Tag Archives: Executive Assistants

Emotional Intelligence for Executive Assistants

This interview was first published in April 2019. Author Jan Jones
interviews business trainer and consultant Heather Dallas about the
relevance of Emotional Intelligence for executive assistants.

Emotional Intelligence is a hot topic, but it is not a new idea. The term “Emotional Intelligence” was coined by two psychology
professors, John Mayer and Peter Salovey, in 1990. In 1995 Daniel Goleman wrote the book “Emotional Intelligence” and followed up with an article for Harvard Business Review called “What Makes A Leader”. The article contributed to the topic becoming important for business leaders and business people in general. Emotional
Intelligence is about our inter-personal and intra-personal skills. It is typically abbreviated as “EI” or “EQ” (Emotional Quotient).

These days, business is placing a premium on employees’ emotional intelligence. What’s important to the executive, must be important to the executive’s assistant. If the executive is focusing on
developing emotional intelligence personally, or within the
organization, then the assistant must do likewise. With this in mind, Jan Jones invited business trainer and consultant Heather Dallas to speak with her about the work she is doing teaching businesses about emotional intelligence, and more specifically, her work
teaching assistants about emotional intelligence. You can read about Heather’s background at the end of this interview.

Jan Jones: Heather, apart from the fact that their executives are
serious about understanding and developing emotional intelligence, why is EI relevant for executive assistants?

Heather Dallas: I’ve seen growing interest in this topic over the past few years and clients are asking about it more and more. I teach a course on emotional intelligence for executive assistants, and have seen a considerable increase in interest recently. Assistants
understand that as they serve their executives and the organization at large, they need to develop the vital skills that make up the
components of emotional intelligence. Because executive assistants are the public “face” of their executives, in many ways it is even more important for them to embody the traits of emotional intelligence, which are:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy for Others
  • Social Skills (Relationship building and management).

JJ: I heard Daniel Goleman speak at a conference. He said that
basically emotional intelligence is how we handle ourselves, manage ourselves, lead ourselves, and how we handle our relationships.

HD: Yes, and here are a couple of theoretical definitions I use to
explain emotional intelligence: “The ability to understand how
emotions affect behavior, and do something with that information”, and “Developing awareness of your emotions and behaviors through self-reflection and noting feedback from others”.

JJ: I like the idea that in addition to understanding how emotions
affect behavior, that there is guidance on what to do with that
information. Otherwise it is just intellectual understanding and we need to be able to put the ideas into practice at work every day.

HD: Exactly. In summary, it’s inter-personal skills, meaning how you relate to others, your rapport skills, which are the central pillars in communication. Your relationship management, your intra-personal skills, meaning how self-aware you are, how authentic you are. What buttons are you pressing in others that you are not aware of?

JJ: And how self-aware you are leads you to understand the effect your words and actions have on others. This is especially important for executive assistants who often have to relay messages from their executives to team members and employees across the
organization. If the executive is tone deaf, the assistant must make certain that they finesse the message in order to make it easier for others to digest. I had one job in particular where I became an expert at tempering the tone of my executive’s communications. People would remark to me how much more “mellow” my executive had
become. But I didn’t always have that expertise. When I first started as an assistant, I thought I was supposed to mirror the tone of my
executive. This caused problems until a colleague helped me to
understand that I could convey the message just as easily and
effectively, if I took the sharp edges off. It was an early lesson in EI about building business social skills.

Heather, what are some other elements that can help executive
assistants develop and expand their EQ, in order to increase their effectiveness in the EA role?

HD: Some other building blocks that make up emotional intelligence are:

Self-Awareness: Understanding your strengths, weaknesses, needs, what drives you. Being authentic, aware of the buttons you are pressing in others. Do you perceive yourself as others perceive you?

Motivation: Level of energy, passion, personal drive and enthusiasm for work, and commitment to goals. Being optimistic and positive. The desire for achievement and challenge.

Empathy: The ability to recognize, be sensitive to and consider
others’ feelings, needs and perspectives. Being able to understand, help and work with others and take an active interest in their concerns.

Decisiveness: Willingness to make decisions. The need for control and the level of comfort you have with decision-making responsibility.

Influence: The drive to influence, inspire and persuade others. To be heard and have an impact.

Adaptability: The desire for, and enjoyment of, variety in the workplace, the capacity to keep an open mind and be flexible with different and creative approaches. Being willing to make adjustments as necessary.

Conscientiousness: The need to plan and have structure, be diligent and meet deadlines, the level of comfort with conforming and
following the rules.

Stress Resilience: The capability to relax and deal with the day-to-day pressures of work, the level of comfort with showing and
managing emotions. For example, controlling or hiding your temper when provoked.

JJ: It has to start with self-awareness. The statistic is that the
average person experiences emotions 90% of the time. Even though we are emotional beings, we don’t typically make much effort to
become aware of our emotions.

HD: We have to become aware of our emotions in the moment they are happening and understand the effects those emotions are
having on ourselves and others. When you are experiencing
emotions such as anger or frustration, just slow down for a moment. I know in your book you interviewed the gentleman who teaches Mindfulness at Google. He said to stop and take a breath.

JJ: Yes, it was Chade Meng who talked about that. He also suggested that when you sit down with your executive, or your team, before you dive into the matters at hand, everyone should just close their eyes and take a breath together.

For me, as I was rushing into my meetings with my executive, I
always paused and took a deep breath. That one small action helped to center me and clear my mind so that I could be fully present to what my boss needed, rather than only being focused on getting
answers to my agenda items. It made for productive meetings
because we both accomplished our objectives in those meetings, even if on some days they were brief. When I got back to my desk and had a multitude of things I needed to get done, I simply took a breath and told myself ‘OK where do we need to start?’ That small step of taking a breath brought clarity and calm from where I
proceeded to tackle my projects. Sometimes, when I saw someone who was hard to deal with approaching my desk, I’d do the same thing – just close my eyes for a second and take a breath to help me center myself and be present to what they wanted in that moment, rather than focusing on their past behavior, or my feelings about them.

HD: We have to learn to consciously control our emotions so we can respond appropriately. And there are times when there is no need for a response. Awareness is enough. Self-regulation shows
discipline. It is a sign of maturity. There are some EI habits we are
already good at and others will require practice.

JJ: I was surprised when I first heard of Motivation as being part of EI. I’ve always thought of motivation as an internal drive, something that is propelled by my personal passions and desires, pushing me to high achievement. I thought of EI as being external, influencing my inter-personal actions, how I related and acted with others.

HD: You are spot-on about motivation, Jan, but remember, EI is not only about the social side (our behavior with/towards others), it’s also about our “behavior” with ourselves. Self-Awareness,
Self-Regulation and Motivation are the “Self” side of EI and Empathy and Social Skills are the “Social” side, the inter-personal, people skills side of EI.

