Advanced skills for C-Suite Executive Assistants
Working alongside every successful Executive is an incredibly smart, switched-on and highly skilled Executive Assistant.
There are many advanced skills that Assistants, who work in the C-suite, need to be successful in the role. We cover a lot of those skills on this website. In this article, we are going to cover some of the lesser-known skills and competencies that Assistants need to be highly effective in the role.
In Advanced skills for C-suite Executive Assistants, we will cover:
How do you feel when someone gives you feedback at work? Are you open to feedback, or do you feel defensive? What happens when you have challenges at work? Do you face them head-on, or do you avoid the situation?
As Assistants, we often come up against misconceptions about the role even if we know we must have advanced skills for C-suite Executive Assistants.
How do you feel when someone doesn’t value your contribution? Do you see it as an opportunity to educate those around you, or does it affect your confidence?
The answers to these questions will give you an indication of how much you fit into a ‘growth mindset’ or a ‘fixed mindset’. In this post, we are going to look at how Assistants can establish a ‘growth mindset’, and we are going to follow Carol Dweck’s book Mindset and her 2013 TED talk on the subject.
So that’s start by looking at the difference between a ‘fixed mindset’ and a ‘growth mindset’. Here is Carol Dweck’s description of someone with a fixed mindset:
I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?
For Assistants, we are often told that we have to be perfect, that we work in a high-pressurised environment where mistakes can not be made.
Assistants are not afforded the luxury of failure. However, without fault and the room to make mistakes, how are we expected to grow in our career and our roles?
We must be given a licence to learn and space to grow. Here is Carol Dweck’s take on a growth mindset:
There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.
Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.
Many Assistants focus on getting all the answers right. Of course, this is understandable. We are in a role that does require organisational skills, remembering lots of detail and making our Executive’s success.
We do have to get a lot right.
But, if we want to expand our knowledge, do better and be better.
We have to stretch ourselves and be in a position where we might potentially get things wrong. How do we go about creating a ‘growth mindset’?
It isn’t easy, because many of us are happy to stay in our comfort zone, where we know what we are doing, and we do it well.
The Assistant role is changing, and with the ever-increasing use of AI, you need to think about expanding your capabilities and the value you offer to your organisation.
Also, you deserve to thrive in your role, learn and grow.
Does your Executive and organisation cultivate a growth culture?
So, where do we start to develop an Assistant growth mindset? Ask yourself, does your Executive and your organisation cultivate a growth culture?
If you are moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, you need to feel like you are in a fertile environment where ideas and creativity thrive, where feedback is about improving your work yourself.
You should work with an Executive who also has a growth mindset, someone who shows that they are vulnerable and is open about their failures.
Working with an authentic Executive who doesn’t expect unachievable levels of perfectionism from their Assistants will lead you to feel more inspired, motivated and able to challenge yourself.
Don’t be afraid of feedback.
You should always be asking for feedback, every day and in every way.
It doesn’t surprise me that so many Assistants avoid asking for feedback. We have busy Executives, taking 5 minutes out of their day to ask for feedback seems too much. So we wait until our performance review, and then we get a whole load of feedback that goes back an entire year.
The process is also tied in with our salary and remuneration package. Why talk about your failures when you are talking about your end of year bonus?
It is for this exact reason you should ask for consistent feedback. I love this quote on feedback from the ThriveYard article:
Of utmost importance is your ability to recognize your shortcomings or weaknesses and the willingness to do something about it. At times we might have our internal sirens blaring warning us that we are headed on the wrong path and feedback serves as a red traffic light or a stop sign to alert us that we are headed down the wrong path. Demonstrate the desire and understanding to change course and to move to the correct road. Even though at the moment of impact, receiving critical feedback can sting since it feels bad to be told that you don’t measure up, yet we need the reality check to jump-start us back into realignment. Look at the big picture on what went wrong and ask yourself what you could have done better and what you can do better moving forward.
Define your success
For Assistants who want to develop a growth mindset, you have to stop comparing yourself to other people in your organisation and those around you. You have to define what success means to you. You work with Executive’s who for all intense and purposes, successful people. We must have advanced skills for C-suite Executive Assistants.
You should learn from them but don’t compare yourself to them. You have your path and growth for you will be different from other people.
You need to have confidence in yourself and your abilities. This comes from looking at your day to day successes, what did you achieve, how did you grow, and what did you learn? What was the small victory that led to change?
