What You Should, and Should Not, Expect From an Executive Assistant

CEO’s and other executives often ask what their true expectations of an executive assistant should be. How does one know if they have the right person? What is considered appropriate, day-to-day job responsibilities and what crosses the line into over-the-top requests that leave both parties frustrated and disappointed? Here are a few tips.

Having a rock star EA takes time. You won’t know if an executive assistant is a good fit until the six-month mark, and a great fit until nine months. If you and your EA aren’t working in tandem—if he or she isn’t one step ahead of you, managing your schedule—you have the wrong person. But this is a process. We all know there are exceptions to this rule, and people who just aren’t cut out for the position will prove it in less time. Give your EA time figure you out. Mistakes will happen as your EA learns your business and your style.

A rock star EA only wants to make you look great. I am among an elite group of 20 EAs who represent CEO’s from some of the largest companies in the Tampa Bay area. We have been meeting every month for five years. We network, barter conference rooms for offsite meetings, recommend new places for CEO lunches, connect our CEO’s when they can’t get it done themselves, and share ideas. I recently asked the group what they consider inappropriate for a CEO to ask, using this hypothetical: If your office is dog-friendly, is walking the CEO’s dog once a week asking too much? All but one agreed that it wasn’t out of bounds. Don’t get me wrong: We aren’t here to pick up dry-cleaning and coffee every day, but if it will benefit my executive and allow him to focus on a big deadline, the dog and I are going for a walk. All 20 of us agreed it is our job to make our CEO’s look the best they possibly can, while making the goals of the company a priority. We take pride in working for the people we represent.

A rock star EA can help on the home front. An EA often knows more about you, and your schedule, than your spouse does. We know your passport number, TSA precheck information, Social Security number, driver’s license number and a lot of other personal information that helps us navigate your day. That’s how much an executive should be able to trust their EA. And if a spouse calls to schedule dates or vacations, is that out of bounds? Absolutely not. If we can lighten the load at home even 10 percent, then you, your family and your company wins.

A rock star EA will need your trust to get the job done. All 20 of my EA colleagues work with our respective CEO’s because we have the benefit of flexibility. Whether it’s kids we have to care for, or a spouse’s problematic schedule, our executives trust us to get the job done—always. The best line ever said to me was during an interview for a job I ultimately got, with Tony DiBenedetto at Tribridge. He said, “I will give you the flexibility to allow you to be a good mom.” To which I replied, “I’m in!” I worked 9 to 4, and he didn’t dock my pay because of it. He knew he could call me on the weekend or ask me for that personal favor anytime. Because of that trust we shared, I worked 10 times harder and I didn’t mind. If your EA has a long commute or a sick child, cut him or her some slack, and I guarantee their production will surpass your expectations.

I believe the executive assistant has the second-most important role in the company, next to the CEO. This is a pretty bold statement, I know. But I remember my first CEO, DiBenedetto, saying that having me onboard made him 30 percent more productive. Before we started working together, he booked his own travel, made his own appointments, wrote his own agendas and took all of his own notes. After supporting him for just a few months, we were able to shift many of his unprofitable tasks to me, where they belonged. He was able to focus on what truly mattered: running the company and building the bottom line. As we continued to partner through the years, his productivity and our trust in each other grew even more.

Bottom line? Having, and knowing the best way to use a great EA will improve your company’s bottom line. ♦

Joelle Paban is executive assistant to Tom Wallace and Marc Blumenthal of Florida Funders. She is the founder of Virtual EA Solutions, a company she created to assist executives in finding “rock star EA.”  Follow her on LinkedIn (@joellepaban) or email her at [email protected].