In my current role I’m very self-directed. I love that my boss isn’t constantly looking over my shoulder and that it’s up to me to determine my priorities for the day. This is partly due to the fact that I’ve established trust and synchronicity with my executive and partly due to how much my boss is away from the office. In fact, I would estimate that he is only in the office with me 25% – 35% of the time. The demands on his time and attention are many.
I’m sure many of you can relate! The question then becomes, how do we get what we need in order to do our jobs effectively while our executive is out of the office or otherwise inaccessible?
Below are 3 strategies for maintaining connection with your busy employer when they’re not as accessible as you’d like.
Strategy #1: Take Work Preferences & Style Into Account
Everyone works a little differently. In the past I worked for an executive who worked really well using Wunderlist. I would add things to the list that he needed to attend to or follow up on and it would get done. I had another boss who preferred to connect via phone so she could hear my voice and get a feel for things. I would give her updates and we would discuss follow up items 3-4 times per week. This particular executive would respond to emails but rarely with all the information necessary to complete the task. This was okay, however, because we spoke so much. My current executive likes to receive 1 to 2 update emails per week wherein I give a download of everything I’ve worked on and a status report on projects and tasks. At the end of these emails I’ll give a laundry list of things I need from him. He’s very responsive and gives me feedback regarding how he would like things to be handled.
If you are new to working with your current executive(s) or if you often feel out of sync with her you might examine working styles. Are you trying to impose your working style or expectations on your executive? Are there a few subtle shifts you can make to strengthen the connection? Try different things! I tried creating a shared Trello board with my current executive thinking he would totally fall in love with Trello as I did. This turned out not to be the case. No problem, I figured it out and shifted to our email method which is working really well.
Strategy #2: Over Communicate
Due to the fact that our executives are busy humans they will undoubtedly have a lot going in internally. Their brains are full. All. The. Time. In order to support them effectively, we will likely need to keep company and personal priorities in front of them. Many assistants don’t want to “bother” their executives with anything no matter how important. This is a huge mistake! Partnering with our executives means that we need to adopt our bosses priorities and keep those priorities in front of them. While we definitely don’t want to overload our employers, there is a way to effectively “drip” relevant and important information to them that will leave them feeling supported and like we’ve got their backs.
As a fellow assistant I would challenge you to take initiative whenever possible. Once you gain an understanding of your executive’s comfort levels and the more you gain her trust, the more initiative you will be able to take. Whether it’s a project, task, or other roadblock you’ve come up against, always ask yourself if you’ve taken it as far as you can before bringing it to your employer. When you do discuss it with your executive be sure to present a few possible solutions as well. This will show you are invested in his success and begin to set you apart as his strategic partner, not just his assistant. What better connection can you have than that?
Strategy #3 Systematize As Much As Possible
Once you’ve nailed down how your employer prefers to communicate you can start to put a system together so nothing falls through the cracks. As I mentioned above, my current employer prefers to receive a summary of what I’ve been up to at least once a week. In addition to this I also maintain a revolving list in Trello of non-emergent items for which it would be better to discuss in person. That’s our system. Your system will look different than ours guaranteed. You are, after all, two different humans with a unique blend of preferences. Figure out what what your system looks like and implement it. I love systems because once you have them ingrained in your psyche you begin to operate out of habit, freeing brain power for more complex tasks. I don’t know about you, but I will take all the extra brain power I can get!
One last note
If you are anything like me, your face to face time with your boss is invaluable. Don’t compromise it! Add time to your executive’s calendar and treat it like you would any other important meeting. Only shift or move it when absolutely necessary. Stress to your executive the importance of this time as well. You are (or have the potential to be) your executive’s strategic partner. Embrace this title and value yourself enough to hold this time with her as sacred.
About the Author
Annie Croner is a full time executive assistant and founder of WholeAssistant.com, a website designed to empower her fellow assistants in their careers as they navigate the unique and often challenging aspects of their roles.
When she’s not working or blogging Annie enjoys social dancing (Salsa & Tango), spending time with friends and family, and exploring her new found love of yoga.