You and Your Executive / Guide to Building a Strategic Business Partnership with your Executive / The mindset of a successful strategic business partner

Chapter Four

The mindset of a successful strategic business partner

This chapter will focus on case studies and practical tips on how Assistants can create the mindset needed to succeed as a top-level, c-suite Executive Assistants.

So you are getting all the basics right in your Assistant role and ready to move into a more strategic partnership with your Executive.

In this chapter, we will 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 the following:

Battling imposture syndrome as an Assistant

A few years ago, I worked as a PA within a large team of highly qualified, talented, and confident project management consultants. One of my colleagues asked me to come 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 but to offer my thoughts and opinions, and I freaked out. I felt like a complete fraud, even though I had many ideas and worked on similar projects in other organisations.

Nevertheless, I didn’t say very much in that meeting, 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 telling myself that I have to basically ‘fake it till I make it’, which is what I’ve done ever since!

Here are some of my thoughts on why, sometimes, it’s pretty helpful 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 where your Executive and your organisation saw something that makes you awesome. It might be your knowledge, skills, qualifications, or fantastic personality.

Whatever it is – you have every right to be there and 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 them successful.

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. When you 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 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 harsher on themselves than you.

I’m so guilty of this, and I know from experience it can hamper your chances of outstanding 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?

This is also an excellent question to ask yourself because sometimes Assistants can be given work totally outside their job description.

For example, many of us are asked to organise events, manage projects, procure services and suppliers, manage budgets and recruit new staff.

All of these tasks are full-time, professional jobs for some people!

If you have been asked to do something you haven’t done before, don’t say no, but do ask for time to up-skill, attend training and learn what you are supposed to do!

When you take on a challenge, you need the right tools to make it a success!

Meeting Agenda for Assistants and Executives

1:1 Meeting Template

The template you need to maximise the time spent with your Executive.

20 ways to impress your Executive

20 Ways to Impress Your Executive

The worksheet gives you 20 ideas to elevate you in the Assistant role.

Working as 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 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.

How to take the initiative when working with a micromanager

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’s money.

It is hard to do that part of our job if our Executive is involved in everything we do. Micromanagers are usually well-meaning, but they want to control 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 implement that will help you work with a micromanager. They take a long time, but they are worth initiating if you love your job or don’t want to quit.

When working with a micromanager, you need to realise two things. Firstly, your manager will have high anxiety, and you will need to manage this.

Secondly, you need to build 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 about 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.

Please keep them in the loop at all times.

Again, this is frustrating, but you must remind yourself that they must know this. They will feel out of control and anxious if they don’t know what is happening.

So, you should check in with them daily, write updated reports on your work and schedule regular catch-ups. When working with a micromanager, you should get ahead of the problem. You know they want to be involved and are worried when they are not in the loop.

So, share everything. Please 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 trust, you can start taking action.

The thing with micromanagers is that they take on way too much work that is probably below their pay grade and causes a lot of stress.

They need a robust 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 must over-deliver every day 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, ensure you hit them way ahead of time.

You know they will 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 considering.

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 needed to fill their day with something. It probably doesn’t improve your career if you are in the position. 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 much 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, you should try to converse with them. They will be so stressed about ‘letting go’ of work that talking to someone about their anxiety might be a relief. If you work in a more restrictive environment and are uncomfortable offering that feedback, 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, working with a micromanager is not easy for an Assistant. Still, it is manageable if you try to understand their point of view and work with them over a long time to get them to trust you and see that you are excellent at your job and have the mindset of a successful strategic business partner.

Taking the initiative and being curious

Three exceptionally experienced Executive Assistants talk about taking the initiative at work to increase their career options as Executive Assistants and the mindset of a successful strategic business partner.

Taking the initiative has led our three panellists to a more enjoyable and fulfilling assistant career and allowed their organisation to tap their skills fully.

How to think more analytically

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 help you stand out as someone striving to learn more.

You want to ensure that your questions are specific and get the required information, 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, read all 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, sometimes a simple ‘can you tell me more about that?’ will help you learn more about the project or task.

Be careful when you ask questions, and find an appropriate time. For instance, you might want to follow up on it after the meeting.

Data analysis

Whatever industry you are in, there will be a ton of data that helps your Executive make decisions about the business.

For Assistants, we always see these reports, graphs, spreadsheets and presentations. We often 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 help them make decisions based on the data and findings presented.

Information seeking

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 arrangements with few details.

Analytical people can use various tools and sources to gather information and present it in the correct format.


Judgement is a fantastic skill to have and use at work. Using your judgement takes time. It is considered, and you look at all the facts before deciding.

This ability usually comes with a level head and a panoramic view of everything happening.

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 practised to use your judgement.

Experience, knowledge, and awareness of what is going on in judgement can be improved.

If you spend time with your Executive and get to know their thoughts, 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 helpful, especially around pricing and when you need to negotiate with a supplier.

In conclusion, the qualities of a successful strategic business partner can be learned by any Executive Assistant who is passionate about advancing through their career.

As we have explored in this blog post, to move into a more strategic partnership with an Executive, it’s essential to shift one’s mindset from a support role to that of a trusted advisor. There are case studies and practical tips on how Assistants can manage this transformation.

At Practically Perfect PA’s Strategic Business Partner Online Course, we specialise in helping Assistants develop their personal skill set to become top-level, c-suite Executives. Furthermore, our team has over ten years of experience assisting executives to work ever closer with their Assistants to build successful partnerships.

So if you believe you have what it takes to be the best Executive Assistant or are looking to pursue this challenging yet rewarding career path, why not enrol on the Strategic Business Partner Online Course today?


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.