Just what makes a great Executive Assistant great, anyway? What’s all the fuss about?
Because it is such a flexible role, it is essential that the EA is able to turn his or her hand to whatever task is necessary to ensure the organization’s, and the Principal’s, success. Every good Executive Assistant is going to have a unique, diverse and wide range of skills, but there are a few must-haves that every truly great EA will have in his or her arsenal.
The first measure of a great Executive Assistant is how effectively proactive he or she is. To be effectively proactive requires a strong foundation of knowledge, experience, advance preparation and hard skills. Here’s why:
A great EA must have a strong awareness of all issues effecting the organization and the big picture of the organization’s mission, values, goals, competition and challenges as well as an understanding of when it is appropriate to take action and when to bring items to a Principal’s (“Executive’s”) attention. This also is part of effective prioritization; no one can make the right decisions about workload without this global understanding.
An effective EA always knows what’s coming up in the near and distant future, whether it be meetings, organizational and personal life events, changing legislation, opportunities, etc.
Having faced numerous challenges in the past allows for a basis of experience on which to draw, helping to know how to deal with issues well before they become crises.
Effective proactivity is all about advance preparation. Managing a large workload is easy if you complete all tasks in advance that are possible to complete; if it doesn’t have to wait until the last minute, it shouldn’t.
Chemistry – the Ultimate Test
Beyond knowledge, hard skills and experience, it is essential that the Executive Assistant be the right fit for a Principal – often referred to as “chemistry”. Communication between an EA and a Principal should be intuitive, as between partners that have known each other a long time. All the skills and experience in the world will only get you so far – the two of you must be a team. A great Executive Assistant for one Principal won’t necessarily be a great EA for another Principal. The ability of two people to work together effectively transcends all other positive attributes that both people bring to the table.
Unfortunately, chemistry can be difficult to ascertain during an interview process and often takes two people actually working together for some time to determine if they can work effectively together. I strongly recommend that the Principal spend as much time as possible with all serious potential candidates in a variety of circumstances before making a hiring decision and not allow others to make hiring decisions with regard to Executive Assistant positions.