Bonnie Bakker is a Personal Assistant at Liberty Global, who initially began her position as a temp hire. Bonnie supports the Managing Director, Vice President in Operations, and provides secondary support to two more Vice Presidents.
The role of a Personal or Executive Assistant compares to that of the oil in an engine; we enable smooth operations of untold moving parts. Given the complexities of such a role, understanding and adapting to each working style is critical.
Assistants need to align their own style with each executive when establishing the best ways of working. Deftness in building this relationship can be the difference of just filling a role or truly enjoying where you work, who you work for and your own sense of fulfilment.
The Interview Process
With any role, it is important to ascertain whether the fit has great potential or not. In the interview process it can be difficult to identify how your own work style may align with that of your future executives’.
“How would you typify your work style?” is one key question I ask prospective new managers. As we all take our own ways of working for granted this is not necessarily an easy question for them to answer, however with experience you learn to read between the lines of the response garnered and glean an understanding.
The following are a few traits that I believe to be essential when working for multiple executives. Unlike ingrained characteristics, these are all qualities we can continually work on, improve and finely tune.
In order to understand the demands of your executives quickly (especially when starting a new tenure) at the beginning of each week it is helpful to slot in time to map schedules. These short sessions provide insight into how executives approach their priorities, and less formal conversation helps you capture any lose ends or get ahead of the game planning things mentioned in passing. Do not be afraid to ask questions to ascertain preferences, and to be honest where something isn’t quite gelling. This sets a precedence for assuring positive communication, transparency and trust.
This can either be a quick process to implement, or more challenging if one executive is frequently out of office travelling or consistently in back-to-back meetings. Yet sticking to this initially can reinforce a strong relationship between yourself and the executive, and you can taper the frequency of 1:1’s as you find a natural rhythm.
The personalities of each executive can sometimes be at opposite ends of the spectrum. It is vital to establish key working traits such as the need for high levels of detail, a more direct ‘key messages’ approach (be quick, be gone style), or less formal assurances that you have everything covered. Understanding this aspect of differing work styles will help inform your communication style with each executive, thereby enabling the best engagement with each.
More often than not we field requests from wider teams, but during particularly busy times it can be challenging to juggle demands. This is where learning to push back and the art of procrastination (or structured procrastination) really helps. Knowing when to park various “To Do’s” is very important – sounds obvious but is a definite art form!
Focus must always be on our primaries and identifying their priorities. Pushing back is an invaluable tool that also enables us to carve out time in the diaries of these critical decision makers to work on actions discussed in meetings and empowers them to achieve the tasks they set out to accomplish.
Utilising this powerful combination of agility, being straight-up and maintaining balance will help you best support your managers and foster strong alignment of work styles.
The reward for us?
Happy and healthy working relationships with each executive, mutual respect, appreciation, and longevity of tenure working with people that we support and understand.