To extent to which EAs influence their exec’s approach, or the standard of outcomes either they or their team achieve, ultimately comes down to the depth of trust and respect earned. The simple reality is that your ability to influence anyone is directly proportionate to their willingness to let you. Underpinning that willingness is the depth of trust and respect they feel.
Trust is driven by the beliefs people hold about your character and competence – and belief in the strength of your skills and experience is just the starting point. From there, you need the people you work with to trust and respect your character; the person you are, the values you hold, and the attitudes and behaviours you bring…
Focus on important priorities, demonstrated through an investment of time and energy in driving essential outcomes, is what most senior leaders are looking for from their EA. Holding yourself accountable to baseline expectations on your role is non-negotiable. But if you want to be a great EA, holding yourself accountable to ambitious objectives is necessary. Take ownership of your role and your exec’s successes.
Fundamentally, those you support need to believe you’re fully invested in supporting them to deliver to a high standard. And the key stakeholders around them need to believe that you’re operating at a pace and standard reflective of the demands of your bosses’ job.
How often you been referred to as a gatekeeper? Do you wear it as a badge of honour? If so, stop! Think carefully about the signals it sends to people you ultimately need to influence. Gatekeeping is all about restricting access, keeping unwelcome visitors out. Is that a position from which you’re likely to earn the depth of trust and respect you need?
Of course, it matters that you control the demands on your exec’s time. Sometimes you have to say: “No” or delay people for longer than they’d like. But make sure that being seen as a team player, supportive of collective team outcomes, prevails. Then most people will be comfortable with the decisions you need to make to bring order to your boss’s world.
This means different things to different people, but commonly it’s about operating with honesty, fairness and good intention. As an EA, you have endless opportunities to earn or lose respect based on the depth of integrity you bring to your role.
For example, you have access to private information, and are privy to sensitive conversations and goings on. So, your ability to be discreet and maintain confidentiality is fundamental to earning and maintaining trust. Devastating to any EA’s ability to be successful is being known as a gossip or not knowing when insights shouldn’t be divulged.
No-one likes working with someone who is emotionally unpredictable and meltdown-prone if things don’t go right. Let’s reflect on your emotional maturity. How well do you take on board constructive feedback? Can you deal with challenging people calmly? Or simply process frustrations that are holding you back?
While none of us is perfect and we all have off-days, a reputation for being a mature professional capable of responding to challenge with composure is key. Great EAs bring order to chaos. They don’t become part of the problem.