To elaborate on your comments about motivation, it is important for assistants to have a regular personal check-in to examine what they need to do to keep motivated. Reminding yourself of your purpose is one way to rekindle your passion. What are you passionate about at work? Is it appreciation, more involvement, power, authority,
intellectual stimulation, the culture and working environment,
promotion prospects? Whatever it is that keeps you motivated and excited, find ways to do more of it. One daily exercise my clients find useful for motivation is to list “3 good things that happened to me today.”

JJ: I hope assistants will take note of this, Heather, because there are assistants who wait for their executive to motivate them. They
expect their executive to provide exciting projects for them to work on, or find ways to keep them happy and challenged. When
assistants tell me they need more challenge in the job, my response often is that they should look for ways to challenge themselves. What can I do to keep interested and motivated? What’s not getting done that I can do? What initiative can I take on a project that doesn’t rely on my boss for direction or approval? What task will help excite me to stretch my ability and thinking, so when it’s done, I can truly appreciate myself and the effort I made?

Can you share an example of how you have worked with EAs on EI?

HD: Sure. A good example is the work I’ve been doing with an
executive assistant in a global pharmaceutical organization who is remotely managing other EAs in her company’s European offices. When we started working together, Elizabeth’s Empathy was an 8 (out of 10). She needed to bring that down as she was spending too much time on not offending her team and giving them feedback in a sensitive way. This linked in with her Stress Resilience that was only 2. Through awareness and coaching, Elizabeth is now a 7 on Stress Resilience, a 5 on Empathy and a 7 on Decisiveness.

JJ: What I like about the work you are doing is how EAs can learn to increase their EI, not only in developing their talent for management and leadership within their role, but also to make them more
effective in growing that ability to take on additional opportunities.

HD: In my 30 years of experience working with EAs all over the world, I’ve seen a lot of under-utilized EA potential. My work with emotional intelligence can give assistants a framework to develop their skills, their awareness and fine-tune their communication ability.

*Further reading for developing potent “Intangible” skills for becoming a multi-faceted, exceptional executive assistant.

Are Executive Assistants Servant-Leaders?

Exemplary Followership: How Smart Assistants Get Ahead


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About Heather Dallas: A former executive assistant, Heather Dallas’ last EA role was at Deloitte UK. In 1990 she was asked to move into a new training role to introduce inter-personal skills training for the 1500 support staff at Deloitte UK, as well as many of the Deloitte offices globally. Heather left Deloitte in 2000 to set-up her own training and coaching business. After 19 years, Heather is proud to say she is still running programs for Deloitte.

Heather offers a range of programs for executive assistants including Presentation Skills, Team workshops, Personality Profiling, Project Management, Management Skills, The Mini-MBA for Executive Assistants and Emotional Intelligence, designed for in-house programs and public courses, in the UK and internationally. Jan Jones Worldwide has proudly presented Heather’s training skills for events in numerous international training locations, including The Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. Heather has been passionate about developing the role of the executive assistant for nearly 30 years and has an outstanding record with satisfied clients.

To book Heather Dallas for your company in-house, association, or public training events, contact www.theceossecretweapon.comWatch for announcements of Heather’s upcoming international training dates.


About Jan Jones: Jan Jones spent 20 years as a distinguished international executive assistant to successful business people around the world. She is a passionate advocate for the executive assistant profession, mentoring assistants and guiding executives through her writing, speaking and consulting. She is the author of The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness” which debuted at #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases in the Office Management category. The book has received widespread acclaim from executives and assistants worldwide. www.theceossecretweapon.com

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

Author: Jan Jones

©Copyright Jan Jones, 2015 “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”

Jan Jones Worldwide

Visit Amazon to purchase Jan Jones’ new 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


We’d love to hear from you! Please follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest news and updates from
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Website: www.flyprivate.com
Email: fly@flyprivate.com
Phone: 1-800-641-JETS (5387)

All flights arranged by Private Business Jets, LLC DBA FlyPrivate are operated by Part 135 Certified Air Carriers. FlyPrivate will act as your agent for the purpose of obtaining charter service.

 

The “Sandwich” Trip

Companies are easing back into private aviation by using

commercial flights to major hubs, and filling in hard to reach
commercial destinations with private charter out of smaller, more convenient airports.

In the example above, this traveler uses commercial aviation to fly from Chicago, IL (ORD) to Los Angeles (LAX). Once in Los Angeles, CA (LAX) they head to their first meeting in Van Nuys, CA (VNY). From Van Nuys, they will use private aviation to travel to their
second meeting in Bakersfield, CA (BFL), and again to their final meeting in Flagstaff, AZ (FLG). From Flagstaff, they will fly privately back to Los Angeles, CA (LAX), where they will fly their final leg from Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to Chicago, IL (ORD) commercially.

This “Sandwich” trip strategy improves productivity of the mission by allowing more flexibility and reducing overall travel days. If you’d like to learn more about booking a “Sandwich” trip, please call or email us for more information or to get a quote for your next trip. We look forward to working with you!

We’d love to hear from you! Please follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram for the latest news and updates from FlyPrivate.

Website: www.flyprivate.com
Email: fly@flyprivate.com
Phone: 1-800-641-JETS (5387)

All flights arranged by Private Business Jets, LLC DBA FlyPrivate are operated by Part 135 Certified Air Carriers. FlyPrivate will act as your agent for the purpose of obtaining charter service.

Is Saying “No” Smart Business Practice for Executive Assistants?

FlyPrivate: Is saying “no” smart business practice for executive
assistants?
Typically executive assistants do what their boss asks, but sometimes a situation arises where the assistant feels they can’t oblige because they are being asked to meet unrealistic deadlines, or the tasks are not clearly defined.  Some assistants have said that they say “no” to their boss, others say they may be inclined to “push back” on certain
requests that they consider unreasonable.  In these situations how would you advise assistants to respond to such requests?

Jan Jones: Being an executive assistant requires a lot of flexibility. Assistants are constantly being asked to shift priorities, or meet deadlines that crop up unexpectedly.  These things are part and
parcel of the assistant’s job.  If your boss is asking you to perform a task that relates to your job, or is part of your job description, then saying “no” or pushing back would not be smart business practice, or the first option to consider without an extremely valid reason for doing so.

I understand that Millennials want more autonomy and control over work conditions, but saying “no” or pushing back on legitimate work requests is not somewhere you should make it a habit of expressing your individuality, because you could end up losing your job if you are perceived as uncooperative or insubordinate.

Recently, it has become popular for business coaches to advise EAs that they should say no to their executives if they feel their workload is at capacity. What these coaches don’t understand about the EA role is that the majority of the EA’s workload stems from them being the assistant to their executive. Some assistants have additional
duties not directly tied to their executive, such as office
management or HR duties, but generally these accountabilities don’t take precedence over the EA’s availability for their executive’s
requirements. It is not usually at the EA’s discretion whether they will perform a task if their executive requests it. So it is risky for coaches to advise assistants to say things like “I’m not taking on new projects at the moment”, or “let me check my schedule and get back to you” when their executive asks them to do something. This
misdirection by coaches is causing confusion for many assistants, particularly those who are less experienced, or who don’t have a good rapport with their boss. They are conflicted about whether or not they should be taking direction from their executive (per their job description and common sense), or whether they should refuse to accept additional tasks because this is the latest buzz being spread in the EA world.

