Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The future of the Executive Assistant is Dr Watson, not Mary Poppins

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices.

By Jess Martin, Executive Assistant, Permutive

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you either have an assistant, want one or work with one. So, I’m here to tell you that the role of the assistant has changed forever: 

  • Old stereotypes are dying
  • Boxed job descriptions are dying
  • Being the office mum… is dying (hallelujah!) 

Much like the beloved pairing of Watson with Holmes, the Executive Assistant has potential to be your sounding board, mediator, catalyst for productivity, and a truly essential partner to elevate your success. So why settle for anything less than game-changing?

If you’ve made the decision to invest in an EA, you’re already aware that your time is your single most precious asset. If you’re simply hoping that this person will be an ever-so-polite Ms Poppins, saving you a few hours a day and sweeping up issues here and there… you’re thinking too small. Increased productivity will come naturally, but shouldn’t be the end goal. 

For many, the past 20 months has been a new age of remote/flexible/I-wonder-how-tall-my-colleagues-are-IRL way of working. We’ve been forced to get acquainted with new technology and tonnes of upskilling to support asynchronous working. It’s also changed traditional administration massively, and along with that, the role of an EA. Naturally versatile, with the ability to morph through a spectrum of industries during a typical career, shifting gears to accomodate a pandemic was a walk in the park for an EA! (Unaccompanied and, two metres from anybody else, obviously.) 

One of the biggest learnings from remote working was self sufficiency. For the EA, it reduced the desk drive bys, the reception pick-ups, the “PLEASE HELP ME WITH XYZ” moments. The EA has had more time to double down their core duties and get one step ahead of the game.

‘Partnering up’ with an EA is a vital part of the puzzle.  If you do this in the right way, you are sitting on a gold mine of potential. Execs with a limited mindset for their EA will struggle to unleash the success in this partnership. Being a synched up pair on all business priorities will allow you to reach breakthrough levels of productivity. There has to be psychological safety – you need to count on this person to be brave enough to challenge you constructively and call out any BS, for the greater good! But these excellent partnerships don’t come in one size fits all.

They are nurtured and coached into a perfect balancing act of trust and intuition. In my experience, it’s a two-way coaching process that continues to develop and will be one of the most single most rewarding working relationships you’ll ever have. 

In the 2012 CEO Snapshot Survey, half of all CEOs reported feeling lonely, and more than 60% believed that this hindered their performance. This common feeling of isolation can seriously detach a leader and impact the way they run their teams. Here’s two ways a strong EA partnership can help: 

  1. Supporting through the hard times. Someone is there solely to lighten the load and have your back through wins and challenges. Your EA  has access to your world, this means they know the difficulties you face and your weaknesses like no-one else in the business. This insight brings empathy. Take this opportunity to use them as a sounding board, as they probably already know your concerns. From there you can make positive plans that your EA can help to execute.
  2. In a well functioning partnership, an EA will have their ear to the ground, steering you into authentic opportunities to connect with people. On top of that – a leader will be gifted with the headspace to get back to basics and develop human relationships in their team, this will organically boost morale and retention within cohesive leadership teams. 

What can you offer your spectacular Dr Watson in return?Well, if you’re doing it right, you’ll guarantee that there will be rewarding days. And challenging days. But never ever boring days. You’ll make sure your EA shares the credit of your success. All the whilst providing solid mentorship and support for their future path. Like all relationships, they don’t last forever, but make sure you both get maximum value whilst it does. Anything less and you may miss out on a huge opportunity.