Executive Assistance: Three Key Ways to Empower EAs – and Why It Matters

In need of a little couples therapy?

Now before you volunteer too much information, it’s best we clarify that the relationship counselling we’re offering is strictly work-related. Specifically, what we’d like to explore is that most crucial of working relationships: the one which develops between an executive and their EA. So execs, we’d like you to consider this: is your relationship with your EA as productive as it could be?

Chances are there’s room for improvement. Because more often than not, we’ve observed that the unique EA/exec dynamic leans a little more towards dysfunctional than devoted. “What’s easily forgotten is this simple premise: what is the function of an EA?” says PEPworldwide managing director Kathryn Anda. “Obviously, they’re there to help an executive perform their role more easily. But what we frequently observe is that the EA is the last person to get time with their exec. And this is of course totally wrong: an EA is the person who can arguably have the biggest impact on an executive’s ability to perform their role successfully.” She recounts a “horror story” (well, “horror” by PEP standards, anyway) about an executive who was assigned a new EA. “After three months, he still hadn’t even spoken to her. They had never had a conversation about how she could help him do his job. So why was she even there?”

Scary stuff, indeed. But while this sort of worst-case scenario is, thankfully, rare, it’s still important to think about whether you’re doing all you can to ensure your relationship with your EA is coming up roses. Read on, then, for our three key methods for keeping the magic alive:

1. Make time for them.

Ready to commit? You should be. Scheduling regular brief catch-ups with your EA pays big dividends in terms of increasing your personal productivity. “Your EA is there to make your life easier. You need to take the time to show them how they can do that for you,” explains Anda. “We constantly hear stories from EAs like ‘I’ve been trying to see her for three days, but she’s too busy’. Executives need to stop and think about their priorities. Their EAs are so valuable that time with them – even if it’s brief – should be at the top of their list.” She recommends execs commit to taking ten minutes at the start of every day to run through what’s required with their EAs. “This enables your EA to take care of the everyday details which would otherwise slow you down. Ultimately, a daily ten- or fifteen-minute stand-up with your EA will give you more time to focus on strategic projects rather than low-level tasks.”

2. Trust them.

Don’t be a control freak. Establish what decisions your EA can make on your behalf – and then trust them to follow through. “A lot of EAs tend to batch all meeting requests and other minor decisions for their exec’s approval, simply because they’re not clear on what authority they have to take action themselves,” explains Anda. “However, it’s much more efficient if they’re able to make a call on some of these without waiting for approval.” Confidence and trust are key here: she suggests executives build these behaviours by spending a few weeks working through their inbox alongside their EA, explaining exactly which actions or requests the EA can take responsibility for themselves. “This not only frees up time for you, but also makes your EA feel valued, engaged and empowered,” she enthuses. Win win.

3. Keep it fresh.

Don’t get stuck in a rut. Ensure the relationship is always evolving, advises Anda. “Executives should be constantly assessing which of their tasks they could empower their EA to perform – or delegate – on their behalf. If new knowledge or new opportunities arise, make sure you share them.” The result? “At a basic level, you’re ensuring that this person is as helpful as possible,” she explains. “But at the same time, you’re building your EA’s confidence and developing a successful, productive relationship.”

So no more horror stories, please. We want to hear about commitment. Trust. Mutual respect. Empower and engage your EAs, says Anda, and they will develop the confidence to look after your best interests: “The best EAs are proactive and decisive. Even better, they will challenge you if you’re not doing what you need to do.” And the best executives, she adds, recognise this and encourage it – because the benefits of a productive EA/exec relationship go well beyond everyday office efficiencies. “You simply cannot underestimate the value a confident, empowered EA can bring,” she says. “Executives must take every opportunity to maximise their time so that they are working on their business, not in it. And the support of an EA is an incredibly powerful way to achieve this. Ultimately, a successful EA/exec relationship translates to excellent business results.”

Sounds rather like a fairy tale ending.