Wouldn’t it be nice if an executive could go to a class to learn how to use an assistant? I know that, if such a class had existed, there were a couple of managers I’d have sent to learn a thing or two.
I’d been an assistant for about ten years before I made it to the C-level, and when I did, the first manager I found there was a sponge. Constantly open to ideas about how I could make his life easier, he started by handing me his typing and his travel schedule and ended up allowing me to manage portions of projects that had huge impact on the company. We sat down once or twice a week and just talked: not only about his schedule, but about his projects, the expected outcomes, and so on. With regular dialogue, I was able to speak up when I saw he was working on something where I could contribute.
I thought this was the norm, but when I moved on to my next position supporting a C-level executive, I got exactly the opposite. He was, in fact, not only clueless on how to use an assistant to his best advantage, he was pretty adamant that there was no part of his job I could do as well as him and insisted I only do his travel and expenses.
I probably don’t have to tell you that executive #1 is tremendously successful today, and executive #2 is no longer an executive.
Because no real training exists for an executive, here are some helpful hints you can use to start the ball rolling on a better working relationship:
Bring a list of your skills to the table – Your manager should know what you do well. If you’re all about the numbers, tell him you’re up for some budget management or watching payroll. If you’re into the communication side of things, you can manage his correspondence, newsletters, etc. Make sure everything is represented – if you’ve been with the company twenty years and he just started, you know a lot better how things operate and that’s something he will find useful.
Communicate, communicate, communicate – Some assistants are lucky to get a once-a-week status meeting with their managers. If you can sit down with your manager every day, even for ten or fifteen minutes at the end of the day, and hash over what happened today and what’s going to happen tomorrow, you’ll have a better idea from day to day where you can jump in. If he says he’s too busy to connect, tell him, “That’s why we have to connect!”
Watch his output for work you can take over – My manager used to have to communicate leadership changes on a regular basis, and he’d get something started on paper and then say, “What do you think?” I’d make a couple of changes to what he wrote, tighten it up, make it sound more powerful (he was, on his own, not one to blow his own horn), and then give it back to him. Eventually, he’d give me a list of things he wanted to say and let me do it. Other things, like regular correspondence, department purchasing, or even project management, will follow suit. Look at his work and decide what you could do as well, and then speak up.
Ask for the “why” along with the task – A revolutionary assistant can’t anticipate needs until she knows why tasks are being completed, who benefits from them, and what happens to the work from there. Get the complete story behind decisions and requests so you can see the strategy.
Give the relationship time – When you’ve worked together for a year or two, you’ll have an instinct for each other that makes the relationship successful. If you’re new to each other, remember that you’ll need your manager’s guidance and opinion every step of the way. Both of you should know and remember that it won’t always be this way.
When the manager/assistant partnership is a well-oiled machine, everyone is at their most productive. Do what you can to help your manager use you better!
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