Let’s take a closer look at some examples where assistants might consider “pushing back”, and explore options that are more
productive than pushing back, or saying no.

Unreasonable Deadlines

Let’s say you’ve been given a huge amount of work that has to be completed by a specific deadline.  If you are unable or unsure of how to prioritize the work, ask your executive for guidance.  Explain that it is going to take a certain amount of time to do the tasks and you need to know which of the tasks is absolutely vital to get done to meet the deadline.

If you have an unreasonable executive who insists that all of it has to get done immediately and has equal priority, then tell the executive you are going to use your best judgment to determine which of the tasks has the highest priority. Quickly draft up the order of priority and ask your executive for input.  If you can’t get input, just get
started and do your best.  If they are not satisfied with the decisions you made, ask them how they would have prioritized so you will know in future and politely say that investing a little bit of time to guide you would have been helpful in getting the job done to their satisfaction.

EAs often ask me how to prioritize work when supporting several executives.  To do this effectively, at the outset you must establish a procedure for how you are going to prioritize everyone’s work.
Typically, the executive who is more senior gets a higher priority. If they are part of a team, likely they would know which project and which team member’s task should get priority in order to complete a project by deadline. If each one is saying their work is high priority, and if they are being unreasonable, if you are unable to determine by yourself which task should get the highest priority, then go to their boss and ask for guidance.  Politely make it clear you need help in
order to do the most effective job possible.  If speaking with their boss is not an option, then go to the executive who is typically the most reasonable of the bunch and ask for help.  Explain that you want to make everyone happy, but you simply can’t do all the tasks at the same time, so what do they suggest?

If no one is cooperating, respectfully ask them to work it out among themselves and get back to you as quickly as possible so you can move forward on the right track. That would be the most “push back” from an assistant that I would advise.

In the meantime, get started according to your understanding of which is the most important project.  Worst case, you will have to stop working on the task you selected as being important, and have to start something else.  But assistants are used to interruptions and switching quickly from one priority to another. Always behave
professionally, even if you want to wring their necks.

When things have calmed down, have another discussion with that team and reiterate that you want to do the best for them, but you must have their cooperation in sorting out how work is to be prioritized.

These are some reasons why it is important for the assistant to
understand the business they are in.  Having an understanding of the workings of the business lets the assistant make better judgments about which tasks are a priority.  When you understand the reason for why you are being asked to do something, there is less inclination to “push back” or say “no”, because you see the bigger picture of why something is necessary and needs to get done.  Then you pitch in enthusiastically.

When your executives see you taking an interest in knowing the business, they will start working collaboratively with you, rather than simply giving you instructions and asking you to carry them out. You may soon find that the unreasonable requests are diminishing, and your executives start to treat you with a new level of respect.

Last-Minute Emergencies

There are times when executives haven’t planned sufficiently and are asking you to do things at the last minute, which may involve staying late, or changing your personal plans.  If there is a day when you absolutely have to leave by a certain time, be proactive and give your team plenty of notice that you have to leave and will not be able to take on any last-minute jobs. Then there’s no question of pushing back because you’ve told them in plenty of time you will not be
available.  If your executive has a habit of giving you things at the last minute, discuss with them that you can’t always accommodate last-minute requests.  Ask what you can do to help the executive plan their day. Sometimes last minute requests are completely
unavoidable because things do crop up unexpectedly. Do your best to oblige without being resentful. You are better off with a
reputation for being cooperative than for pushing back or saying no.

Not Part of Your Job Description

So what? If you are being asked to do things that are not part of your job description, consider the nature of the request and who is
asking.  Always consider the bigger picture.  Even if it’s not in your job description, it could lead to something bigger and better for you.  Maybe it gives you a chance to work on a project that expands your sphere of influence.  It could give others in the company exposure to you.  Let them see you at your best and spread the word about how outstanding your work is and how cooperative you are.  How would that hurt you?

At one job I had, once in a while our CEO’s housekeeper was away and he’d bring his dog to work.  A few times during the day I would take the dog out for a quick walk.  Certainly not something in my job description, but as assistant to the CEO I knew the value of his time so I was happy to do that for him and he was grateful that he didn’t have to stop what he was doing to take the dog out. If you can be generous, be generous.  It makes everyone feel good and people
remember you for it.

Instead of being quick to “push back” or say “no”, find a way to get the job done even if it requires some sacrifice on your part. I’m not saying make yourself a martyr, but if you can accommodate
requests, do so.

Take a lesson from comedian, Tina Fey who said: “Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” Why? “Because the fun is always on the other side of the ‘yes’.” Not just in your job, but in your life, stop
pushing back and start saying “yes”.  For EAs who are reading this, some day I’d love to hear your success stories about the miraculous journey on which that simple word “yes” has taken you.

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

Author: Jan Jones

©Copyright Jan Jones, 2015 “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”

Jan Jones Worldwide

Visit Amazon to purchase Jan Jones’ new 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

_________________________________________________________________________

We’d love to hear from you! Please follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest news and updates from
FlyPrivate.

Website: www.flyprivate.com
Email: fly@flyprivate.com
Phone: 1-800-641-JETS (5387)

All flights arranged by Private Business Jets, LLC DBA FlyPrivate are operated by Part 135 Certified Air Carriers. FlyPrivate will act as your agent for the purpose of obtaining charter service.

 

An executive’s time is worth $19,000 per day. We can help increase it by 100%.

Wall Street

It’s a fact that using private aviation adds hours and hours of valuable time for executives and their organizations. If an executive or an executive team is compensated $1M annually, they are worth $19,000 a day to an organization. In most cases, we can add a day of productivity, increasing production by 100% .  Don’t waste hours of their time or value using commercial travel.

For 17 years FlyPrivate has saved companies millions of dollars in private aviation costs while increasing utilization with our
innovative programs.

Have a trip coming up? Give us the details. Our service is free to join and you pay as you fly. It couldn’t be easier.

We look forward to becoming a trusted member of your
organization.

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We’d love to hear from you! Please follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest news and updates from
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Website: www.flyprivate.com
Email: fly@flyprivate.com
Phone: 1-800-641-JETS (5387)

All flights arranged by Private Business Jets, LLC DBA FlyPrivate are operated by Part 135 Certified Air Carriers. FlyPrivate will act as your agent for the purpose of obtaining charter service.

Hands Tied for Personal Private Jet Travel?

We understand that your business trips may be covered by a
corporate aircraft, but for personal travel, we’ve got you
covered! Whether you’re flying to your next vacation destination, a wedding, or your favorite sporting event, we think you will be very impressed by our commitment to service, our variety of jet and flight options, as well as our unique pricing structure. When you fly with FlyPrivate, you will have access to all of these benefits and many more!

