The Most Important Person in Your Office Isn't Who You Think
BY Issie Lapowsky
No, it's not your CMO, CFO, or even you. It's your assistant. These unsung heroes are the ones who really run the show.
Executive assistants spend endless hours catering to- and anticipating the needs-of their bosses. A good assistant keeps a business owner on time and in the know - in other words, it's an assistant's job to make the CEO look good, and keep him or her organized. But while there are conferences for entrepreneurs, magazines (plug: like this one), executive assistants have typically been on their own.
That's why Victoria Rabin, in 2012, founded the Executive Assistants Organization, (EAO) which runs conferences, mentorship programs, and training workshops for EAs. She held the first Behind Every Leader conference in February 2013. EAO now has 12 chapters, and more than 1,000 members, including executive assistants who have worked for the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson.
I recently spoke with Rabin about her trade group why every entrepreneur needs an assistant:
What inspired you to launch Executive Assistants Organization?
I began my career as an EA, working for a hedge fund in London. It was the first role I had where I had not only empowerment, but was responsible for the entire team. Having those two burdens on my shoulder was a huge honor. It was also terrifying. There was no support or resources for assistants. Being in that position and having to not only lead your team, represent your executive when they're present and not and dealing with all the crazy things they ask you to do, no one could prepare you for that.I started reaching out to EAs from all over the world and asking questions. What are you getting training-wise? Are you hungry for growth? I wanted to find out as much as I could. I started getting messages back like, "What's in the works?" Suddenly, I had some allegiance behind me. So I was basically inspired by being an assistant, myself, wanting more, and not getting more.
You've called executive assistants "the most powerful person in the office." How so?
They are the backbone of an organization. They know everything about an executive. It's not just administrative work. They know what the executive needs, how they think, and they know without having to ask them what they need to do in order to make that executive better. When they get into the office, they drop all of their own self needs and dedicate everything to that executive or that company. Everything they do is to make the executive successful.
Sounds nice. So, why then are so many entrepreneurs resistant to hiring an assistant?
They don't want to lose control. I have an assistant. I've been on both sides of the desk. It's scary for small to medium sized business owners, who have lived and breathed their business that's their dream and vision, and all of a sudden they give control to another person who isn't even their cofounder. It's hard for them to give up that control. Also, a good and trusted EA has access to the finances, the accountants, everything about the business. I was daunted when I hired an assistant because I knew how much I knew when I was an assistant.Then, once you do realize you can't live without him or her, you worry about them getting poached. Not only because you'll miss that person, but because you don't want that person who knows your entire world to go work for a competitor or another entrepreneur.
What makes for a successful EA/CEO relationship?
It starts with trust. That's the main thing to establish. You do that by having both parties manage expectations. An assistant needs to go into the workplace immediately and say, "What do you need from me. How do you want me to work with you, and how do you communicate it?" That how they know what the boundaries are, or they'll know not to take a one-word email personally. Or they'll know they need to have a whole essay presented to that EA to make them feel comfortable. It's all about learning each others intricacies and learning what makes then tick. And after trust, you need respect on both sides. It's crucial, because it's really a partnership if it's done right.