April 14, 2016
They are the gatekeepers, the confidantes, and the lifelines.
Out of all the people who serve in a government office, the assistants are some of the most cherished. If a lobbyist undervalues them because they answer the phone, that office visitor is woefully mistaken.
An executive assistant is the essential lifeline for any leader.
Assistants are confidantes whom principals rely on for nearly everything. A lobbyist may have gone to school with the leader, donates to a leader’s campaign, or even regularly socializes with the leader for a drink at happy hour. But the assistant knows the leader’s daily habits, home schedule, and mood that day. The assistant plays a crucial role in making a leader’s day run smoother by putting out fires and keeping to the schedule so the leader can make a kid’s game. Sometimes the assistant becomes an essential sounding board.
As one leader told me, “You can take a shot at me, and I’ll get over it. But don’t EVER take a shot at my assistant, or I will not let you back into the office.”
Even on an assistant’s worst day, that person knows more about the leader and the inner-workings of the office than anyone outside the office. Yet, as a trusted and loyal individual, that person also knows how to keep quiet about confidential information.
Lobbyists are naive if they don’t realize that assistants hold a position of great power in an office and should be treated as such.
As gatekeepers, they can facilitate a request, or frustrate it. They can prevent a lobbyist from ever getting a meeting. An assistant can also clue a lobbyist into the leader’s day and provide an avenue for the right approach. And the truly outstanding assistant finds ways to add time to a leader’s day so productivity can be maximized.
In a previous position, where I had a larger staff, whenever I interviewed a new job candidate, I intentionally made the person wait for a few minutes at the front desk so the receptionist could make small talk with the job candidate. In my view, the interview started with the job candidate’s arrival at the office, Later, I would ask the receptionist for her impressions of the candidate, and how polite, professional, and friendly the candidate was to her. I trusted her. Regardless of what the job candidates said or did not say in my office, or how stellar of a resume they had, if they weren’t kind to a fellow human being, or if they snubbed the receptionist, they would not be hired by me.
We had a busy office with fast, and sometimes unanticipated deadlines, which required serious team work. I only wanted staff with a server’s heart and a giver’s attitude. In my experience, I found that those with airs during an interview were unlikely to willingly roll up their sleeves when necessary and help their co-workers with something they might find menial or mundane. The approach may not work for everyone, but it did for that office – which was a talented and successful team.
Assistants matter. Anyone not respecting that in a good office probably will not.