We understand it is our responsibility to make your travel easier and this is how we will do it.

1. We invented the “pay as-you fly” no-term membership.

Since 2002, our customers have been flying one-way and round trips in the aircraft of their choice for 15-50% less than Jet Card,
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2. You’ll have access to the most experienced client services
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You won’t speak to a different person each time you need us. Our system has many operational experts working behind the scenes. These experts organize and arrange all of your flight details and
deliver that information to a singular point of contact.

3. You gain from our industry knowledge and relationships.

Accessing the latest aircraft models, being afforded preferential treatment from operators, being upgraded on one-way flights, and saving time and money with our exclusive “pay as you fly” programs, all amount to an amazing value for our customers.

If these options sound right for you, please seriously consider
FlyPrivate for your next trip. You will not be disappointed.

Contact us to request a quote or submit your quote request on our website.

We’d love to hear from you! Please follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram for the latest news and updates from FlyPrivate.

Website: www.flyprivate.com
Email: fly@flyprivate.com
Phone: 1-800-641-JETS (5387)

All flights arranged by Private Business Jets, LLC DBA FlyPrivate are operated by Part 135 Certified Air Carriers. FlyPrivate will act as your agent for the purpose of obtaining charter service.

 

Business Jet Setting: 10 Tips for Success

1. Arrive early. With no security lines and no crowds, there is no
excuse for being late and causing others delays. Time is money.

2. Have your ID ready. Be sure to bring the proper ID and travel
documents with you and have them readily accessible.

3. Dress for success. Remember that you represent your business and your boss, so plan to wear something comfortable yet
appropriate for the occasion and avoid strong fragrances that could be irritating to others on board.

4. Pack light. Do not bring more baggage than allowed and if you don’t know what’s appropriate, ASK!

5. Do your homework. The private terminal is called an FBO, “fixed base operation.” There is a pilot and co-pilot who fly in the flight deck, while the passengers fly in the cabin. As on a boat, the lavatory is the bathroom and galley is the kitchen. Some flights will have
additional crew including flight attendants.

6. Where do I sit? Don’t board or sit until senior executives choose their seats. It is not impolite to ask your boss where they would like you to sit, but if you must choose your seat yourself, be mindful of privacy and who will likely be conversing during the flight.

7. Talk the talk. Keep business conversations relevant or let the boss initiate the topic. Treat this time as an extension of your workday. If the opportunity for non-business conversation arises, keep it light and steer clear of any controversial topics.

8. Can I have another? Keep your alcohol intake to a minimum. It is usually pretty safe to follow your boss’s lead, but be smart.
Contribute to the conversation to show you’re a valuable asset to your team.

9. Respect the amenities. This should go without saying, but keep plane lavatories clean and realize that you will have to sacrifice some privacy because of tight accommodations. After a long flight, allow everyone to freshen up before deplaning, especially if headed right into a board meeting.

10. Lights out. If the lights are out and the shades are drawn, it is designated sleeping time in the cabin. If you’re not planning to sleep, be respectful of other passengers trying to rest and keep the noise and lights to a minimum.

Be sure to contact us for your next trip, we’re always happy to help!

We’d love to hear from you! Please follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram for the latest news and updates from FlyPrivate.

Website: www.flyprivate.com
Email: fly@flyprivate.com
Phone: 1-800-641-JETS (5387)

All flights arranged by Private Business Jets, LLC DBA FlyPrivate are operated by Part 135 Certified Air Carriers. FlyPrivate will act as your agent for the purpose of obtaining charter service.

 

Exemplary Followership: How Smart Assistants Can Get Ahead – Part 2

FlyPrivateIn Part 1 of this topic on Servant Leadership and Followership, you spoke about the relevance of Servant Leadership for executive assistants and how executive assistants can take on a Servant Leadership role.  We are excited to hear about a lesser-known concept called Followership, which you consider more relevant for the executive assistant role. Can you please shed some light on this interesting topic?

Jan Jones: My previous article spoke about the idea of the Servant-Leader, a concept created by Robert Greenleaf, which is now a widely accepted business practice.

The concept of Followership developed about 30 years ago when Robert Kelley concluded logically that discussions about Leadership must also include discussions about Followership, because leaders don’t exist in a vacuum without followers. I’ll lay out Kelley’s five basic styles of Followership, but the one that interests me the most, is the concept of the Star Follower – self-managed employees who think for themselves and whose hearts are in their work. Many executive assistants will identify and aspire to this style of Followership.

“Followership” got the same initial negative reaction as the idea of “servant” leadership, but there was enough substance to keep people who weren’t seeking out a leadership role, happy.  Assistants, in particular, will agree that “Making the assist, is just as important as making the score”. In sports, an assist is the person who passes the ball to a teammate, helping that teammate to score. This is a primary element in the role of the assistant. Doing everything they can to make it possible for their executive to “score” – to hit their targets, their objectives, their goals.

While Kelley’s Five Basic Styles of Followership apply to all employees, assistants will find it helpful in understanding themselves, their fellow assistants and work colleagues. It is not meant to be a personality test and I am not encouraging you to label people. This is a tool, a guide to help get perspective on ourselves and the people we work with. These are work styles we all deal with every day. Which one are you? How can you use these styles to assess yourself and look for ways to enhance your performance? In whichever description you see yourself, remember it’s not a verdict. It’s simply an indicator that can give you perspective and help you make the leap into more effective, next-level practices.

The Sheep: Passive people who look to the leader to think and to motivate them.

When applied to assistants, I don’t see this as a negative if assistants are completely new to the role and must look to the leader to think and direct them. Without experience in the job, they need to be shown the ropes. Paying attention to what is asked of them, they can develop their anticipation ability. The skills they learn in this initial stage will help to create the foundation on which to build a successful EA career. This is a time of learning, observing, absorbing. It should not be taken lightly. Many of the skills I learned in my very first job are skills I developed and built on over my career. They consistently set me apart from other assistants who were not trained as effectively.

The Yes-Person: Positive people who support their leader, but look to the leader for thinking, direction and vision. When a task is done, they ask the leader “what do you want me to do next?” Yes-people say “I’m the doer. The boss is paid to think, and I do the work”.

The Yes-Person has a good attitude and a willing heart, but they have not yet learned to think independently and require guidance. This is acceptable for less-experienced assistants who are gradually honing their craft. Many assistants in this phase see themselves as helpers who faithfully and willingly carry out their executive’s wishes. Ideally, this is the time to also start incrementally developing initiative, the ability to reason, and taking an interest in the business, looking for ways to gradually branch out into independent thinking and acting.

