Advanced skills for C-Suite Executive Assistants

Working alongside every successful Executive is a brilliant, switched-on and highly skilled Executive Assistant.

There are many advanced skills that Assistants, who work in the C-suite, need to succeed in the role. We cover a lot of those skills on this website. This article will 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 the following:

The Assistant growth mindset

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 indicate how much you fit into a ‘growth mindset’ or a ‘fixed mindset’. This post will look at how Assistants can establish a ‘growth mindset’, and we will 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 and work in a high-pressurised environment where mistakes can not be made.

Assistants are not afforded the luxury of failure. However, how are we expected to grow in our careers and roles without fault and the room to make mistakes?

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. Our role requires organisational skills, remembering details and making our Executive successful.

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 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, knowing 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 consider expanding your capabilities and the value you offer to your organisation.

Also, you deserve to thrive in your role, learn and grow.

Do 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 with a growth mindset, showing they are vulnerable and open about their failures.

Working with an authentic Executive who doesn’t expect unachievable perfectionism from their Assistants will make you feel more inspired, motivated and able to challenge yourself.

Don’t be afraid of feedback.

You should always ask 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 a 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 must stop comparing themselves to others in your organisation and those around them. You have to define what success means to you. You work with Executive who, for all intense and purposes, are 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 your growth will be different from others.

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, I think the Assistant Growth Mindset can be achieved by viewing challenges as opportunities.

Relish opportunities to learn and improve in your role. You don’t need your approval if someone doesn’t see your value. Instead, show them through your fantastic work that you are more than ‘just’ an Assistant.

Checklist for Meeting Planning

Checklist for Meeting Planning

This checklist will help streamline planning for every meeting.

50 Chrome Extensions for Assistants

50 Google Chrome Extensions

The guide lists 50 great Chrome Extensions for Productivity and time management.

What kind of leader do you want to be?

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 work in a management role. You manage your Executive, work with and support the leadership team, and see yourself as a role model for other staff members.

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 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 personalities and motivational styles.

Regarding leadership styles for Assistants, it is beneficial to adapt to the situation and see what works for your challenges. 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 more experienced team than he is.

The affiliative leader

The hallmark of the affiliative leader is a “People come first” attitude. This style is beneficial 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, leaving employees in a quandary.

The democratic leader

This style’s impact on the organisational climate is not as high as you 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 and exemplifies high-performance standards positively impacts self-motivated and highly competent employees.

But other employees feel overwhelmed by such a leader’s demands for excellence and 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 know their weaknesses and want to improve, but not when they resist changing their ways.

As you can see, according to Goleman, there are positives and negatives to each leadership style. Switching between different styles 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 – their expectations.

Why did they hire you, and how do they want you to 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 manage a team of people, each approach will work differently with each team member. 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 planning which styles will work effectively with the various challenges you have come up against over the year.

Help your Executive to be more enterprising

Today’s organisations require their employees to be more enterprising, more aware of customers’ needs, 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. 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 to change or improve something in the business that 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 implementing ideas that staff members come up with can hugely impact the efficiency and profitability of a company. For example, the staff in a manufacturing company researched and implemented changing the packaging to a cleaner, cheaper option. Or the Assistant who implemented an online 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 improve the things they already do. It is also often possible to then roll out the idea to other staff members 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, this can be a great idea if it saves time and money. 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. By collaborating, you can often 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.

You can share workloads by working together, 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 you and the organisation.

Support other staff to be more enterprising

As a vital team member, 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 marketplace work, and 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.

Assistant managers: How to motivate your team

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, objections, and 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 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!

Providing rewards

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 for 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 to 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 will help them achieve so much more in the role. This is one of many advanced skills for C-suite Executive Assistants.

How to be a business-critical Assistant

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 focuses on Executive and Personal Assistants moving from traditional administrative and support roles into becoming business-critical Assistants.

10 tips on public speaking

My first attempt at public speaking was in 2013 at an exhibition for assistants and office managers. At the time, I was petrified. Every fibre of my being told me to run away as quickly as my shaky legs could carry me. I managed to get through that first speech; since then, I have presented at several events.

Although nervous, I am less likely to bolt or shake uncontrollably. I feel a sense of triumph 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 a skill that helps in all business forms, 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 possible before the presentation. I have spent weeks reading my notes out loud and in front of 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 stairs at the Brit Awards, but she still got her fabulous self up and strutted 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 must include slides with your presentation, ensure they are great. Remember that your slides should emphasise your point rather than spell it out, so don’t add too much text. Instead, make them visually appealing so you can tell yourself the audience is looking at your slides rather than you!

4. Feel good about yourself

I always try to turn up at an event looking my very best. I will more likely deliver an excellent presentation if I feel confident about my appearance. 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 if 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 onto the stage with you or use your laptop to flick through the slides. Some people like to hold a pen or a slide clicker to 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 will notice because they won’t. They will concentrate 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 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 will say, but you are the only person who will know if you forget something. Yes, it can be unpleasant, 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!

10. Breath

Last, 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 fast if I’m nervous, so I make sure I take lots of deep breaths before the speech and make sure I speak at a slow pace.

What next?

Being an Executive Assistant can be a gruelling and demanding job. The sheer effort into the position is unparalleled, but the right person with the right skill set can make it look effortless and straightforward.

As this article has highlighted, certain lesser-known competencies must be achieved to succeed in the role of an EA. At the same time, most skills can be developed and improved over time, and having some underlying understanding helps immensely. It’s not often recognised just how much work Assistants do in the C-suite and how those skills help Executives exceed their goals. But it should be! So, if you aspire to become an EA working for a CEO, hone your lesser-known skillset on top of core competencies such as organisation and critical thinking. To develop these essential attributes, look at our online course on becoming a Strategic Business Partner. With this knowledge, you will have what you need to succeed as an Executive Assistant in the c-suite.