View challenges as opportunities
Last but not least, I think the Assistant Growth Mindset can be achieved when you view challenges as opportunities.
Relish opportunities to learn and improve in your role. If someone doesn’t see your value, you don’t need to seek their approval. Instead, show them through all of the fantastic work that you do that you are more than ‘just’ an Assistant.
There are now quite a few of us in the Assistant world running around shouting that you, lovely Assistant, are a leader within your organisation! We must have advanced skills for C-suite Executive Assistants.
You may not manage a team, but you do work in a management role. You manage your Executive, you work with and support the leadership team, and you should see yourself as a role model within your organisation for other members of staff.
So if you are a leader in your organisation, what kind of leader do you want to be? Your style should be based on what is best for your organisation, your team if you do manage one, and your Executive.
Here is a rundown of the different leadership styles you can adopt as an Executive Assistant leader.
What kind of leader do you want to be?
During your Assistant career, I am sure you would have worked with many different types of leaders with different traits of personality and motivational styles.
When it comes to leadership styles for Assistants, it is beneficial if you can adapt to the situation and see what works for the challenges you are facing. In the fantastic Harvard Business Review eBook Leadership That Gets Results, Daniel Goleman details six different types of leadership qualities:
The coercive leader
This “Do what I say” approach can be beneficial in a turnaround situation, a natural disaster, or when working with problem employees.
But in most situations, coercive leadership inhibits the organisation’s flexibility and dampens employees’ motivation.
The authoritative leader
An authoritative leader takes a “Come with me” approach: she states the overall goal but gives people the freedom to choose their means of achieving it.
This style works exceptionally well when a business is adrift. It is less effective when the leader is working with a team of experts who are more experienced than he is.
The affiliative leader
The hallmark of the affiliative leader is a “People come first” attitude. This style is particularly useful for building team harmony or increasing morale.
But its exclusive focus on praise can allow poor performance to go uncorrected. Also, affiliative leaders rarely offer advice, which often leaves employees in a quandary.
The democratic leader
This style’s impact on organisational climate is not as high as you might imagine. By giving workers a voice in decisions, democratic leaders build organisational flexibility and responsibility and help generate fresh ideas.
But, sometimes the price is endless meetings and confused employees who feel leaderless.
The pacesetting leader
A leader who sets high-performance standards and exemplifies them himself has a very positive impact on employees who are self-motivated and highly competent.
But other employees tend to feel overwhelmed by such a leader’s demands for excellence—and to resent his tendency to take over a situation.
The coaching leader
This style focuses more on personal development than on immediate work-related tasks. It works well when employees are already aware of their weaknesses and want to improve, but not when they are resistant to changing their ways
As you can see, according to Goleman, there are positives and negatives for each leadership style and being able to switch between different styles really will help you develop as a leader within your organisation.
So, if you are flexible in your leadership approach, when should you use the different styles and how do they help you in your Assistant career?
What does your Executive want from you?
To help understand how you can lead in your organisation, you first need to understand what your Executive wants from you – what their expectations are.
Why did they hire you, and how do they want to you manage them and your team? Looking at the different leadership styles, can you see which approaches will work well when managing up?
What does your team want from you?
If you are managing a team of people, then each approach will work differently with each member of the team. How do they respond to each style, and how can you get the best out of them using the different approaches? Some might respond better to others.
It is worth taking the time to plan out which styles will work effectively with the various challenges you have come up over the year.
Today’s organisations require their employees to be more enterprising, more aware of the needs of customers and more involved in developing their products and services. It is harder than ever to differentiate as a business, keep customers returning and increase profits. Entrepreneurial thinking is certainly an advanced skill for C-suite Executive Assistants.
By having every member of staff thinking in an enterprising way and being more commercially minded, it is possible to stand out above the competition.
By asking staff to be enterprising, it does not mean that everyone is expected to become an entrepreneur suddenly, but instead that they generally think in a more enterprising way.
For example, if a client has a different need to the norm, is there a way you can assist them that isn’t unreasonable, still ensures the company makes a profit and keeps the client happy?
Perhaps you can see ways in which you could change or improve something in the business which would develop the quality of the offering or increase profits.
Enterprise isn’t just about coming up with big money-making ideas. Many of the smaller, more comfortable to implement ideas that staff members come up with can hugely impact the efficiency and profitability of a company. Take, for example, the staff in a manufacturing company who researched and implemented changing the packaging to a cleaner cheaper option. Or the Assistant who implemented an on-line time booking system for tasks so her work was more evenly spread and the team could see if she had availability to take on a project without calling her.
