The mindset of a successful strategic business partner
This chapter will focus on case studies and real practical tips on how Assistants can create the mindset need to succeed as a top-level, c-suite Executive Assistant.
So you are getting all the basics right in your Assistant role and you are ready to move into a more strategic partnership with your Executive.
In this chapter, we are going to cover the mindset of a successful strategic business partner. How Assistants can shift their mindset and move into a strategic partnership with their Executive. We share everything we have learned from successful strategic business partners over the last ten years of running Practically Perfect PA.
This chapter will focus on case studies and real practical tips on how Assistants can create the mindset need to succeed as a top-level, c-suite Executive Assistant. We will cover:
A few years ago I was working as a PA within a large team of highly qualified, talented and very very confident project management consultants. I was asked by one of my colleagues to come along to a meeting to discuss how the organisation could communicate more successfully with staff.
I wasn’t there to take notes or represent my Executive, I was there to offer my thoughts and opinions, and I freaked out. I felt like a complete fraud, even though I had lots of ideas on the subject and had worked on similar projects in other organisations.
Nevertheless, in that meeting, I didn’t say very much, and when asked a specific question, I said I didn’t know, and I generally looked and felt utterly redundant.
I’m sure we’ve all been there, feeling like a fraud at work and having a significant crisis of confidence.
I felt so stupid that day that I promised myself. It wouldn’t happen again. I’ve thrown myself into a few situations where I have felt totally out of my depth, questioned my entire career and skill set and wanted to crawl back into bed and hide.
I started to tell myself that I have to basically ‘fake it till I make it’ and that is what I’ve done ever since!
Here are some of my thoughts on why, sometimes, it’s quite useful to feel like a fraud at work and how it helps shift the mindset of a successful strategic business partner.
Why are you here?
That is the first thing to ask yourself.
Why are you in this situation?
You are here because you aced an interview that your Executive and your organisation saw something in that makes you awesome. It might be your knowledge, your skills, your qualifications, your fantastic personality.
Whatever it is – you have every right to be there and to be heard.
You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone
If you always do the same thing, you will never give yourself a chance to grow and develop.
I’ve heard so many incredibly successful business people say that they said yes to situations and figured out how to make it a success along the way.
Yes, that is a terrifying prospect, but if you know deep down that you can do something, but it is scary – say yes.
You will not regret it.
Everyone starts as a beginner. Think about when you first started using MS Outlook all those years ago, you didn’t know everything, but now you are a complete whizz.
It is the same for any task or activity you want to do. Public speaking? The more you do it, trust me, the easier it gets.
Don’t give yourself undue amounts of stress
Some people love working under pressure and need that buzz to achieve great things.
Good for them. I’m not one of them! I like to be organised when fleeing my comfort zone.
Feeling like a fraud doesn’t mean diving off the deep end, it means giving something a go.
It doesn’t mean taking up a challenge, but not asking for help. It means taking on new challenges but having a support system in place to help manage your development.
You are your own worst enemy
I hear this phrase a lot, and it is so true.
No one is a harsher on themselves than you.
I’m so guilty of this, and I know from experience it can hamper your chances of great achievements. You want to set yourself high expectations but not so ridiculously high that you don’t even bother to try because you might fail.
Are you over your head?
I think this is also an excellent question to ask yourself because sometimes Assistants can be given work that is totally outside of their job description.
For example, so many of us are asked to organise events, manage projects, procure services and suppliers, manage budgets and recruit for new staff.
All of these tasks are full time, professional, jobs for some people!
If you have been asked to do something that you haven’t done before, don’t say no, but do ask for time to up-skill, attend training and learn what the hell you are supposed to do!
When you take on a challenge you need the right tools to make it a success!
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 and the mindset of a successful strategic business partner.
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.
Working for someone who is a micromanager is hard work. There is no denying it, and it is especially true for Assistants.
We are there to save our Executive’s time and the organisation money.
It is hard to do that part of our job if our Executive is involved in everything that we do. Micromanagers are usually well-meaning, but they want to be in control of everything and ultimately think they can do everything better than everyone else.
It is exhausting for them, and it is demoralising for everyone else! How do you work with a micromanager without going crazy or quitting?
There are strategies you can put into place that will help you work with a micromanager. They take a long time, but if you love your job or you don’t want to quit, they are worth initiating.
When working with a micromanager, you need to realise two things. Firstly, your manager is going to have a high level of anxiety, and you will need to manage this.
Secondly, you need to build a lot of trust between the two of you. They need to trust you explicitly, and you have to work very hard never to let them down.
What do they expect from you?
The first thing you need to work on is how you communicate with your Executive. The lines of communication need to be open and honest.
I know this is hard to do with a micromanager if you are honest, everything will spill out how much you hate their micromanaging! Instead, be realistic about your expectations and ask them to be honest about theirs. What standards are the most important to them?
Once you understand this, you can work at that level.
Keep them in the loop at all times
Again, this is frustrating, but you have to remind yourself that they need to know this stuff. They will feel out of control and anxious if they don’t know what is going on.
