Q & A with Jan Jones: The Most Effective Leadership Traits for Executive Assistants

You don’t have to hold a position in order to be a leader.
Henry Ford

In this article, Author Jan Jones discusses the most effective leadership traits to enhance the credibility and status of the executive assistant.

FlyPrivate is 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! 

FlyPrivate: What are the most effective leadership traits to enhance the credibility and status of executive assistants?  

Jan Jones: Executive assistants today are constantly being told “Assistants are leaders.” However, those words are not synonymous. Some assistants embrace the “assistants are leaders” mantra unquestioningly, others are not quite sure that assistants are leaders, or if they themselves have what it takes to be a leader.

Is every assistant a leader? No. Does every assistant think and perform like a leader? No. Can leadership be practiced and learned? Certainly. Do all assistants have the potential to be leaders? Absolutely.  

Here are some hallmarks of renowned leaders. Since EAs serve as their executive’s deputy, the goal is to exhibit the same positive traits their leader executives do, even if it is on a smaller scale. Understanding and modeling these traits will benefit assistants throughout their career, whether they stay in the EA role, take on a different opportunity, or start a business. Your objective doesn’t have to be to set the entire world on fire. Making an impact within your sphere of influence may be enough. For assistants with their sights on broader horizons, developing these traits will take you a long way into a promising future.

Leaders are Visionaries. Leaders have foresight and vision. Envisioning the “big picture”, the possibility, the potential. Visionary leaders take steps to make their vision a reality. As an EA, what possibility and potential can you see – at the level of your routine tasks, or on a bigger scale – that will make a difference to your performance, and lift up the performance of your executive and team?

What about your vision for your own growth and development? How are you developing your prospects? What is your commitment to yourself to bring about your vision for your life? Think big and don’t hesitate to take even small steps in the direction of that vision. Proverbs 29.18 in the Bible says “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Don’t perish for lack of vision. Thrive and give yourself the life you deserve.

Leaders are Effective Communicators. Not only do leaders see the big picture, they are able to communicate it clearly. They get their point across and get others to buy in, because they share the Why of the vision. How are you communicating the vision of your organization? Understand that communication is also non-verbal so it’s not just what you say, it’s what you do, how you live, how you show up in your demeanor, in the work you produce. Your words have to mirror your actions, or your communication will be hollow and you’ll lose credibility.

In my book, “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” I say that the assistant is the executive’s “brand ambassador.”  To be a brand ambassador, you must communicate clearly, effectively and diplomatically. You must always be on-message. There can’t be any doubt that you know exactly what you are talking about. You are also a brand ambassador for yourself. Develop a credible air of authority in your aura. Leaders represent themselves as confident and capable. They inspire confidence in others. This is how you build your influence. EA trainer Adam Fidler encourages assistants to develop “executive presence.” This is precisely what that is – credibility, capability, confidence.

Leaders are Experts at Execution. Leaders know how to get tangible results. General Omar Bradley, who led the American forces on D-Day, said repeatedly “Amateurs talk about strategy. Professionals talk about logistics.” Remember this when you hear EA trainers constantly pushing the “Strategic Business Partner” narrative. There must be an effective plan for implementing strategy, otherwise strategy is dead in the water. When CEOs are fired for performance issues, it’s not because their strategy is flawed but because of poor execution of that strategy. Expert assistants understand what needs to be done, and they know how to get it done. Disciplined, focused and methodical, they follow through in executing objectives.

Leaders are Motivators. Leaders are able to motivate the team to get behind an idea. They inspire people to believe in themselves and their abilities. At one of my jobs, my boss would urge me to “light a fire” under our executives and teams, because I demonstrated a can-do spirit and a sense of certainty we could achieve our goals. He felt I was an exemplary ambassador for the vision he had for his company. Many executive assistants have access to high places. Pay attention to how executives at that level function so you can develop your stature and credibility. Make your enthusiasm for your job and your company a tangible aspiration for your colleagues to emulate.

Leaders are Passionate. Leaders are all-in with their mission. They know what they want to achieve and move confidently in that direction with high energy and determination. To be a superior EA, bring passion to your job. Love what you are doing and immerse yourself wholeheartedly in it.