Many of the more straightforward ideas, once implemented, can be replicated throughout an organisation and have a huge impact.
This provides staff with a feeling of satisfaction and involvement in the company’s success. So what ideas can you develop and implement in your company?
What can you do?
First off, any member of staff has the potential to support an idea, opportunity or realise there is something that can be improved upon. Consider some of the following:
Improve the things you do
Some of the easiest, yet effective, enterprising ideas are linked to improving those things that you already do—improving the quality of the product or service, speed of delivery, cost of delivery or ease of delivery. Often a way to improve something you already do can come from seeing another company do something in an improved manner or by thinking it through yourself.
Making improvements is one of the most accessible enterprising options there is. The more radical the change or improvement is, the harder it is to gain permission or buy-in from others. However, on the whole managers and leaders are happy for staff members to work on ways of improving the things they already do. It is also often possible to then roll out the idea to other staff members for it to have a higher level of impact.
For example, you may be expected to manage meeting room bookings and be expected to know who needs a meeting room and when. Not to mention other advanced skills for C-suite Executive Assistants.
Introducing a meeting room booking app is a simple yet successful solution. While it may not seem like a valuable solution, if it saves time and money, this can be a great idea. What’s more, you can set time slots to help people keep on time in meetings. Perfect – a simple but effective answer to a constant issue.
Collaborate with others
Collaboration is a fantastic way of finding new and improved ways of working. Often collaborations can lead to new products and services being developed or moving into new markets.
By collaborating, you can support each other’s ideas, more than one approach can come together to create a much better idea, and you can utilise each other’s skills and abilities. Often by collaborating, you can increase each other’s confidence, competitiveness and willingness to give new things a try.
A great example of collaborating is where several personal assistants within an organisation collaborate to improve the purchasing of goods and services.
By working together, you can both share workloads, so not everyone is carrying out the same price comparison research and ordering the same or similar items. Plus, you can often get better deals from purchasing in bulk. Both of these time-saving and cost-saving ideas are beneficial to yourselves and the organisation.
Support other staff to be more enterprising
As a vital member of the team, you are perfectly suited to support others in their ambitious projects. Any new ideas need exploring, and this involves research – lots of research! Looking into competitors, customer needs, costs, opportunities and market place work as well as developing marketing ideas, business plans, and number crunching are all things you can help with.
For example, you could be the collator of all the information putting it together into a business plan to present to the senior team. You are ideal to act as the organiser and keep track of the information collated and chase people for their elements whilst putting together all the information already received.
It is becoming more and more common for Assistants to manage staff and lead teams on projects. Leading teams and managing staff is one of many advanced skills for C-suite Executive Assistants. Many Executive Assistants manage teams of other Assistants and Administrators, and we all know it can be tough keeping Assistant’s careers on track and keeping them motivated.
Here are our tips on how you can keep your team motivated and enthusiastic about the work.
Give each member of the team autonomy over their work.
It can be really easy, especially if you have been in the business for a long time, to think that you know how to do everything! If you are going to motivate your team, you can offer guidance, but you have to let your team have autonomy over their work. It is so important!
Ask for input and feedback.
Make sure your team feels like you listen to them (and listen to them!) Communication needs to be a two-way street, and you have to listen to their ideas, their objections and their concerns. Take the time to solicit feedback, and you will find that you have a ton of new ideas on how to do things.
Get to know your team.
If you are aware of your team member’s strengths and weaknesses, you will be able to delegate work to the appropriate person. Get to know them in other ways too – what they like to do, what they find exciting and challenging, who they are as people outside of the office and what their other hobbies are.
The best leaders care about their staff and treat them accordingly.
Providing productive and challenging work
We all know in the Assistant role that you can’t have challenging and productive projects all day, and every day, the role also has a lot of necessary administrative tasks that we all have to do.
But, with that being said, there are a whole ton of tasks and projects that Assistants can get involved in. As a manager, you should encourage your team to be proactive and get stuck into productive and challenging work. Encourage them to shine!
We all know how tough it is for Assistants to gain recognition and compensation at work. Pay rises and promotions are hard-fought. As a manager, you have to be their advocate and push for them to get the rewards they deserve.
You can also give your team lots of little rewards that will make them happy. An extra-long lunch break, the chance to leave early or a thank-you cupcake for a job well one will all be appreciated. Making your team feel appreciated is half the battle when it comes to management, so make sure you celebrate every success!
