Q & A with Jan Jones: Iconic Business Leaders Make Smart Use of Their Assistants

In this article, Author Jan Jones discusses how business leaders make smart use of their assistants.

 For the past five years, FlyPrivate has been a proud partner and associate of Jan Jones. Jan brings valuable, actionable information to EAs across the globe. We hope you enjoy her blogs as much as we do!

Iconic Business Leaders Make Smart Use of Their Assistants

FlyPrivate: Because of the COVID-19 global lockdown, suddenly
business has to drastically change the way it is operating, so we thought it would be valuable to revisit the discussion we had when your book first came out.  Many assistants are on the frontlines of their companies at this time. We’ve heard that they are playing a bigger role in helping processes to flow smoothly, making sure communication is maintained and leaders are visible to remote employees. Other EAs tell us their
executives could utilize them much more. What would you say to those executives who are not fully utilizing their EAs during this time of crisis?

Jan Jones: I’m certain that the executives who are not fully utilizing their assistants during this time, are the ones who didn’t utilize them effectively before the crisis.

It goes back to the question you asked when my book first came out. You asked Why write a book about EAs specifically for executives? Knowing why I did that will help executives to understand why they should be making better use of their assistant’s capabilities.

I targeted my book to executives because they are the ones who need to learn the value an exceptional assistant can bring to their lives. Assistants know the significant role they play, but many
executives and business owners have little or no idea how to work effectively with an assistant. They don’t know what an outstanding resource a top assistant can be to them, to help relieve them of
day-to-day matters that are not a good use of their time. Executives must get comfortable with delegating. In order to work effectively with an assistant, they need to know what a top-quality assistant looks like, meaning what qualities and characteristics an assistant must have in order to best serve the executive, whether it is a junior, mid-level, or senior role.  In my book (“The CEO’s Secret Weapon”), I dedicate three chapters that discuss “The Tangible and Intangible Characteristics of an Exceptional Executive Assistant” and I explain why they should matter to an executive.

What has happened since my book came out is that numerous
publications have followed my format of listing characteristics of
executive assistants. However, they overlooked my caution to
executives that not every assistant has these characteristics. I was specific with executives that they would be lucky to find an assistant who had some of these characteristics, let alone most, or all of them.  I called the assistants who have these characteristics “exceptional executive assistants”, because these characteristics make them
exceptional, setting them apart from the rest.

Executives and business owners often don’t realize that their
assistant is their “face and voice” to the world.  Through the
assistant, people can get a favorable or unfavorable impression of an executive and the organization.  Since executives should always be putting their best foot forward, it is crucial that they engage an
assistant who is at all times conveying an air of professionalism, competence, a willingness to be of service and has enthusiasm for the job. They need an assistant who is fully invested in the role, who is committed to getting things done and to showcasing their
executive in the best possible light.

FlyPrivate: Tell us about some of the famous business leaders you  interviewed.

Jan Jones: In addition to world-class executive assistants, I was
fortunate to interview some of the world’s top business icons for my book, including Sir Richard Branson, Donald Trump (prior to
presidency), Steve Forbes, Barbara Corcoran, management gurus Marshall Goldsmith, Ken Blanchard, Simon Sinek, as well as Cisco Systems’ then-CEO/Chairman, John Chambers, who wrote the Foreword to my book with such clarity and understanding of the role his long-time, wonderful assistant Debbie Gross has played in his life. In fact, if executives only read the Foreword to my book, that in itself is an eye-opening lesson on what an assistant can do for an executive if the executive is smart enough to hire someone capable of working with them as a strategic-thinking partner. There are
interviews with many successful CEOs who might not be world-famous, but who have managed to create a wonderful partnership with their assistant. I should stress that by “partnership” I mean the idea that we support each other, we are allies, teammates, we have each other’s backs. I don’t mean it in the legal or HR sense of the word.

FlyPrivate: How do these business leaders maximize effectiveness
utilizing their assistants? What benefit does the EA derive from the relationship?

Jan Jones: One of my favorite examples is from the best-selling
author, Joseph Michelli, who told me his assistant made him richer because she increased his portfolio and kept him on track with their business plan. When he got enthusiastic about some new
opportunity, she would say “let’s see how this fits our business plan and our goals for this year.” Kudos to Joseph for heeding his
assistant’s counsel. Not only did he respect Lynn’s advice, he
rewarded her well. How many business owners can say that their
assistant made them richer? Joseph was extremely smart to choose Lynn and understand the value she could bring to him.

Donald Trump had the most outstanding assistant I have ever had the privilege to meet, and I have met and worked with assistants of famous authors, celebrities, famous executives, economists,
politicians, you name it, from all over the world. Norma was truly in a class all by herself, the best ambassador an executive could dream of having, let alone actually have. She retired after working for Mr. Trump for over 30 years. In addition to being Mr. Trump’s assistant, she was also a vice president at the Trump Organization, as is Mr. Trump’s current assistant. A close second to Norma, was pop star Michael Jackson’s assistant, who also was a vice president at MJJ Productions. Mr. Trump told me he admired the fact that his
assistant was able to assess situations and take independent action. He appreciated her ability to handle things without having to
interrupt him. She had a lot of courage and “Was a straight shooter – someone who will tell it like it is. Norma would never take the easy way out and she always had my best interests in mind.” Some advice for assistants from Mr. Trump: “If you need to ask the boss
something, ask yourself the question first. A lot of times you’ll know the answer already and save your boss time.”