If an assistant who has been around for a while is a Yes-Person, productivity can suffer. They are capable people who do their tasks well, but they often stop short when it comes to anticipation and resourcefulness, two characteristics that are vital for an assistant to be fully effective in the role. I encounter many assistants who fit this category. Comfortable where they are, they’ve gotten by and see no need to change, particularly if they’ve been with their executive a long time. One assistant told me she needed to “hang on just a bit longer” before her retirement date. But what happens to these assistants when their executive moves on? If you are a Yes-Person who has been in the same job a while, use your valuable job knowledge to step out of self-imposed limitations and find ways to increase your value through participating in your job more. You are a solid producer. Now maybe it’s time to give innovation a shot. Offer suggestions, volunteer for projects, initiate employee programs. You will enjoy a new enthusiasm for your job and your life.

The Pragmatics: Pragmatics are fence sitters, looking to see which way things are headed before they get on board. They do what they must to survive and are invested in maintaining the status quo.

Pragmatics know their job, but are known to be mediocre with execution. Many are invested in doing the minimum they can get away with. Most of us have come across such co-workers and felt a sense of frustration having to pick up the slack for them. Pragmatics are lucky if they fall into a job that allows them to have their wait-and-see attitude. My concern is the implication this has on the image of assistants in general, portraying them as lacking gumption and get-up-and-go, resulting in being paid the minimum for doing the minimum. In this time of explosive business and technological growth, trying to maintain the status quo is a fool’s errand. Pragmatic assistants, please come down off the fence and challenge yourself a little. Start conquering inertia by making small adjustments. Offer to help your colleagues. Take on an additional task or two. Communicate more and start getting comfortable with uncertainty to wake up your senses and lead you to new opportunities.

The Alienated: They think for themselves, but they are disgruntled and cynical. They see themselves as mavericks, the only ones with courage to stand up to the boss. Tending to have a chip on their shoulder, they are viewed as rebels without a cause.

Intelligent, capable and sometimes a cut above the rest, I regret that many assistants are buying into the idea that rebellious, sullen behavior proves they are important thinkers, individualists and generally superior to their EA colleagues, whom they view as too status quo, compliant and boring. Alienated assistants want to shake things up. They feel angry that their talents are not being recognized and they frequently feel exploited. I find it ironic that people who need star billing and recognition end up in the executive assistant profession, which requires one to be highly service oriented and committed to excellence, whilst remaining in the background.

Despite their feelings of alienation, many Alienated assistants are usually visible and appreciated for their talents, but they shoot themselves in the foot by being churlish and confrontational. I’ve worked with assistants who behaved this way and were hostile towards me because I was getting the recognition they craved. What was the difference? Like them, I was a strong personality, unafraid to speak truth to power, willing to take charge, but unlike them I brought fresh energy and my attitude was positive. My professionalism, poise and polish were always on display. I was respected because I showed respect and upheld the dignity of my executive, the office of my executive and the organization. I earned the recognition I received. I understood that I was there to be of service and if I didn’t want to fulfill that fundamental requirement of the role of the EA, then I needed to find another profession.  I implore Alienated assistants to let the spotlight be on your performance and not your attitude. Recognition and respect will follow.

The Star Followers: Star followers are sometimes viewed as “leaders in disguise”. They think for themselves, are active, and have positive energy. If they agree with the leader, they give full support. If they disagree, they offer constructive alternatives that will help the leader and the organization. Star Followers are often referred to by their executives as “my right-hand person”.

As described by Kelley, Star Performers are self-starters who can work without close supervision. They are independent problem solvers, who show initiative and contribute well. Star Performers are critical thinkers, highly participative, and habitually exercise superior judgment. Star Performers build their competence and focus their efforts for maximum effect. They take on extra work gladly, but first they focus on superior execution with their core responsibilities. They manage themselves well, they are committed to the organization and its purpose, always striving to collaborate, build relationships and be the best. Like exceptional assistants, they tackle overlooked problems that need addressing and present the issue along with a solution.

Assistants, the Star Follower is the style that should interest you the most. Many of you are on the way, or already there. These traits will distinguish you from the millions of assistants in the profession and make you an invaluable addition to any executive suite. This is the caliber of assistant I wrote about in “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”.

What Style Do Executives Prefer? When Robert Kelley asked executives if they could have a mix of the 5 Followership styles in their organization, which would they choose, a large percentage said they would like Yes-People. Why? 1) Yes-People are “doers”. They’ll do the grunt work. 2) Yes-People have limited aspirations and won’t pressure the leader for promotions, or quit for better jobs.

Other executives wanted a mix: Start with a handful of Alienated because they keep the leader honest. Add a small group of Star Performers who would lead the charge, but avoid having too many Stars because they can get demanding and they think for themselves too much. Then split the remaining majority with Pragmatics who serve as a status quo base, and Yes-People who will get the job done.

Very few executives wanted only Star Performers on their teams because they worried they could not keep them sufficiently challenged, or satisfied with their role. They believe Star Performers will get bored and seek greener pastures, leading to high turnover. I see this as a misunderstanding by executives because Star Performers, by their very nature, find ways to keep themselves challenged and motivated at work.

So where does this leave administrative and executive assistants? Which category does your executive fit into? Do they want a star performer, or someone who will maintain the status quo and get the job done? Would you have the courage and have you built the relationship sufficiently to ask them?

Despite Robert Kelley’s research with executives, I have yet to meet an executive who was happy with their assistant simply doing as they are told. A Yes-Person. They put up with it because it takes too much effort to make a change, it’s uncomfortable to have an honest conversation, or too difficult to push the assistant to step up their performance. They all tell me they want their assistant to show more initiative and interest in the business, in order to take some of the burden off the executive.

Whichever of the preceding styles apply to you, keep striving for excellence. If you identify as a Sheep, look for ways to stand on your own two feet and build your confidence. If you identify as a Yes-Person, try to take yourself beyond relying on your executive for guidance and direction. You have what it takes so start using your talent. If you are a Pragmatic, get off the fence and coax a little disruption into your life. If your style is Alienated, life can be lonely. Try trusting life and remember, the world is not conspiring against you. If you are a Star Follower, congratulations! Don’t get complacent. Keep adding higher value. Become a star leader and mentor for colleagues who might need a sprinkling of your expertise and energy. Cut a little slack to those who are not as competent as you. It’s something I wish I had learned earlier in my career, because it serves to humanize you and make you more relatable.

Assistants, take pride in your role as assistant to your executive or team. The best leaders are also the best followers. Know when to wear which hat and you will smoothly transition when you are called upon to play a leadership role. You are a vital component in the world of business and enterprise. Pick up your mantle and wear it with honor.

©Copyright Jan Jones 2019

Author: Jan Jones

For the past three 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!

Want more from Jan Jones? Check out her Q & A Series: Part 1-11!

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’ new 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


We’d love to hear from you! Please follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ for the latest news and updates from FlyPrivate.

