Getting the most from your Executive Assistant (EA)


Originally featured on Harvard Business Review, the need for an exceptional assistant has evolved from the AMC series "Mad Men secretary" type to being recognized as an instrumental role to all organizations and executives.  Having an effective assistant goes beyond scheduling travel and booking meetings, it's so much more.  An exceptional admin completes tasks, of any size, with all details considered, challenges the ordinary to confirm the final is the very best, and has a high level of emotional intelligence (EiQ).


Those that shine in the EA role do so when they pair resourceful thinking with a 'Get Stuff Done' attitude.  They thrive under pressure and welcome a full to-do list each day.  They keep the finer details in the forefront and for even the simplest requests all aspects are considered.  - Case in point:  When asked to make arrangements for an upcoming business trip they immediately look at the assignment as a whole - flight, car, hotel, meals, meetings, and so on. An exceptional admin considers whether a rental car is necessary or does Uber  make more sense; considering the location is a big factor (i.e. New York or Los Angeles).  Is booking a hotel near the meeting location more ideal or should their executive be near the airport?  During the arranging process there's much dialogue that happens between the assistant and executive but an exceptional admin lays out a rough itinerary for the executive to review, offering all factors and proposing ideal scenarios.  When an EA interacts with their executive in this fashion, time is best utilized making workflow more effective.

Challenge the ordinary

It's common for an exceptional admin to receive a special assignment that supports their executive and ultimately the organization.  The special assignment could range from preparing a presentation or organizing a special event.  Special projects offer fresh content to a role that can sometimes be redundant and in doing so, you're increasing employee retention.  When asked to support the formation of a presentation, the EA is able to broaden, or strengthen, work relationships in other departments which in return produce stronger synergies throughout the organization.  Plus, it provides a platform for hidden talents to surface.  When organizing an event, skies the limit on creativity.  An exceptional admin welcomes out of the ordinary assignments because any hidden talents that aren't often utilized make them more valuable.


Being high in the emotional intelligence (EiQ) department is instrumental to being an effective EA.   It's something that's adopted through experiences both challenging and rewarding. With that, some people are up and coming in the EiQ area and some are more seasoned.  It's a big reason why being outside of one's comfort zone can produce a more rich background and mindset. The more experiences one has under their belt, the more situations they have to resource.  Imagine only ever having been a runner.  The same muscles are utilized every time with little usage of others.  If a person added cycling into the rotation more muscles are used therefore more benefits are gained.  Add weight lifting and circuit training, now a person has a well-rounded workout routine.  The same idea is adopted with life experiences.  Having a diverse background offers experiences to resource in your every day.

When searching for an assistant it's important to discover if your potential candidate has the above traits.  Often times, companies incorrectly hire because they are solely focused on skills and not the person as a whole.  If you're engaging and asking the right questions during the interview process your success rate in hiring and finding the right employee goes up.  If you are unsure on how to discover the whole person, then ultimately the outcome doesn't produce a match.  Invest much time up front vs. afterwards.  You'll be happy you did.