Every executive assistant will agree that the key to a successful and fulfilling career is a good relationship with their Executive. In fact, this singular factor can determine the trajectory and effectiveness of an EA’s performance in their role and the depth of contribution they can make to the growth of their organization. But here’s an often unspoken truth to this topic: it takes two to tango. The success of your professional relationship is also directly dependent on the willingness of your Executive to take part.
So, how do you foster a great working relationship with your Executive?
We know this is a question that many of us would like to get some tips on, that’s why we invited Adam Hergenrother and Hallie Warner, the authors of the bestselling book for executive assistants, “The Founder and the Force Multiplier” to share some insights into how they have built a strong professional relationship that has thrived for over a decade. In a 45-minute session at Cabinet’s High Performing EA Summit titled “The Chief of Staff & Executive Partnership”, they walk us through what a successful partnership looks like and how EAs can help cultivate this further to build strong relational foundations that can last for years.
MORE THAN A RELATIONSHIP BUT A PARTNERSHIP
A partnership only happens when two individuals enter a commitment with an intent to support and trust each other. For EAs, this means having a mindset of service focused not on what you can take but what you can give. This includes being proactive, not just reactive. Being deliberate in giving a bigger contribution larger than just your own professional and self-interests – genuinely caring for your Executive and organization’s growth.
For Executives, Adam emphasizes providing leadership opportunities for executive assistants and entrusting them with responsibilities that can help grow their sense of ownership. “There’s gonna be all these different things that go on in life but the intent is to want to create a relationship and a partnership with my right-hand person to support me, and I want to support that.”
The EA needs to be provided room to acquire the knowledge, skill, and affluence she needs to function optimally in the role to strategically support the Executive. This might include allowing them to sit in meetings, sharing necessary information, coaching on business acumen and strategic insight, introducing them to essential networks so he/she can easily represent the Executive moving forward, and asserting the EA as the point-person for the Executive’s schedules/calendar so the EA is always in the loop. In other words, executive assistants need to be provided with an environment where they can support the Executive.
This can be the genesis of how the conversation in the relationship can start positively. And it starts with really wanting to be in a partnership – that goes for both people. The executive assistant and Executive need to understand that entering into a partnership doesn’t guarantee storm-free dynamics. Not everything is gonna go smoothly but this is where a partnership mindset makes a difference.
When both parties are willing to provide support and contribute positively to the relationship, that’s when trust and communication start being built.
CULTIVATING A STRONG PARTNERSHIP
Adam and Hallie shared how they were able to keep working together for so long in their partnership and continue to grow and function in their respective roles. Here are three executive team-building tips you can consider in strengthening your partnership with your Executive.
TIP #1: Make sure you always have weekly meetings.
This is one of the most neglected opportunities for cultivating trust and communication in a partnership, and what executive assistants will have to protect consistently. Adam shares that “most Executives know they should be meeting with their EAs but they don’t. This is where proactivity and consistency in reminding them how important that is can go a long way.”
Having weekly one-on-ones can be very instrumental for executive assistants to stay aligned with their Executives and true to the organization’s goals. It also provides a stronger cadence in building a feedback loop to improve the execution of tasks and responsibilities, especially through timely course correction or affirmation. If you are both in sync, you can move more efficiently. Productivity and performance will naturally increase on both ends.
TIP #2: Stay organized and think beyond the leader.
Having weekly meetings is just the tip of the iceberg. Building a strong partnership with your Executive will require you to make sure that every interaction is made up of purposeful and collaborative conversations. So, Hallie advises that you come prepared and organized. The Force Multiplier Execution Plan is a resource that she uses to frame out her weeks, months, and even years. What this does is force you to actively plan and record your tasks. This holds a two-way benefit: it provides a structure for how you can lead the weekly meetings with your Executive, and increase transparency and visibility.
Adam also gives a bit of golden advice to keep in mind when approaching your role: think beyond the Executive. What this means is to always think ahead and be prepared. Always anticipate what your Executive will need or where they’re going before they even know what they will need. Provide opportunities and support that way. And then, make sure you communicate this during your meetings to prop yourself up as an accountable and reliable partner they can lean on.
TIP #3: Commit to your individual and leadership growth.
One of the best ways you can support your Executive is by being a helpful source of valuable insight into business acumen or in any other relevant areas. This positions you in the partnership as someone who your Executive not only knows can get things done but also someone they can learn from.
You can start by checking out what subscriptions or learning resources your Executive is currently using, and then subscribing to them as well. Listen to podcasts, read more books, and dive into making sure you’re hearing and learning the same thing your Executive is.
If you have a good partnership with your Executive, can level this up by facilitating some Executive team-building activities centered on this: brainstorming or ideation sessions on specific projects or campaigns. Knowledge-sharing is a fantastic way to truly cultivate a fruitful partnership with your Executive and strengthen your dynamic.