How to bond with your executive by leading

Having trouble developing common ground with your executive? Here's how to approach the situation.

Are you an executive assistant (EA) with a challenging executive?  Are you constantly trying to keep them on track with their diary, project commitments and finding they are trying to self-manage?  There you are making sure all the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed, keeping all the challenges of the executive suite under control, and the boss isn’t keeping you in the loop. I can hear you sighing or grinding your teeth as this scenario rings true. But what can be done? 

Scaring your executive into submission is one way, but it won’t win you a better working relationship—they would run a mile when they see you coming. 

Being responsible for another person is not always easy. An EA and their executive should be known as the ‘Dynamic Duo’—working together to keep the wheels of the executive suite running efficiently and smoothly so that the board, the executive team, staff and stakeholders can have confidence in what is happening ‘at the top’. 

Business enterprises rely heavily on the level of competence from their executives, so it is essential that working relationships are effective.

But things go wrong, and when they do, it is better for an EA to approach their executive and state, “We have a problem.” Tell them what occurred and what action has been taken to fix it. Once the issue has been resolved, go back and look at what the sequence of events had been and how it could now be addressed so there is no recurrence. Better to resolve quickly than to resort to pointless recriminations. 

Handling difficult situations builds an EAs professional credibility and shows strength of character, a valuable personal trait when associated with the smooth operation of the executive suite.

It is important to build a solid working relationship, to discover how executives want to work with their assistant. Once that confidence and rapport has been built, it is possible for the EA to offer suggestions that can give better value for time expended, avoiding ‘double dealing’. 

Why would any high-level executive spend time on duties that could be more efficiently dealt with by a trustworthy assistant? It just makes sense to delegate.

There is definite ‘power’ in an EA role for those who understand what it takes to be highly successful. Using their ‘power’ to effectively manage the ‘top’ executive takes a high level of emotional intelligence, diligence and empathy for the person being supported. Wielding the whip with empathy is truly an art form. 

Any EA has the potential to be the executive suite’s secret weapon—‘secret’ because until the executive unleashes the ‘power’ of their assistant, and allows them the scope to do their job, to manage their office and to manage up, the full potential of the assistant remains ‘undercover’.

Catherine Middleton runs her own Career Management Consultancy business in Adelaide, South Australia.