When I was approached to do a panel session with my boss at Assist Conference initially I felt nervous about going on stage and talking about my relationship with him – in front of him! Any EA will know that there are certain things that could potentially get uncomfortable. However, when he agreed to do it, I realised I had nothing to worry about. If he was going to support me in this event and take time out of his extremely busy schedule then our relationship was clearly very strong.
I have supported Andrew (CEO at Hailo) for 14 months now. We got off to an interesting start in that he didn’t actually interview me. Neither of us had met each other when I joined the company. The previous CEO had offered me the role, and then unfortunately left very shortly afterwards. This could have been disastrous. What if the new CEO didn’t like me? What if he had an EA he wanted to bring with him? I knew that I would need to prove myself pretty quickly.
After our initial meeting it was clear that Andrew was not actually used to having an assistant – and the first hurdle was getting him to understand what I could do for him. A lot of people assume that EAs just look after the diary and book the travel, but in reality we do so much more. We are the right hand person, the key strategic partner within the management team – we really do spin many plates at the same time and my first job, as Andrew’s assistant was to help him understand my role.
Our non-traditional start actually turned out to be a blessing. Not only were we both new to each other, but also we were both new to the company. It forced us to gel instantly and work together to build our own team of two that would go full steam ahead into running a fast moving dynamic start up business. The initial building of trust was vital and I think is certainly the future for this EA profession. Andrew often tells me that my ability to read him is what makes our relationship work. It does not matter what qualifications, experience or industry know how you have, if you can read your boss and react without having to be asked, understand their pressures and ultimately be seen as someone they can trust and rely on, this is the most important aspect of the role.
Long gone are the days when assistants sit in the corner typing up notes – we are business partners, influential team players and as Andrew called me at the conference ‘Company Wide Facilitators’! The future of the assistant is extremely exciting and is one with great potential. I have been very lucky in my career to work with some very inspiring executives, and when I look back I only ever think about the relationships we had – not the work we did. Without the relationship, the job is just not possible.
Five top tips for a successful partnership:
- Confidentiality and discretion – this is key. It takes time to build this trust, but it is the most important aspect of the role and the relationship. Always, under every circumstance ensure complete discretion when needed.
- Judgement – Learn to read your manager. An exec/assistant partnership needs to be one where you work together in sync to anticipate each other’s needs.
- Communication – Regular 1:1s and openness mean you are both on the same page and working towards the same goal. Become your bosses eyes are ears when they are not around and feedback, keep them up to date with everything and expect the same in return.
- Confidence – take charge and be proud of what you do.
- Support – make sure you are approachable and show that you care. Sometimes doing the small things really does make a difference to your execs day and in such a close working relationship its important to also be understanding of the pressures they face.
This is a guest post from Bonnie Cookson, EA at Hailo. With over a decade of experience in executive assistance and project management Bonnie is a Seasoned EA . With a passion for all things tech and social Bonnie has worked in a number of Technology businesses including Skype and Microsoft, and is currently EA to the CEO and Executive Chairman at Hailo – the taxi app. A Finalist in Executive PA Magazines PA of The Year award, Bonnie was shortlisted in 2015 as one of the UK’s top six executive assistants. Throughout her career Bonnie has organised over 100 events and prides herself on being a real brand ambassador for her company.