Setting effective goals
Last but not least.
Every member of your team should have a productive career development plan in place. Make sure they have goals that will stretch them and help them grow in their role. Put a structure in place so that you can meet regularly and mentor them through any challenges they are facing.
If you are an executive Assistant managing a team of Assistants, you really can lead by example. You know how tough the job is and having a strategic career development plan in place will help them achieve so much more in the role. This is one of many advanced skills for C-suite Executive Assistants.
In this honest and frank panel session, Nicky Christmas, former EA and now Editor and Founder of Practically Perfect PA, talks with Assistants who have transitioned to become a business critical Assistant.
They share their experiences, challenges and triumphs of their career development as assistants. Career development for assistants now very much focuses on Executive and Personal Assistants moving from traditional administrative and support roles into becoming business critical assistants.
My first attempt at public speaking was back in 2013 at an exhibition for assistants and office managers. At the time I was absolutely petrified. Every fibre of my being was telling me to run away as quickly as my shaky legs could carry me. I managed to get through that first speech and since then I have presented at a number of events.
Although I still get incredibly nervous, I am less likely to bolt or shake uncontrollably. There is a sense of triumph that I feel at the end of every presentation, and I’m pleased that I have managed, in the main, to overcome my fear of public speaking.
Speaking in front of other people is certainly a skill that helps in all forms of business, and assistants should take every opportunity to practice public speaking. Here are my top 10 tips for public speaking.
1. Practice, practice, practice
This is my number one tip because practice does make perfect. Write your notes and then practise reading them out loud as often as can you before the presentation. I have spent weeks reading my notes out loud and in front of very very helpful friends and family.
2. Even Madonna has fallen off a stage
This is what I often tell myself before I get up on stage. Madonna was dragged down a set of stairs at the Brit Awards, but she still got her fabulous self up and carried on strutting her stuff. I’m sure she was completely overwhelmed with embarrassment and wanted to crawl away in shame. But she didn’t and if you do something embarrassing you should carry on too – that is what I tell myself anyway!
3. Create a great set of slides
If you need to include slides with your presentation, make sure they are great. Remember that your slides should emphasis your point rather than spell it out, so don’t add to much text. Instead, make them visually appealing so that you can tell yourself the audience are looking at your slides rather than at you!
4. Feel good about yourself
I always try to turn up at an event looking my very best. If I feel confident about the way I look, it is more likely that I will deliver an excellent presentation. Call me shallow, but I do find it helps.
5. Get to the room in plenty of time
Another tip I’ve learnt over the last year is to get comfortable with the room before the presentation. Check that you have everything you need, your slides are up and in the right order, you have a podium if you need one and you have some water in case you start coughing uncontrollably, which is a real fear of mine!
6. Have a safety blanket
If you are incredibly nervous, it is well worth having something that helps you remain calm. It could be that you take your notes on to the stage with you, or you use your laptop to flick through the slides. Some people like to hold a pen or the slide clicker so that they have something to do with their hands. Others want the room to pace up and down while they are talking.
Whatever it is don’t worry that the audience are going to notice because they won’t, they will be concentrating on what you are saying.
7. Who is going to be in the audience?
It is worth knowing who will be in the audience before your presentation. It may help to have a few friends sitting in the front rows so that you can look at them while you are speaking as friendly faces do help ease nerves!
8. The only person who knows you’ve forgotten something is you!
I keep having to remind myself of this. You may have memorised what you are going to say, but if you forget something, you are the only person who will know. Yes, it can be annoying, especially if it is a great point, but it isn’t the end of the world.
9. Pretend to be someone else
Again I’ve used this a few times in the past. I’ve seen some fantastic speakers over the years and often channel their presenting style depending on the event I am speaking at. I’ve also watched a lot of TED talks and tried to replicate the confidence of their speakers. It might seem ridiculous but pretending to be Oprah Winfrey does help!
Last but not least try to keep your breathing steady and your voice slow and conversational. If speakers are nervous a real giveaway is the speed at which they speak. I find that I can speak really fast if I’m nervous so I make sure I take lots of deep breathes prior to the speech and make sure I speak at a slow pace.
There are many skills that Assistants need to work in the C-Suite. In this article, we have covered just a few! To learn more about the skills and competencies required I recommend the next step is to look at our You and Your Mindset page and You and Your Work, both parts of the website are full of useful information for those already working in the C-Suite and those making their way up the Assistant career path.