Q & A with Jan Jones: Smart Business Leaders are Transparent with Their Executive Assistants

In this article, Author Jan Jones discusses why smart business leaders are transparent with their executive assistants.

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valuable, actionable information to EAs across the globe. We hope you enjoy her blogs as much as we do! 

FlyPrivate: This question is from an executive and his EA. The executive would like to know how transparent with his business and personal
objectives he should be in order to maximize the partnership with his assistant. The assistant wants to be “completely in the loop.” Are there certain things executives should handle themselves and not entrust to an EA? 

Jan Jones: Many factors contribute to how fast transparency
between executive and EA happens, or if it happens at all.
Fortunately, this executive and assistant are committed to a
long-term goal of full transparency, but saying she wants to be “completely in the loop” tells me that presently the EA feels left out at some level. Why is the executive not offering full transparency, even though they’ve been together over five years? Let’s explore some reasons why this might be the case.

Communication and trust are always major factors. Why is the
executive not trusting fully? Is the assistant yet to prove sufficient maturity in dealing with complex matters that need discretion or special handling? Does the executive have control or trust issues? Perhaps there are things the executive prefers to do himself
(because he enjoys them and nothing to do with “transparency”
issues). Are they both being flexible enough? Are they working too independently and not as a team? Are they a good fit for each other? Have they discussed their goals and objectives? Are their goals and objectives mutual, meaning do they want the same things, in the same way and in the same timeframe? All these things contribute to our perceptions about trust and transparency.

Your readers may wish to consider their own situations to
understand why there may not be full transparency in their own business relationships.

At the start of the relationship it makes sense to proceed with some caution unless you know for certain the assistant is adept at
handling high levels of sensitive information. Typically, an assistant to a CEO is privy to more confidential business and personal 
information than an assistant to a mid-level manager, so it depends on the level of the job and the experience level of the assistant. If the assistant has demonstrated their capability, the executive must share information, allowing the assistant to move into more
interesting projects that offer satisfaction from the job. High
performing assistants are not going to be satisfied with bits and pieces being doled out to them. They want challenging, invigorating work that uses their brain power.

If the executive owns the company, it’s a safe bet that virtually everything is transparent to the assistant. Since its all part of their responsibility, the assistant knows, sees and does everything. It’s the only way they can manage the executive’s affairs, because rarely does an entrepreneur, small business owner, or celebrity treat their business and personal life as separate entities. It all flows together and transparency is inevitable.

I put this question to CEO Rev. John Pellowe, about transparency with his assistant, Bonnie Pillsworth. He said “I would be
squandering the very traits (such as deep thinking) that led me to hire my EA, Bonnie, six years ago, if I were not fully transparent with her. I share everything work-related with her, including thoughts about my own leadership. I process and test ideas, communications, dreams and concerns with her and in return she is an invaluable source of expansionary thinking for me. Bonnie’s valuable
contribution to the success of our organization and my own success would be severely diminished if I were not so transparent with her.”

Bonnie added, “The more transparent John is, the better I can do my job. Knowing as much as I can about everything that’s happening in John’s work allows me to have an informed perspective that leads to sound suggestions and support. John and I practice full transparency as an integral part of our work method, and it goes both ways.”

Executives with less-experienced assistants are understandably
initially reluctant to completely hand over sensitive information. This is where trust has to be built as you test a little at a time to see how the assistant develops and shows they have what it takes.

Dave Ramsey, the famed financial advisor told me, “Show me two people who trust one another and I’ll show you an effective work relationship.”

When I was a young secretary, our managers mentored and invested hands-on time in developing their people. When my executives placed confidential information in my hands, they explained its value and how they wanted it handled. Because of my inexperience, I
appreciated that direction. With their guidance and with common sense, I learned discretion in business matters and grew confident in handling information that required discretion.

In later years, it was customary for me to have confidential
discussions with high-level stakeholders. I could easily identify who didn’t have a top assistant, or who had never mentored an assistant. They were the ones who were surprised I had unfettered access to protected information, and could speak confidently for my
executive. They didn’t comprehend that the only way I could know as much as I did is because he shared everything with me. I was his deputy. My mandate was to take charge and keep business moving.

Effective assistants are facilitators who make business life easier. They can do this because somewhere along the way, an investment was made in their growth and development. Executives who share information with their assistants set themselves up for long-term success because the assistant can step in as their deputy and save them massive amounts of time. I’ve been saying for over 20 years, “The role of the executive assistant is to give back time to the
executive.” This means they take on and manage all matters that
distract the executive from their primary purpose of running the business. The only way the assistant can do this is to have full access to information that provides a solid overview of the business, and permits them to make informed decisions.

Discussing his assistant Debbie Gross in my book “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”, CEO John Chambers said “From our first day together I let her know that my office, files and everything in my business life were hers to manage and that I had complete trust in her capabilities.”  

Concerning the executive’s personal objectives, one little boy was repeatedly disappointed because “daddy” was missing his baseball games, even though he kept promising to be there. When the
assistant found out about it, miraculously the game schedule got on the calendar and Mr. CEO, aka “daddy”, never missed another game if he could help it. Executives who are comfortable with their
assistants may share more personal goals and enlist the assistant’s help in keeping them on track. Don’t worry if the goal isn’t something earth shattering. The fact that it is your personal objective is
sufficient. One of my executives needed to lose weight. When he came back from the health resort, I made sure there were no
meetings that involved meals, and no breakfast muffins, or big slices of birthday cake were placed in front of him. So simple, but much
appreciated by my boss in meeting his goal. I kept everything
discreet, and he enjoyed the results. Executives should remember their assistant can be their biggest champion and cheerleader. Let them in, give them access and they’ll help you succeed in matters that have major business significance, or are important only to you.

Everything business related that concerns the executive must also concern the assistant. If not, the assistant can’t be effective in their role. And having said that, one area I suggest executives keep
separate and to themselves is personal emails, especially from
indiscreet friends who don’t realize your assistant has access to your business email. Keep that questionable material away from your business email inbox. If your assistant is joining you on a phone call, let the other parties know your assistant is on the line so they mind what they say. I assure you, there is such a thing as too much 
transparency, even for a seasoned assistant who has seen, done and heard it all.


©The CEO’s Secret Weapon. The ideas expressed in this article and any text extracted from “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” are the,
intellectual property and copyrighted to Jan Jones. All rights
reserved. No unauthorized usage or duplication by any means is permitted without the express consent of 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.

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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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