Leaders are Focused. Leaders are seldom deterred or distracted from their goal, and if they are, they know how to quickly get back on track. Tony Robbins says “where focus goes, energy flows”. Keep your focus on your priorities and goals.

Leaders are Creative Thinkers and Problem Solvers. Leaders are solution-oriented and find ways to come up with the answers. They remain curious and interested. Leaders are not afraid to ask questions. They know how to troubleshoot and implement solutions by keeping the goal in mind. Leaders approach everything with a possibility mindset. Similarly, creative assistants always find ways to get better and do better.

Leaders take Responsibility. Response-ability: the ability to respond. To do that you must be alert. Assistants often complain they don’t have authority. It could be because they haven’t yet developed the ability to respond to what is necessary. Leaders step up and take charge when the need arises. They don’t hesitate to make themselves responsible for getting the job done and they accept the consequences of their decisions. This is one area where EAs need practice if they want to be considered a leader. Assistants like the idea of being a leader, but many don’t want to carry the burden of responsibility. Develop your response-ability. It shows you have courage, belief and trust in yourself. It will set you apart from others in a hurry.

Leaders are Courageous. Leaders know who they are. They have strength of character that can see them through daunting situations. They stand up for their beliefs and defend those who are in need of their protection. Leaders make difficult decisions and don’t back down from doing what’s right even if it’s unpopular. They are able to withstand the onslaught of unprovoked attacks on their credibility and reputation, and are fearless in the face of adversity. Courageous leaders are powerful influencers because their teams see they don’t hesitate to do what’s right. I’ve seen this first-hand in recent interactions with executive assistants. Courageous leaders stand up for what’s right in the face of mob rule and bullying. They hold themselves and others accountable. They don’t hesitate to call people out for their bad or cowardly behavior. Courageous leaders deal with conflict head-on because they know it builds their courage and problem-solving ability. They speak up even when it would be easier to just go along.

Leaders are Emotionally Intelligent. EI is about how you manage yourself and your relationships. Many EAs have excellent empathy skills, naturally sensing how others are feeling. They excel in the EA profession because they are adaptable. They can juggle numerous demands and adjust well to constant changes in priorities. Daniel Goleman says the ability to empathize and take an interest in others’ concerns is what helps us to get along with a diverse group of people. EAs certainly demonstrate this with the varied groups of executives and teams they support. Particularly strong in inter-personal skills, EAs should be careful not to get caught up in empathizing too much, always trying to please everyone, or trying to be liked. You can’t be in giving mode indefinitely without it taking a physical and emotional toll on you.   

Leaders are Intolerant of Mediocrity. Leaders don’t hesitate to challenge the status quo. As an EA, one of my biggest contributions to the companies I worked for was challenging status quo thinking. I didn’t hesitate to recommend or make changes that were necessary, and I always provided a rational explanation for why those changes needed to be made. Average ways of thinking and doing things that don’t propel you to next-level performance are a waste of time. Keep striving for excellence at all levels. Even incremental changes will help to set you apart from all the other assistants who perform the same tasks you do, but who can’t match the creativity and ingenuity you bring to those tasks to make you a game-changer. 

With leaders there is no one-size-fits-all. Leaders are diverse and multi-dimensional. They bring numerous talents to the table and are a constant source of inspiration to the world. No, you don’t need a title to be a leader and if you are confident about yourself and your ability, you won’t sweat over a title. To influence and lead you need self-belief, integrity, a sense of purpose, courage to take the lead, communicate effectively, accept responsibility and get things done. All these hallmarks of effective leaders take practice. Keep company with peers who are strong, capable and fearless. Develop stamina to keep moving forward. Executive assistants who develop these skills will expand their leadership capability and influence. Here’s to the leader within you!


©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

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Jan Jones is the author of “The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness.” The book 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 Tony Robbins, the world’s #1 business and life strategist. Jan continues to champion the executive assistant profession with her writing, consulting and speaking. She offers timeless, practical advice that is relevant to the day-to-day role of the executive assistant. 

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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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