Website: www.flyprivate.com
Email: fly@flyprivate.com
Phone: 1-800-641-JETS (5387)

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Are Executive Assistants Servant-Leaders? Part 1

FlyPrivateRecently we’ve heard executive assistants mentioning
Servant-Leader without being sure what it is, or if it has any relevance to executive assistants. We know this is not some new buzzword because you wrote about it in your book. Can you say something about how the Servant-Leader concept is relevant to the EA role?

Jan Jones: Yes, I’ll be happy to discuss that here and perhaps we can do a Part 2 to this discussion where we can explore what I believe is even more relevant for executive assistants and that is the concept of Exemplary Followership, which in a few words is self-managed “followers” who think for themselves and whose hearts are in their work.

Servant-Leader and Servant Leadership are not new concepts. Robert Greenleaf coined the terms in an essay he wrote in 1970. He got the inspiration from reading Herman Hesse’s book, “Journey to the East”. Greenleaf spent forty years at AT&T in management
research, development and education. After that he was an
influential consultant.

In my 2015 book “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”, I told the story of Leo the servant in Hesse’s book. Hesse wrote “In addition to his menial chores, Leo sustained the group (of travelers) with his spirit.” When Leo left the group, they fell into disarray and the journey was
abandoned because they could not make it without Leo.

I said this reminded me of the role an executive assistant plays in an organization. They perform tasks that are sometimes perceived as menial, yet “They hold together and sustain the multiple activities and personalities that keep an enterprise going.”

I was introduced to Greenleaf by management guru Dr. Ken
Blanchard who was a good friend of my boss at the time, Tony
Robbins. When I was writing my book, Dr. Blanchard invited me to his home and spent a full day with me, giving me advice and
direction. This showed me first hand who servant-leaders are. They live true to their principles. In my book I’m sure you noticed Dr.
Blanchard’s relationship with his wonderful assistant, Dana Kyle, whom he likened to a “soul mate”. Reading his comments you
experience the servant-leader in action. They are leaders who listen closely to their teams, care about them on a personal level, care about their development and value their contributions.

Appreciation for the servant leadership concept didn’t come easily to a rugged individualist like me. I struggled with the term “servant-leader” because the words usually mean the opposite of each other. People don’t want to be perceived as servants, particularly
assistants whose role through the years has sometimes been spoken of in derogatory terms, analogous to servant. This is probably why a personality in the EA profession recently referred to the assistant role of earlier generations as being “tea and typing”. A massive
blunder on her part, but if you’ve never been an assistant, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing the stereotype. When I read about Leo in Herman Hesse’s book, I suddenly became clear about what a servant-leader is, and how true executive assistants have been
examples of the concept for generations.

In my book, Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why”, said that a huge mistake executives make is “Treating their assistant as a
subordinate. What they don’t recognize is if you look after the
person and look after their growth as a human being, they will want to do everything in their power to keep you healthy, happy and productive.”

Does Simon’s description sound a lot like what an executive
assistant does for their executive and their team? It’s about having the heart of someone who wants to serve and be of service. That’s how secretaries of previous generations expressed the essence of the role. They were intensely loyal to the executive they served. Not that they didn’t understand that they served the larger organization as well, but their loyalty was first and foremost to their direct
executive. They looked out for them and kept them protected. Some secretaries smothered their executives. Others took their
protection too far by keeping tight control on access to their
executive. This was done because the secretary saw themselves as the protector of their executive’s time. With that in mind, there was little the secretary would not do in service of their executive.

While they had the best intentions, that thinking was exclusionary, not inclusionary, which is contrary to the idea of servant leadership. But realize that in previous generations business style was much more formal than it is now, particularly in the executive suite. Many executives wanted an assistant who projected a formidable persona to create the perception of exclusivity around the executive. I was a secretary in those days and if you wanted to be executive secretary to a high level executive, you were expected to bring a certain
authoritative demeanor to the role.

It is important for the current generation of assistants to
understand the basic concepts of servant leadership because its
influence is widespread now, and many companies such as SAS,
Marriott, Nordstrom, Men’s Warehouse have instituted servant leadership practices and offer servant-leader training. With the growing influence of servant leadership, EAs may find themselves working for an executive who is committed to being a servant-leader. It can be a radically different experience and one that takes getting used to because you are asked to step up and be mindful of your better nature at all times. Embodying what it truly means to be a servant-leader is not easy, and certainly cannot be trivialized as the latest buzzword. Servant leadership doesn’t happen overnight. It is a long-term transformation for people and organizations.

Greenleaf wrote: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then
conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead… The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people
develop and perform as highly as possible.”

I’ve abridged that paragraph from Greenleaf for the purpose of this interview. It is lengthy and the most quoted of his entire essay.
Debating whether or not we should put others’ needs ahead of our own is a discussion for another time. To me, it simply points us to constantly remember to be decent human beings who are
considerate of each other, finding ways to work and support each other so we can all live fulfilled lives. Servant leadership espouses lofty goals. From my perspective, the server is as valuable as the
person being served. Servant leadership is not a one-way street. It is not about subjugating yourself. It is about claiming yourself, living to your highest purpose while supporting others to do the same.

Here are some characteristics of Servant Leadership as explained by the former CEO of the Greenleaf organization, Larry Spears. I’ve added my take on the relevance for EAs.

Listening: Listening is vital to the growth of a servant-leader. Listen intently and receptively to others. It means getting in touch with your own inner voice to understand what it is communicating to you. Listening and reflecting are essential to the role of the servant-leader, and a crucial characteristic for an executive assistant. Former Popeyes’ CEO Cheryl Bachelder says “Listening well is the path to serving well.”

Healing: The potential for healing one’s self and others is a powerful force for transformation. Assistants routinely come across people who need help and encouragement. Find ways to be of service,
without neglecting your core responsibilities, or becoming
overwhelmed by other people’s issues. I knew an EA who used to volunteer for a suicide hotline. She had to stop because she became too depressed and it was seriously impacting her job as assistant to a senior VP. This is about having empathy, not taking on someone else’s problems.

Awareness: Particularly self-awareness. Many executives lack
self-awareness (about their values and how others perceive them). Pay attention to your impact on people and how you conduct
yourself. You represent your executive and you represent yourself. Make sure you always put your best foot forward, and your radar is on at all times.

Persuasion: Using persuasion rather than authority. Assistants should be used to this since most of them don’t have any direct or positional authority, yet they manage to get things done through
collaboration, resourcefulness and treating others respectfully.

Foresight: Understanding the lessons of the past to look ahead and avoid problems in the future. Assistants must develop their ability to anticipate. It’s the biggest complaint I hear from executives. Being prepared gives you a big advantage in supporting your executive and independently spearheading projects. Your position in the executive suite gives you a bird’s-eye view advantage, so use that data
strategically to plan your course of action.

