Force Multiplier Survey Results: Growth, Respect, Training, Impact, Communication, and Leadership

Last week we conducted a survey to learn more about what is important to Force Multipliers – what is working in their roles, what their biggest professional challenges are, and what they would like to see change in the future.

What was most evident to me from the results was that Force Multipliers are overall craving a challenge, growth, and want to be supporting their Executives at the highest level. They take pride in their careers and want to make an impact across their organization. We wrote this in our book a couple of years ago, but I think it perfectly illustrates this point and what the survey is telling us: “Todays’ 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.”

So what needs to change in Force Multiplier Careers?

I think it all comes down to leadership. Most things do! I think we need to provide better education to our leaders about how to work with and effectively build a partnership with their Force Multipliers. I think we need to lead up and show our Executives and team members what we can do. I think we need to continue to invest in our own leadership and professional growth while asking our leaders and HR departments to support this education as well. I think we need to continue to lead conversations around the importance and impact of executive support careers.

I look forward to more feedback from our fantastic Force Multiplier community and to creating trainings and resources to help us all achieve more together.

Below is a summary of the Force Multiplier survey results, along with my notes and commentary.

Force Multiplier Survey Results

What is your title?

As we know, titles in the executive support profession vary widely. 60% of survey respondents go by Executive Assistant, followed by 7.3% Administrative Assistant, and 5.5% Chief of Staff. Other titles ranged anywhere from Special Advisor to Executive Administrator, to Senior Executive Business Partner, to Personal Assistant, to Administrative Business Partner, to Chief Executive Assistant.

Executive Assistant appears to still be the most common and all-encompassing job title to name the role of a right-hand business partner.

What is your biggest professional challenge?

  • Leading & Managing Up – 27.9%
  • Career Development – 26.7%
  • Time Management – 10.9%
  • Project Management – 10.9%
  • All of the Above – 5.5%
  • Prioritization – 4.8%
  • Organization – 2.4%

The majority of responses fell within these categories, with leading & managing up and career development topping the list of professional challenges. What this indicates to me is that Force Multipliers are confident with their hard skills and are likely comfortable handling the day-to-day projects, operations, and administration in their roles. They are looking for growth. They want to create that strategic partnership with their Principal and help them and the organization grow. They want new and interesting projects to work on. And they want to make an impact.

What is the biggest challenge you face when working with your executive?

  • Investment into our strategic partnership -26.7%
  • Communication – 18.2%
  • Getting my boss to give up control/micro-managing – 13.9%
  • Inconsistent or nonexistent feedback – 11.5%
  • Being seen as “just an admin” – 9.1%

Respondents noted that one of their biggest professional challenges was career development. I think investment into the strategic partnership goes hand-in-hand with career development, as does communication. You can’t have a highly functioning partnership without clear and consistent communication. While formal career development, such as hiring a coach, virtual EA summits, or project management certificates are a great part of strengthening your business acumen and overall career growth, I think it is just as important to get regular coaching and mentorship from the Executive that you are supporting. At the very least, Executives must make time for their EAs and right-hand partners, to clearly share the vision and priorities for the business, give constructive feedback, answering questions, and teach them how they think like a leader. This sort of investment into the strategic partnership is what Force Multipliers crave and will give the Executive and company a massive return on that investment of time and energy.

What’s the number one most frustrating part of your job? How would you fix it if you could?

The answers to this open-ended question were great! And, I hope it was both therapeutic and clarifying for those who responded. We all have parts of our job that frustrate us. Identifying what they are is the first step and then coming up with workable solutions is what moves us from the sidelines and into the arena as a Force Multiplier.

Interestingly, there were several recurring themes that emerged here including:

  • Not having the necessary access (not being invited into the inner circle via email, meetings, project context, etc.) in order to perform work at the highest level, often due to lack of respect or lack of understanding of the role.
  • Lack of respect for the role, in combination with a lack of understanding of exactly what the role entails and how much work goes on behind the scenes.
  • Communication. Similar to lack of access, many EAs are not getting the necessary information, clarity, priorities, questions answered, or time with their Principal to make the biggest impact.
  • Time management and prioritization – or rather lack thereof on the part of the Principal. Not all projects are equally important. Unrealistic timeframes for said projects also emerged. This is where EAs can shine when invited into the inner circle!
  • Professional development and opportunities for growth. High-performing Force Multipliers crave career development and want to see the vision for their growth. Many feel this is lacking in their organization, often due to the impact of the role being misunderstood or the position being undervalued in general.

