The most amazing executive administrative assistant I ever had was a young woman named Shawn Jensen. Shawn taught me about the real impact an administrative assistant can have. (It didn’t hurt that she had learned a few of her tricks from her mother, who had been the executive assistant for Stephen R. Covey.) In a very calm yet deliberate manner, Shawn controlled the mood and intensity of the office.
I remember walking into her area one day to overhear her say into the phone, “Rich is not prepared to speak to you.” This, of course, caught my attention. I wanted to know to whom I was not prepared to speak. And why those words? She told me the person calling was with one of our major suppliers and that she had observed this individual becoming too casual in our relationship. The result was he had been off-loading some of his responsibility onto me. Being the rescuer that I tend to be, I had simply shouldered the load and dealt with it. Shawn’s save not only increased my status in the yes of that company, but protected my resources and enabled our company to be more successful. Shawn would build, lift, and protect me, as well as optimize my time. To this day, I can hardly speak of her without having very tender, fond thoughts.
During the time we worked together, I was traveling extensively all over the world, burning the candle at both ends. Shawn tracked the status of my flights for me to keep everybody posted on my whereabouts. I remember one specific trip (I’m sure it happened countless times when I wasn’t aware) where I discovered my flight from Amsterdam, the Netherlands to Birmingham, England had been delayed. This was a busy weekend flight.
Shawn discovered the delay and realized that I was going to miss my connection. She went ahead and contacted the people who were to pick me up and informed them that I would be late. She then called my wife, who was expecting a call from me when I landed, to let her know that my call would come a couple of hours late. Admins don’t get any better than that!
I remember another young woman named Erin Johnson. We were looking for an admin, and while she was only a junior in college, we were drawn to her bright mind and her personality. We hired her on the spot and she instantly started impacting the business for good. Everyone who entered our office was quickly drawn to her soft yet firm personality. I remember her walking into my office on multiple occasions and saying, “Rich, you’re doing my job,” when I was engaged in various administrative tasks. She quickly took those things off my plate.
Not only was she task-oriented, but Erin would keep track of the pulse of the office, and any time we began to get counterproductive, she would give me a headsup. She would also let me know if anyone had any personal or work-related issues they were dealing with. She was aware of undertows that I would completely miss. In addition to simply being brilliant, she became my eyes and ears.
Once, as I was driving to a lunch and talking with a business partner, she chimed in and said, “I disagree with you, Rich.” This of course caught me off guard, and I asked her to explain. I do not remember what the matter was, but her logic was flawless. From that point forward, I greatly valued her opinion. I knew she was in the game.
Erin managed the finances and helped us grow three different businesses. This young woman, who earned her degree in elementary education, is now running the finances and, in essence, controlling the bookwork for one of the fastest-growing debt relief services companies in our region.
Your administrative assistant is the most important hire you will make. Do not call this person your “secretary.” A title like “administrative assistant” or “executive assistant” gives weight and authority to the person answering your phones. He or she will be the gatekeeper of your organization, deciding who enters and who does not. There are a few qualities an admin must have. First, make sure he or she is capable of representing your company with an amiable personality and respectful tone. Only consider those potential admins who are friendly and easy to talk to, but who will always have your interests in mind. And, most important, your final selection must be someone you can work with. You need to find someone to whom you can effectively communicate your desires and expectations and know that they are understood. In the very early stages of a startup, this person might even be your spouse (if you work well together and won’t be too bossy with each other), or one of the partners can step in.
Porter’s Points – Your Administrative Assistant
- Your admin must know exactly how things are running in your office. Find an admin who cares enough to know. He or she must be every whit as invested in the venture as you.
- Your admin needs to second-guess you for the best, making judgment calls you would make without shifting the weight to your shoulders. He or she might make mistakes, so be forgiving and help encourage the learning process.
- Your admin must know everything but convey nothing.
- Do not treat your administrative assistant “small.” If you do, he or she will start acting small: pushing pencils, disengaging, and forwarding calls straight on to you. How you treat your admin will elicit like behavior.