How will you apply these characteristics to your role as executive assistant? Remember servant leadership is for people at all levels, not just for people with a “C” in their title (CEO, CFO). As a servant-leader, the assistant must understand their stewardship to their
executive and to the organization of which they are a part. Servant leadership is not asking you to be submissive. You are being
encouraged to build and be a part of something. Something you care about. Tune into the needs of your executive so they feel looked
after and nurtured by you. Whether it is business needs or basic
human needs like planning down time in their schedule, or having a sandwich ready to nourish them before they race off to yet another meeting. What can you do to give them respite from the pressures of the business day – things that say “I’m here to support you.”

“Support” is the operative word. The role of the assistant is to
support and assist. As much as we speak about “partnerships” and “relationships”, it must be remembered that the executive is hiring the assistant to provide the support the executive needs in carrying out the company’s mandate. All efforts must be in service of this
requirement. This is not limiting the assistant. It is expanding the
assistant. There are many directions in which a spirited, resourceful assistant can take the role if they are looking out for the best
interests of their executives and the organization. There is much that can be done by an assistant with bold vision and a sense of
purpose who wants to take the lead. It is only limiting if “what’s best for me” is your predominant focus.

Ideally, the executive has already adopted the role of servant-leader so the executive and assistant are in service and support of each
other. I’ve had the privilege of having such a boss and I can tell you, you will gladly work your heart out for this person, because you know they have your back as much as you have theirs. You realize they truly see you as a human being, and not just a high achieving, production machine whose mettle they will test to the point of breaking. When this happens, the executive and the assistant are successfully partnered to deliver superior performance. They are aligned and fully engaged, bringing their best to work every day in the true spirit of servant leadership.

Please tune in next time for our discussion on Exemplary
Followership and its relevance for executive assistants.

Author: Jan Jones

For the past three 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!

Want more from Jan Jones? Check out her Q & A Series: Part 1-11!

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.

©Copyright Jan Jones, 2015 “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”

Jan Jones Worldwide

Visit Amazon to purchase Jan Jones’ new 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


We’d love to hear from you! Please follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ for the latest news and updates from FlyPrivate.

Website: www.flyprivate.com
Email: fly@flyprivate.com
Phone: 1-800-641-JETS (5387)

All flights arranged by Private Business Jets, LLC DBA FlyPrivate are operated by Part 135 Certified Air Carriers. FlyPrivate will act as your agent for the purpose of obtaining charter service.

Q & A with Jan Jones: Part 11 – Can Executive Assistants be effective working remotely?

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.


For the past three 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!

Want more from Jan Jones? Check out her Q & A Series: Part 1-10!

FlyPrivateCan executive assistants be effective if they are working remotely?  What about virtual assistants? Can executives have their business needs met by using remote or virtual assistants?

Jan Jones: As the old saying goes, “there’s horses for courses”.
Meaning depending on the circumstances or conditions, assistants can be effective working remotely and many executives can have their business needs met by using remotely-located or virtual
assistants. We should take a closer look at the circumstances under which executives could function effectively using assistants who are working remotely, or are virtual assistants, to determine how
effective they can be.

Let’s take working remotely first. Actually, this is not something new. I was recently speaking with a former CEO of an international fast food organization. He told me that in the 1980s, within a few months of each other, several of his company’s assistants became pregnant, or wanted to leave due to their childcare situations. Since they had been with the company a long time and he didn’t want to lose their years of experience, he set them up with computers in their homes. He told them, “I don’t care when or how you work, just get the work done and deliver it on time.”  Technology today makes computers affordable and the internet gives us immense freedom to work from just about anywhere we choose, so it makes sense that remote and virtual assistants are gaining in popularity.

But how suitable is it for an executive who needs a certain level of support from an assistant? I checked in with two of the best, most celebrated executive assistants I know: Penni Pike former assistant to Sir Richard Branson for 31 years and Debbie Gross who spent over 25 years as assistant to John Chambers, former CEO and
current Executive Chairman of Cisco Systems. Both ladies are
featured in my book “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”.

Penni told me “Richard included me in everything”, which is how she came to know and understand the Virgin business and what
mattered most to her boss. When I asked her about assistants
working remotely she said, “I can’t understand that because I always worked so closely with Richard. He needed his assistant by his side. People at the very top have to have someone who works with them like that. Otherwise, if they need something urgently, the assistant is not there. Richard needs someone with him all the time.”

Debbie Gross said, “For administrative professionals, working
remotely has become more of the ‘norm’ in today’s business world partly due to the change in business models.  Many administrators support teams that are based around the world and are never
actually in a traditional office.  With the advance in video
technologies, it has definitely become easier to work remotely.

“That being said, one of the key roles I believe an administrator plays is their ability to build relationships across all levels and be the eyes and ears for the people they support.  Harder to do effectively from a ‘home-office’ environment. This was a critical component of my role supporting a CEO making working remotely not really an
option. John always expected me to be the ‘face’ of the office
especially when he traveled.  When he would check in while on the road he always asked how things were going at the office, so I felt it was key that I be present there. It was about noticing what was
going on around me with other members of the organization and
being able to feel the pulse and morale and share that with John.  He was pretty adamant that executive assistants be in the office, so I am not sure I would have been hired to support him if one of my
requirements was to work from home. Many senior level executives prefer to have their executive assistants in the office, especially the higher they are in their organizations.”

This has also been my experience in my career as an executive
assistant. My jobs were much too interactive with my boss, staff, clients and vendors for me to be outside the office. Like Debbie Gross, my executives counted on me to be their ‘eyes and ears’ and their ‘face’ to the world. Situations were constantly arising that needed my immediate attention. Leaving my desk to go pick up a sandwich at lunchtime could prove tricky. When I worked for bosses who were constantly traveling, on the rare days they were
scheduled to be in the office, I brought my lunch to work so I would not have to be away from my desk for more than a few minutes. Meetings were being set up, canceled or moved at a moment’s
notice, people would drop by unannounced, phone calls were being made, sometimes I was holding 2 or 3 calls at the same time, project approvals were needed, documents required signature, and there were always more travel arrangements to be made, changed or
canceled. Most executives I worked for were constantly calling out for me and I tried to always be within earshot, or have my assistant or someone listen out and let me know if I was being yelled for.  How would I have managed all this remotely?

I am currently working on a project with an assistant who is located remotely and I find it arduous. Work that should take 2 days is taking 5 or 6 due to the back and forth across international time zones. Yet, I am constantly meeting assistants who say they’ve negotiated with their executives to work remotely. Perhaps these executives have become accustomed to doing many tasks their assistants should be doing, or much of the work their assistants do for them is not of an urgent or time-sensitive nature.  Their assistants probably aren’t functioning as their liaison or deputy as I did, or as Gross and Pike did for their executives.

