Executive Assistant or Assistant Executive?

Listen to our podcast episode about this topic here:

I’ve been in an executive support role for the majority of my career, yet it wasn’t until I attended a Keller Williams Realty conference and read The Millionaire Real Estate Agent by Gary Keller in 2011 that I realized that an Executive Assistant/right-hand partner role was exactly the career path I wanted to pursue. It changed the trajectory of my career and set me on a mission to make sure other EAs, Force Multipliers, Executives, entrepreneurs, and leaders knew how important this partnership was to their business and lives. I am so encouraged by the continued conversations around elevating the responsibilities, inclusion, visibility, respect, and impact of the Executive Assistant career, but there is still work to be done.

One of the concepts that The Millionaire Real Estate Agent really emphasizes is the importance of the assistant role. In fact, Keller recommends it is the first hire that any real estate professional makes to grow their business. Furthermore, Keller discusses how this Force Multiplier position can grow and evolve with the leader and earn the right to move into an Assistant Executive position. Damn right.

What if we stopped putting so much focus on the Assistant part of the title and started emphasizing the Executive part of the role? I’ve long said that EAs are also leaders. Regardless of the title they hold, the fact is EAs and other executive support staff are integral members of the executive leadership team and should behave as such, and be treated as such. It’s a two-way street: EAs must show up as the leaders they want to see in their company and leaders need to start recognizing the valuable contribution their executive business partners make to themselves and to the company at large.

Founders and Force Multipliers are responsible for one high-impact job; they simply make different contributions towards the overall goal, each rooted in their strengths. EAs are critical staff and valuable members of the inner circle. Today’s EAs are business-savvy leaders and are not content to sit on the sidelines. They want in on the action. They want to know that what they are doing is a value-add to their Executive and to the business as a whole. (Because it is!) 

The new Executive Assistant (or should I say Assistant Executive?) is rewriting the history books.  

Along these same lines, we are starting to see title changes that more accurately reflect the level of responsibility and impact of these executive support roles. Titles such as Executive Business Partner, Force Multiplier, and Chief of Staff are becoming much more common across all industries. And I hope to see this trend continue. However, regardless of the title, it is more about inspiring and enacting a paradigm and mindset shift about the role than changing the title itself.

Like with all change, it has to start with you—with us. Every Executive Assistant who continues to show up as a leader, develop their confidence and business-acumen, and increase their decision-making, project management, and communication skills, is helping us all get closer to the industry-wide respect and recognition that our chosen profession deserves.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on how to level up and command that seat at the table:

Ask the Right Questions to Help Your Leader Prioritize and Execute Projects – One of the most important parts of being a strong strategic partner and invaluable Force Multiplier is understanding how your leader or Executive thinks and makes decisions. And because many of our leaders are visionaries and have brilliant ideas on the daily, it is also our responsibility to help them prioritize those ideas and determine which are the most important ones to act on and which ones can wait. So, while it would be nice to be able to read his or her mind, that’s just not possible. In lieu of mind-reading capabilities, you can get better at understanding your leader’s decision-making process with some key practices, and, of course, by asking really great questions. Here are 10 questions to ask your leader to help prioritize and execute projects.

Develop Your Executive Presence – Executive presence, in short, is your ability to inspire confidence in your leader, your colleagues, and your direct reports. For EAs, this is especially important as you are often asked to lead without a traditional title of authority and must rely on your influential leadership skills to make things happen. Furthermore, you are leading up to your Executive and down and out to others throughout the organization. Executive presence is an amalgamation of confidence, poise, clear and concise communication, reliability, vulnerability, and strength. Quite the tall order, right? Let’s demystify this concept and discuss how you can cultivate your executive presence and grow your career.

Force Multiply Your Leader’s 20% – An EA handles all the miscellaneous responsibilities, tasks, and administrative duties that allow an Executive to stay focused on leadership, strategy, and communication. But we all know EAs aren’t just going to focus on the 80%—part of their job is helping their Executive manage their 20%. An Executive Assistant manages the people, details, timelines, etc. to make an idea come to life. Let’s break this down even further and look at how an EA helps their Executive with their 20%.

Cultivate Your Confidence (at Any Stage Of Your Career) – Cultivating confidence is a practice. You don’t develop confidence by reading about it in a book or listening about it on a podcast. You build confidence through action and experience. A bit more daunting and risky, for sure. But that’s how you develop true confidence. Here are eight ways to cultivate more confidence at any stage of your career.

Build Trust with Your Leader – If there isn’t trust between strategic partners, the rest of the organization can suffer some seriously adverse effects. If trust is absent between two individuals who work as closely as a CEO and Executive Assistant do, then how might that look to the rest of the organization? I’ll answer for you: not great. Whether you are the leader of a company or the Executive Assistant to the CEO, you can both benefit from learning more about Brené Brown’s seven elements of trust (she uses the acronym BRAVING) and how to apply them to your strategic partnership. Let’s dive in.

Become an Impact Player – Impact Players are those individuals who make a significant contribution individually, but who also have an enormously positive effect on the team. What really differentiates them from their colleagues is that Impact Players believe that opportunity exists even amidst challenges and ambiguity. They see the world through a lens of opportunity, rather than a threat lens. They see these challenges as an opportunity to step up, add value, and take action. So, what does it take to become an Impact Player? Let’s use Wiseman’s framework to explain what an Impact Player looks like and how those characteristics and actions directly relate to the roles that Force Multipliers fulfill.

Executive Assistant or Assistant Executive? That is the question. The answer is up to us.

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