the challenges and solutions to him of issues that if not nipped in the bud could fester and create organizational issues. This could be employee morale, inefficiencies in staffing, or a clunky system. Speak up and help find a solution so everyone can keep moving forward.
An Executive’s 20% is also an Executive Assistant’s 20%. They may complete different tasks to get there, but they are still a part of making it happen. Own it.
Regardless of the exact responsibilities Executive Assistants have, I haven’t met individuals who work harder to accomplish a mission. While I am no longer Adam’s Executive Assistant (I passed the torch to our amazing EA, Amy, last year!), when Adam did travel without me, I didn’t go to bed unless I knew he had arrived. I emailed with him at 2am before he went off the grid to hike Kilimanjaro. I came into the office on weekends to work on a project, prepare for an event, or move offices. I got out of bed more than once to rearrange travel and get him booked on a new flight after delays or cancellations. It needed to be handled. I handled it. I’m sure this is sounding pretty familiar to my fellow EAs (and perhaps many Chiefs of Staff).
For people who don’t quite understand this unique role, they tend to think Executive’s are expecting too much or that these requests are unacceptable or intrusive. But what they don’t know is that very rarely does the Executive actually have to request that these things happen – they just get done of the EAs own volition. I knew what I was signing up for, in fact, I thrive on this. I work for an incredibly interesting and dynamic entrepreneur and I am helping him build multiple organizations; occasionally work doesn’t happen between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday. The trade-off? I get to work for an incredibly interesting and dynamic entrepreneur and help him build multiple organizations – the work is challenging, rewarding, and it doesn’t hurt that I have complete flexibility with my schedule and unlimited vacation and time off.
This is just a starting point for those Entrepreneurs who are looking to hire an Executive Assistant or who want to establish a better relationship with their right hand. The nuances are endless. I have been the Executive Assistant, and now Chief of Staff for eight years with the same Executive, yet my job today looks nothing like it did eight years ago. The only constant is that I am still responsible for, and committed to, ensuring Adam’s vision is implemented.
Since we’re on the topic of the power of the partnership between EA and Entrepreneur, Adam and I are excited to share that we are working on a book about this very topic! Click here to get on the pre-order list and help us choose the title!
ABOUT HALLIE WARNER
Hallie Warner is the Chief of Staff to Adam Hergenrother at Adam Hergenrother Companies. With over ten years of experience supporting the C-Suite, Hallie has mastered the ability to lead and assist by assessing current needs, initiating change, and executing projects. As Executive Assistant, and later as Chief of Staff, Hallie has worked side-by-side with Adam for over seven years, ensuring that Adam’s vision is communicated and executed. Hallie also works closely with the executive team to manage special projects, hire and grow talent, and maximize Adam’s reach through training events and strategic communication. With a focus on business development activities, she works to maintain the company brand and create and manage key internal and external relationships to drive company growth. Hallie is also a coach and trainer through Adam Hergenrother Training helping others to become the best version of themselves, personally and professionally.
For more information on the Leader & Force Multiplier relationship, visit Hallie’s blog: www.LeadandAssist.com.