Every business is started by someone with a vision. They are the driving force behind the business, and they want to change the world. You might not work for the person who started the organisation. But, if you work for an Executive who is the creative thinker in your organisation, someone who innovates and drives change in the business – you are working for a visionary manager! Working as an Assistant with a visionary manager comes with a lot of advantages and a few disadvantages! In this post, we are going to look at how to work with a visionary manager, how you can support them, and what it means for your career. Firstly, let’s define a visionary manager.
What does it mean to be visionary?
Author and speaker Josh Linkner defines a visionary as someone who is “willing to dream wildly and think ahead. When your organisation has a senior leader who focuses on what’s possible and breathes reinvention, you have a chance to reach those stellar, dreamed-about heights.”
It sounds incredible. What an opportunity to work with someone who disrupts the status quo, innovates and drives the growth in the business! Visionary managers expect and often demand their team create new ideas, think differently and embrace change. It is an exciting place to be, especially for Assistants. Working with a visionary brings so many opportunities because these types of leaders will not work with their Assistant traditionally. They don’t work with anyone in a conventional way. The possibilities are endless. But, with endless possibilities can come long hours, constant change, little structure and no strategy. It can be pretty stressful and frustrating working in an environment where there is no clear path or plan of action. A lot of visionary leaders can make for bad managers because they are tasked with creating new ideas and thinking ahead, rather than focusing on the here and now and dealing with the practical aspects of management. There are advantages and disadvantages when it comes to working with a visionary leader, let’s look specifically at how Assistants can work with and support a visionary.
How to work with a visionary manager
This is the number one, most important skill that you can bring to the table when working with a visionary. You need to be an executor. The person that gets things done. You need to provide the structure that will get their ideas and concepts up and running. How do you do this?
Create a schedule that allows them time to brainstorm with their team. They will need time to spit-ball ideas, come up with new strategies and bounce off other creative types. Structure these meetings so that they have a definite end time and make sure you are very strict with the time. Go to the sessions so that you can take notes and keep track of what has been discussed. If you can’t be there, find a facilitator in the organisation that can help structure the brainstorming sessions. Giving them this time will also make sure they use the rest of their time to work in a more structured and strategic manner.
Understand the business.
You have to know what is going on at all points of the day and in the organisation. This means you need to network like you have never networked before. You need to be involved in everything, you need to know what is going on and everyone in the organisation needs to loop you in. The only way you can provide structure for your Executive is if you are involved. Remember, if you work for a visionary manager, you will need to inspire confidence because you will often be the lynchpin between your Executive and the rest of the team. You need to know your job inside out, and you will need for everyone else to know that too. Confidence does play a key role in how you work with a visionary.
Your Executive has to know that you have their back. You will be there for them and support them through every up and down that they face. You have to build an unshakable rapport with them. Get to know them, be in their life and understand how they think and how they function. Bethany Burns, EA to the CEO of BrewDog, calls this ‘comfortable intrusion’. You have to get involved, and your Executive has to let you. You also need to build rapport with everyone your Executive comes into contact with. Visionary leaders will have a strong team around then that what to also execute the vision. Make sure you have a strong relationship with everyone who works in your Executive’s inner circle.
Your communication skills need to be on point for a few different reasons. Your visionary leader might struggle to communicate what they need from you and their team. You need to adapt to their way of communicating so that you are both on the same page, and then you need to help disseminate information to the people around you. Again, having a good understanding of what is happening in the business will help with this. You also need to communicate regularly with the other Assistants in your business. This is a brilliant way to keep in the loop. Working with a visionary leader will mean that you will work at such a fast pace. You don’t want to have to re-invent the wheel, so make sure you are all communicating with each other and sharing best practice. Back to communicating with your Executive – they will work at a fast pace, and they will have a lot of ideas that you need to capture. This is where technology can help. Find a tool that will help them offload their thoughts to you. This could simply be WhatsApp, Slack or even email. Use something that helps them get their ideas out of their heads and over to you for action.
Roll with the punches.
There are many famous cases of visionary leaders not treating their staff well – Steve Jobs springs to mind. This isn’t the case for every visionary leader, but for many, the thoughts and feelings of their team are secondary to their vision. If you work for an Executive like this, it can be tough, and you will need to develop a thick skin and learn to roll with the punches. This isn’t for everyone, and you need to decide what your boundaries are and how you want to be treated. Depending on the relationship you have with your Executive, you may also have to pull them up on behaviour that is not acceptable. This comes with confidence and practice. Speaking truth to power is not easy. Just remember that at the end of the day, your Executive will always win out. They often misbehave because they can. That is how business works. If they are innovating, making the business a lot of money and genuinely leading change, their power and abilities will outweigh your feelings. Hopefully, times are changing, but it is slow progress. You need to decide what works for you.
Share the vision.
This is my final point, and it is an important one. You have to share the vision that your Executive is putting out in the world. If you don’t get on board, then you are going to drown! You have to share their passion, enthusiasm and drive. You don’t have to work the same crazy hours or intensity, but you do have to live and breath the business. Again, you have to ask yourself if this is truly what you want to do. If you are going to succeed as an Assistant to a visionary leader, you have to strap in and enjoy the ride!
If you do work with a visionary leader, I highly recommend you watch this interview with Anikka Fragodt, the first EA to Mark Zukerberg and The Challenges and Triumphs of Working in the Inner Circle.