I get a lot of questions from Executive Assistants all over the world about how to form a better relationship and strategic partnership with their Executive (a topic we’ll continue to explore). It really starts with a fundamental question: Are you working with the right leader?
If you are feeling unfulfilled at work, are struggling to get excited about supporting and working with your Exec, or if you are dreading going to the office in the morning, no matter how much you love being an Executive Assistant and no matter how great your company is; your Exec may not be the right fit for you. I’ve seen amazing EAs struggle and eventually leave because they want more growth and opportunity, while their Executive is content with the status quo. Conversely, I’ve seen great EAs falter because their Exec is a hard driver and is constantly changing priorities and the EA would be better served in a more methodical and structured environment. Neither is right or wrong, better or worse – it’s just not the right fit for either party.
If any of the above scenarios sound like you, it’s time to take a good hard look at yourself and your Exec. First, get clear on your own personality, behavior, working style, and career goals. I recommend the following (free or inexpensive) personality and behavior assessments to learn more about your strengths, areas for improvement, ideal work environment, etc.
Some Executive Assistants want a strong, direct, fast-paced Executive. Others, thrive in a a more structured and copacetic environment. While still others will prefer working for a creative, spontaneous Executive. Do you like to keep it strictly business or do you want to attend weekly dinners with your Exec and her family? Do you like a controlled and organized environment or do you thrive on bringing order to chaos? Do you like to take the lead on all projects or do you prefer to wait for detailed instructions before tackling a task? Take all of that into consideration as you are evaluating who you are and whether or not your Exec is the right fit for you.
If you have access to your Executive’s behavior or personality profiles, compare your results with his. (In fact, I would encourage you to have your Executive take one of these assessments. It is a great way to start a conversation about how to work better together.) Where are the assessments in alignment? And where is there a mismatch? You definitely don’t want to have the same strengths as your Exec – or else you wouldn’t need each other! But there are some key places you will want to align. For example, Adam is a DI personality, which means he is direct, fast-paced, gregarious, a driver and an influencer. I am a DC, which means I also work very quickly, am direct (and can handle his direct style), but also have the organizational, detail-oriented, perfectionistic qualities he lacks. And, in fact, if Adam was not a High D personality, I would not have lasted six plus years working with him (I would simply have been too bored!).
If you don’t have a behavior assessment to review, then take a few minutes to complete a quick comparison sheet. Your sheet will be different than mine based on your behavior profile. Really dive deep into what you need in a leader. You may need an analytical and methodical leader and someone else may need a creative and visionary leader to feel fulfilled. Take a look at mine below and then create your own (email me for a template).
Is your leader the right fit or the wrong fit for YOU? Ideally, you would determine this before accepting a position, but that doesn’t always happen. You could have been assigned to an Exec or be supporting your Execs replacement. Even more common, you or your Executive have grown (or not) or have had some big life events that change the working dynamic. Time to reassess whether or not you are working for the right leader.
I know I am working for the right leader because I am constantly growing, I am challenged daily, I take steps (okay, sometimes I’m pushed) outside of my comfort zone so that I can grow (hello! this blog!), I get up every day excited to go to work and help Adam grow our companies, I have freedom and flexibility with my work, and I am supported personally and professionally. Most importantly, I know I am working with the right leader because I don’t have a “boss”, but a business partner.
The EA/Executive relationship is arguably the most important one in the organization and if it doesn’t work, the rest of the organization feels it. It behooves you to ensure that you are working for the right leader for the sake of your sanity and for the success of the organization. The first step to a successful EA/Exec partnership is making sure the time you will invest in your Exec will be time well spent. If you are not the right match, regardless of the strategies you implement, you will fail to build a fulfilling strategic partnership.