Jan Jones, author of “The CEO’s Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness” and a former executive assistant with 20 years’ experience with numerous high-profile chief executives, says the right EA can become a leader’s secret weapon.
What inspired you to write “The CEO’s Secret Weapon?”
I now own a speakers bureau that sends well-known business people and celebrities to speak at events around the world. In working with my clients’ assistants, I found many did not represent these executives in a manner befitting their personas. Sadly, the executives seemed unaware of this. When EAs speak for executives, they must present a professional and credible image on their behalf. I started coaching assistants on how to be professional representatives of their bosses, and I gradually began educating executives on why they needed assistants who would represent them in the very best light. From these experiences, I created the book.
Should all leaders have an EA, regardless of the size of the company?
Yes. Without EAs, executives often are left handling tasks that compromise their productivity. EAs act as a filter, allowing executives to remain focused on priorities. For a startup where budget is an issue, consider engaging a part-time or virtual assistant. The money spent will be worth it. But as the business grows, part-time or virtual assistants won’t suffice because the pace will be too rapid. To be an effective deputy, the EA must work side-by-side with the executive to imbibe his or her knowledge and learn how the business functions.
We know EAs manage a variety of duties, but how are they a “secret weapon?”
Exceptional EAs are high-performing, consummate professionals who understand the business and the executive so thoroughly they can operate as a seamless extension of the executive. That is what makes them a secret weapon. The EAs understand that in order for their executive to be effective, they must take over the functions that are not a good use of the executive’s time. EAs never doubt what their executives want or do not want, as the executives are communicating to them their goals, objectives and vision. Consequently, EAs speak on the executives behalf with confidence and authority. They also keep them insulated from non-essentials or calamities.
How did being an EA help you transition into your current leadership role?
I learned to take charge and assume responsibility. When I saw a need in the business, I filled it without being asked, and if I could not do something myself, I found someone who could. I also developed relevant skills, many of which I use constantly in my own business, such as being able to write and understand contracts, negotiate and, of course, provide customer service.
What are the three most important attributes of a successful EA?
Without exception, the executives and the assistants I interviewed said the ability to anticipate is an EA’s top requirement. Their ability to look ahead can, for example, avert a crisis as well as make certain their executive is fully briefed and prepared for a meeting or a trip. Resourcefulness is equally important. Resourcefulness — using good instincts, being innovative, knowing where to go for solutions, understanding how to get the job done and constantly looking for ways to improve — is the hallmark of an exceptional EA. Effective decision-making is a third crucial component. It may take a little time to achieve, but if there is good communication, the EA should be able to take control of routine matters and ultimately be confident to make big decisions as well.