Steve Forbes, the publisher of Forbes Magazine told me, “My
assistant has a good head on her shoulders and can make judgment calls that come from experience. When she is away, something that seemed smooth is anything but smooth if she’s not there to make sure it happens.” I urge younger executives to listen to Mr. Forbes that his assistant’s judgment comes from experience. Many younger executives shy away from hiring an older assistant. They do so at their peril because these assistants bring years of business know-how, acumen and protocol that can guide younger, inexperienced executives and show them how to develop and polish their
professional image and business acuity.

Simon Sinek, the popular TED speaker and author told me that he viewed his relationship with his assistant, Monique “As an essential partnership. I don’t see my work as more important or less
important than hers. I see our work as mutually beneficial.”

John Chambers said “I wanted a business partner who could help me to run my business and manage my day-to-day activities, who I can trust and who literally runs my life.” Debbie was with him over 25 years.

Don’t let their unassuming, unflappable demeanor fool you. The
assistants who work for these executives have a fierce passion for excellence and mirror their high-functioning bosses. They reflect the boss’ high energy, confidence and decision-making skills. They enjoy the exhilaration of achievement, and a job well done. Desire to
succeed and be their best is everything. They understand whom they represent and never let their standards fall. Exceptionalism is
everything to them. It’s in their blood. Playing small is not for them. I tell you from first-hand experience, you have to embody this level of excellence and commitment. This is what it takes to support an
executive at the highest levels. It’s something you learn coming up through the ranks, year after year. You don’t arrive fresh from
college knowing all this. It takes practice, commitment, dedication to your craft.

FlyPrivate: How can other executives mirror these iconic business
leaders?

Jan Jones: Take time to find the assistant who is the best fit for your needs. To do this, follow the advice I lay out in my book about how to find the right person, how to work with that person and how to
nurture the relationship so the assistant will stay and grow with the business. Analyze your work style. The executives I interviewed in my book were not afraid to ask for what they needed. They were honest about their work style and personality. Executives: be honest about your work habits and personality so you can find someone who will suit you. Make a list of what is not negotiable for you in an assistant. These are your “must haves”, whether it is technical skills, or personality traits. Try to keep the job interesting and challenging by delegating to your assistant. If it’s feasible, include your assistant in your deliberations so they understand your objectives.

If an executive chooses an assistant with talent and skill, the
assistant can add massive value by managing the executive’s day-to-day business activities. As I stress repeatedly in my book, the role of the executive assistant is to give back time to their executive. An
exceptional assistant routinely handles matters that are not a good use of the executive’s time. Steve Forbes said, “Part of being an
effective leader is knowing what your value-add is, focusing your time on that and figuring how you delegate other things. Even if you believe you can do a task better than someone else, it might not be a good use of your time. Good leadership demands that you put
together an effective team.” For a busy executive that teambuilding should start with an exceptional executive assistant.

While my book is geared to executives, I want assistants to
understand that they have to strive to be exceptional at their job. We all have different capabilities, but everyone should make certain that they are dedicated, professional and always looking for ways to improve, learn and make their executive look good. When they look good, you look good, because in the case of some executives, making them look good takes some doing! The best assistants are
cheerleaders for the boss and for the company. Other employees feel motivated and inspired by them. They have a reputation for
excellence, discretion, reliability, honesty and getting the job done. They make their boss and the team feel secure. They come to work every day ready to perform at optimum levels.

I am inspired by this quote from noted Sicilian chef Guiseppe
Carollo. For me it sums up the satisfaction, pride and commitment an assistant must feel about their career: “Only those who have a lot of passion will be able to do this job well.” This is the level of drive, passion and commitment executives must look for when hiring their assistant. It doesn’t matter if the assistant’s position is junior,
mid-level, or senior. The passion and resolve to excel must be
apparent at every level. With such an ally by their side, executives can be assured they will succeed in their mission.


©The CEO’s Secret Weapon. This article and any text extracted from “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” are the intellectual property and ©Jan Jones 2020. All rights reserved. No unauthorized usage or duplication by any means is permitted without the express consent of the author, or without crediting the author.

Author: Jan Jones

Want more from Jan Jones? Check out her Q & A Series!

Jan Jones is the author of “The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and
Effectiveness”. The book debuted at #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases in the Office Management Category. It has received widespread acclaim from executives and executive assistants worldwide. Jan spent 20 years as an esteemed international executive assistant to well-known business people, including personal development icon and author Tony Robbins. Jan is passionate about the executive assistant role and continues to champion the profession through speaking, mentoring and offering timeless, practical advice that is relevant to the day-to-day role of the executive assistant.

Jan Jones Worldwide

Visit Amazon to purchase Jan Jones’ book and visit her website:
The CEO’s Secret Weapon.

The CEO’s Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness

Jan Jones

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