A big negative with the arrangement of assistants working remotely is the burden it places on assistants who are working at the office. I hear complaints that the remote assistants show themselves as “available”, but when they are contacted they don’t respond for hours, sometimes even an entire day goes by when they are not
responding to emails, texts or phone calls.  The urgency arises to schedule or re-schedule meetings, for example, but the assistant can’t be reached. If the executive is traveling, neither the executive nor their assistant can be reached and too much time is being spent by other assistants trying to contact them, cover for them, or
wasting time putting their own tasks on hold waiting for a response. I’ve inquired why these assistants don’t insist HR or the remote
assistant’s boss does something about it. HR tells them the boss agreed the assistant could work remotely when they hired them, so there’s nothing they can do. This is a cop-out by HR and the
executive. They must step up and consider the overall effects this situation has on the company. If this arrangement were impeding my workplace productivity, I would actively agitate for it to be changed. I would lobby HR not to allow executives to agree to letting their
assistants work remotely, but instead offer it as an option with
certain conditions, mainly that the assistant proves they are mature and responsible enough to warrant that privilege.

The bigger concern I have for assistants working remotely is how do they learn the business? How do they grow and expand in the role if they are not there to witness the daily ins and outs of the business environment? How do they develop a relationship of trust and
familiarity with their executive if they are not in physical proximity to each other? Ultimately, are they setting themselves up to become redundant? With warnings about A.I. and virtual assistants stepping in to fill many of the routine tasks assistants do, I would pay close
attention to developing skills and processes that make me more valuable and available to my executive.

The exception to this is assistants who have been with their
executive a long time, have built up a strong relationship with an
understanding of the business and each other. If the business is in a mature phase, or the executive’s role is such that they can be gone for periods of time, their assistants have the freedom to work remotely.

Penni mentioned that she thought assistants working remotely might get lonely. Debbie also addressed this from her experience at Cisco. “3 years ago I came to recognize that at Cisco, there was a whole administrative community that worked remotely and in
talking with several of these administrative professionals it became clear that they all felt a sense of isolation from the broader
administrative community.  As a result we pulled together this group and created an initiative known as G.R.A.C.E. – Global Remote
Administrators Connecting Effectively.  This is a group of remote
administrators who come together once a quarter to discuss the challenges they are facing, as well as review of best practices that help them feel connected.

“One of the key areas discussed was the challenge of developing a relationship with the leader because they were remote.  I strongly encourage administrative professionals who are working remotely to make it a point to travel to the corporate office at least once a year and even better, quarterly if they can, in order to ‘connect’ with their peers, meet the people they interface with across the
organization and become ‘visible’ – putting a face to the voice.  I also always suggest that remote administrators attend networking events and administrative conferences to learn and engage with
others in their profession. Working remotely certainly has its
advantages. However, administrative professionals can be even more effective by not isolating themselves. I feel that it is in our
administrative DNA that we connect with others and build strong relationships and that means we have to get out of ‘home-office’
environment to do that.  Many of Cisco’s G.R.A.C.E. members are now coming to the corporate office and networking with their peers, enriching their relationships and friendships and growing their knowledge and ultimately being of greater assistance to the leaders they support.”

Virtual Assistants: I often meet assistants who tell me they are
toying with the idea of trying out being a VA because they perceive it as a freeing experience. The purpose of including information about the VA profession in this article is to help assistants understand what it takes to survive and thrive as a VA.

Thanks to technology, there is a role for virtual assistants in the
business world. I remember from the pre-internet days, a friend of mine who worked at a large university would earn extra money
using her home computer to type students’ assignments, or
professors’ presentations. It stands to reason then, that with the freedom the internet offers us, that the virtual assistant profession would flourish.  Originally, this was a service that many
single-operator or small businesses used, but it is becoming more common for established businesses with ample resources to seek out the services of virtual assistants.

Penni Pike is an advisor for Time, etc., the virtual assistant service started in the UK, but now successfully established in the USA as well. Penni was brought on board by the company’s founder,
Barnaby Lashbrooke to guide them in setting up the business. He said Penni provided invaluable insight into how the EA-Executive
relationship should work and what kind of support executives need. Assistants chosen to work for Time, etc., go through a thorough
vetting process, not only for administrative skills, but for
inter-personal skills such as a client-focused viewpoint,
responsiveness to clients requests, attention to detail and so on. Their VAs are a mix of mid-to-high level, offering a range of skills that are “not all admin based, but include the strategic management side of business as well” said Barnaby.

He says the VA role is not suited for everyone. Many assistants are better suited to working in an office, so Time, etc., probes the prospective assistant’s reasons for wanting to be a VA. This is an
important aspect of the vetting process because it would be
disruptive if clients like working with a particular assistant and
develop an effective working relationship, only to find out the
assistant has moved on. Quality assistants with young families who need the flexibility of working from home, yet still need to bring in an income, are the most typical profile of a VA.

Anita Armas of Anita D. Armas Administrative Services from West Covina in California told me she started her VA business because she needed freedom and flexibility when she was looking for a way to be at home with her young children while still earning an income. Anita said, “I knew there was a way to use my skills and experience to do just that but wasn’t sure how, then I heard about virtual
assistants. My husband’s business was hit hard by the financial crisis of 2008 and I needed another way to bring in additional income, so I officially began marketing myself as a virtual assistant and I soon gained my first client.”

I asked Anita what mindset a person needs to be successful as a VA. “Aside from skills, in order to be successful as a virtual assistant one must be confident, resourceful, thick-skinned, adaptable, a great communicator and have a servant’s heart. As a VA business owner, my business success depends greatly on the success of my clients. A successful VA will not just be a “doer” but will be innovative and strategically invested in his or her clients business, in order to know how to best support their client. A willingness to learn and grow are key,” says Anita. She added that some of the pitfalls a VA can
experience include the client not seeing the VA as an autonomous business owner and leaning towards an employer/employee
mentality. The client feeling a sense of exclusivity, thinking they are the only client the VA has, and lack of communication between the VA and the client.

When assistants tell me they are considering becoming a VA, I
caution them that before they leave a secure, well-paying job with benefits and career advancement opportunities, they should
consider how the uncertainty of not immediately having a steady
income might impact them. They should consider whether or not they are cut out for working alone and whether they are sufficiently disciplined to get down to work every day when they have the
option to work at their own time and pace. It’s easy to romanticize being your own boss when you are operating from the safety of a
secure job. The reality of being self employed can be a wakeup call when you have to prospect for business, deal with unhappy clients, pay bills, collect payments and furnish your own healthcare. Many VAs thrive in the role and others, after a mild flirtation with
independence, gladly return to the security of a full time job.
Evaluate your skills, your disposition and your self-discipline
thoroughly before you venture into the VA world. It is not for
everyone, particularly if you decide not to work through a platform such as Time, etc., preferring to source business on your own.

What’s exciting about all this is the many options assistants of all
calibers and experience levels have at their disposal today.  When you get excited about the opportunities, be sure to think through the potential downsides, not just the upsides. Use this article to make a Pros and Cons list for yourself. I wish you success in whatever you decide.

Author: Jan Jones

©Copyright Jan Jones, 2015 “The CEO’s Secret Weapon”

Jan Jones Worldwide

Visit Amazon to purchase Jan Jones’ new 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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