These issues, unfortunately, are all too common for executive support professionals. But I believe the tides are turning as more EAs are stepping up, investing in their own growth, gaining confidence and business acumen, and taking control of their careers. I have always believed that being a Force Multiplier is a dynamic career choice, not just a stepping stone to another opportunity.

Whether it’s working with local EA groups, creating a professional development track with your Human Resources department, or developing your leadership skills in order to have those difficult conversations with your Principal – it all makes a difference. We can all continue to be advocates and a voice for the power of the strategic partnership and the impact Force Multipliers make in an organization. Do what you can. It makes a difference. The ripple effect is real.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Again, the answers varied, but there were a few recurring themes, including:

  • The team
  • The leader
  • Autonomy and trust in the role
  • Supporting and serving others
  • Being a part of important decisions and projects that make an impact on the organization
  • The variety of projects, tasks, and challenges

Let’s hear from a few of the respondents about what they love most:

  • “My boss! Truly she is the most encouraging and supportive individual.”
  • “Kicking ass and leading strategy.”
  • “Wearing many hats and having the opportunity to be the wizard behind the curtain.”
  • “Keeping my exec productive and efficient!”
  • “The people I work with and being able to empower and support them in meeting their goals.”
  • “My ability to be in everything. I like the challenge, I like the fast pace, the multi-dimensional aspects of the job working with a start-up and relishing in the small successes we are currently achieving.”
  • “My executive completely trusts me to prioritize, execute and speak on her behalf.”
  • “Having access to every part of the business and not being siloed into one area. I love the breadth of what I can get involved in.”
  • “Turning pain points into progress. Finding small ways to effect change/process improvement that have bigger payoffs for the larger organization.”

After reading these responses, who wouldn’t want a Force Multiplier and true strategic partner by their side!

What motivates you to go to work every day?

The team, colleagues, and leader topped the list of what motivated Force Multipliers to go to work every day. As Marcus Buckingham said, “People leave managers, not companies.” A great team and working relationships can make all the difference, especially when navigating big challenges in business.

The other major reasons that motivate Force Multipliers include:

  • Learning, challenges, and the opportunity for growth
  • Providing value to the Exec/team and supporting others
  • A strong company mission and vision
  • Being a strategic partner and leading alongside their Exec
  • Income

What do you need in order to grow in your career?

As someone who loves career development and career management, I was particularly interested in the answers to this question. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the overwhelming response was professional development and training.

For some, it was getting support from leadership – training is just as important for executive support professionals as it is for executives. For others, it was gaining clarity and support on a career path in their organization. And for others, it was identifying what those next-level trainings might be and then making the ask.

While few of the respondents identified specific training they were looking for, I suspect based on the rest of the survey, most of this additional professional development they are looking for centers around leadership, business fundamentals, communication, leading up, and project management. All key components of being a strong strategic partner.

What is the number one thing you wish those you work with understood?

Force Multipliers wish those they work with understood that their role is a career and it is a choice. While many (myself included) fell into the role, those that have been at it for more than a couple of years do so because it is actually the perfect position for them, one that utilizes all of their strengths and skills to make a major impact. Respondents also wish that their colleagues understood more of the role and the value it brings to both the Executive and the entire organization. Simply put, they wish the role was viewed with the respect that it deserves.

What is the most important change you have implemented in the way you work with your Executive?

One main theme seemed to emerge from the answers to this question – communication. To drill down, respondents have implemented many changes in regards to communication including establishing clear channels of communication, creating a cadence for meetings and daily syncs, becoming a more confident communicator, and asking more strategic and powerful questions.

Closely aligned with communication is calendar management. Leaders spend 72% of their work time in meetings according to the Harvard Business Review article, How CEOs Manage Their Time. The study also showed that CEOs worked 9.7 hours per weekday, on average. They also conducted business on 79% of weekend days. That provides a huge opportunity for the Force Multiplier to step in and work their magic. Time and energy are a Principal’s most valuable resources. Force Multipliers that responded to our survey have implemented streamlined calendars, thinking time and white space, and complete overhauls of their leaders’ calendars to better align with their overall agenda.

What did you think about the survey results? Did any of the responses surprise you? Based on the information presented, what do you see as the biggest opportunity for change for the Force Multiplier career path? Keep leading up!

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