So, you should check in with them daily, write update reports on your work and schedule regular catch-ups. When it comes to working with a micromanager, you should get ahead of the problem. You know they want to be involved, and they are worried when they are not in the loop.
So, share everything. Keep them in the loop and manage the flow of information.
Take the initiative but take it slowly
Once you feel like you have gained a level of trust, you can start to take some action.
The thing with micromanagers is that they take on way too much work, that is probably below their paygrade and causes a lot of stress.
They need a strong Assistant to take tasks away from them and organise their day so that they can concentrate on the bigger-picture stuff. Again, it is hard work, but you have to over-deliver every single day that you work with a micromanager.
They need to be impressed.
You need to anticipate their concerns and work one maybe even two steps ahead of them.
How do you do this?
Get involved in everything that they do. Ask lots of questions and read everything that goes to them (via email and any paperwork). If they are always asking you about your work or reminding you of deadlines, make sure you hit those deadlines way ahead of time.
You know they are going to ask you, so why not reply with ‘well, actually, I’ve already done it, and the details are on your desk/ email’.
Do they have enough work?
I know this isn’t your job, but it is worth thinking about it.
Do they have enough work to keep them busy?
I’ve worked with micromanagers before, who micromanaged because they didn’t have a lot of work and they needed to fill their day with something. If you are in the position, it probably isn’t going to do your career much good. You want to work with an Executive who is dynamic and moving the organisation forward.
Their work should matter, and so should yours. If you are working with a micromanager who doesn’t have a lot on their plate, it might be worth looking for another role.
Can you tell them they are micromanaging?
It depends on the type of Executive you work for and their personality.
If you work for a well-meaning Executive, then you should try to have a conversation with them. They will be so stressed about ‘letting go’ of work that it might be a relief actually to talk to someone about their anxiety. If you work in a more restrictive environment and don’t feel comfortable offering that feedback, then you should probably address the issue in your performance review.
Make it about you, rather than them. Ask for more challenging projects, say you would like to complete some tasks from start to finish on your own updating them frequently, but something that challenges you. If you get this chance, regularly thank them for the opportunity and their trust.
As I said, it is not easy for an Assistant to work with a micromanager, but it is manageable if you try to understand their point of view and work with them over a long period time to get them to trust you and see that you are excellent at your job and you have the mindset of a successful strategic business partner.
Three exceptionally experienced Executive Assistants talk about how to take initiative at work to increase the career options as an Executive Assistant and the mindset of a successful strategic business partner.
Taking initiative at work has led our three panellists to a more enjoyable and fulfilling assistant career as well as allowed their organisation to fully tap their skills.
Asking thoughtful questions
This is the first step towards thinking more analytically.
Asking good, thoughtful questions will always help you dive deeper into the conversation, and it will help you stand out as someone who is striving to learn more.
You want to make sure that your questions are specific and will get the information that you require, so it is always best to prep your questions before your conversation or meeting.
If you are attending a team meeting or one to one with your Executive, make sure you read all of the documentation around the event and think of some questions that might help push your workload along or your Executive’s projects.
If you can’t think of anything specific that you want to drill down on then sometimes a simple ‘can you tell me more about that?’ will help you learn more about the project or task.
Just be careful about when you ask questions, find an appropriate time, it might be something you want to follow up on after the meeting, for instance.
Whatever industry you are in, there will be a ton of data that helps your Executive’s make decisions about the business.
For Assistants, we see these reports, graphs, spreadsheets and presentations all the time, and quite often we print everything out or send everything over to our Executive without reading the material.
We are busy people, so I get it!
But, try to find the time to understand what your Executive is reading so that you know what they know and can help them make decisions based on the data and findings presented.
This is something that Assistants are good at innately.
We are often tasked with information exploring – think of the famous quote from The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda asks Andy “Find me that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday morning.”
We always have to seek information, find things and make arrangments with very few details.
Analytical people can use a variety of tools and sources to pull the information they need together and can present that information in the correct format.
Judgement is a fantastic skill to have and to use at work. Using your judgement takes time, it is considered, and you look at all of the facts before making a decision.
This ability usually comes with a level head and a panoramic view of everything that is going on.
For Assistants, we are often asked to make decisions regularly, usually when something has gone wrong, or someone needs something urgent from us.
These high-pressure situations are much easier to deal with when you are practised in using your judgement.
Judgement can be improved by experience, knowledge and awareness of what is going on.
If you spend time with your Executive and get to know how they think you can also make judgement calls based on what you think they would do in that situation.
Last but not least, it is always good to have a little bit of doubt in our line of work, when someone tells us something is urgent, for instance!
Balancing scepticism with openness is crucial but having a good healthy dose of scepticism is useful especially around pricing and when you need to negotiate with a supplier.
Thank you for reading our guide!
We hope you find the guide useful and that it helps you on your journey to becoming a strategic business partner as an Executive Assistant.
This guide will always be free for Assistants.
We also have free content on the Practically Perfect PA blog. and we a have brilliant online courses for Executive Assistants, which are full of great sessions on how to develop your personal and professional life while working as a Personal or Executive Assistant.