More than ever before, I have noticed that assistants, who support leaders, are being included in the leadership team, when I facilitate team-building. This shift has been further supported by comments made by those assistants, whom I’m connected with via LinkedIn, when I recently posted how positive and long-overdue this change has been in coming.
So, why do I feel this is such a positive change? Quite simply, because it makes total business sense and here’s why.
As someone with many years’ experience in various leadership roles, prior to becoming a team-building expert and international conference speaker, I had various assistants who supported me superbly and enabled me to do my job with much more effectiveness and efficiency.
In addition, I’ve had, and continue to have the opportunity, to work regularly with many assistants as well as leaders, across various industries in the public, private, charity and not for profit sectors in the UK and other countries throughout the world. This has given me a great insight into the value that forward-thinking leaders recognise and appreciate in their assistants.
Below are my thoughts on the two big changes that are happening now and, I believe, will continue in the future.
Leaders will pro-actively seek out assistants who, behaviourally, are different from themselves
As a senior leader, one of the most, if not the most important position on my team, that I needed to fill, was that of my assistant.
I didn’t want a “Yes” person, I wanted a “What if” person. I wanted them on a daily basis to challenge my perspective and thought processes, to ensure I had a rounded view and made the best decisions I could, to support the leadership objectives that I had been set.
I wanted a person whom, in my absence and with my delegated authority, I could trust to make decisions and take action on my behalf, with others, being aware that this was within their remit. Whilst this individual needed to know me, my job role and leadership style, to understand and anticipate what actions I was likely to take, I had total faith in this person to make the right decision, if they were unable to talk things through with me. I trusted them to do the right thing and if it went wrong, I would happily take accountability for any negative outcomes.
That is why I recruited an assistant with a different behavioural style to myself. An individual that would provide a different perspective on people and situations and complement my leadership style. However, I did not leave this to chance, I undertook behavioural profiling to better understand areas of similarity and difference.
I believe that the leader/assistant partnerships, where they have differing behavioural styles, provides positive and value-adding benefits to both individuals, their team and their organisations.
I would therefore encourage, both leaders and assistants, to understand each other, based on their behavioural styles, enabling them to understand their strengths, communication style, decision-making process, thus appreciating and valuing, where there are similarities and also differences.
Assistants will be an integral part of leadership teams
In the past, and still occurring in some instances, assistants are often on the periphery of the teams of the leaders they support. A hinterland, where they are not part of the leadership team and often struggle to understand which team they belong in. Often, their strongest allegiance is to the internal assistant network, or other networks they belong to, as opposed to the team of the leader that they support. This needs to change and fortunately, this has begun to happen.
My assistant was a key member of my Leadership Team, and their job description clearly identified this. Why? Because they were a filter to all the communication I received, involved in all my leadership team meetings and therefore, more often than not, had a more complete picture of what was going on than the other leaders within my team. In my opinion, it is a foolish leader who ignores or does not value the insights that an assistant provides. In addition, the skills that they bring are invaluable.
I believe that the assistants of leaders will have a role that, organisationally, will be structured as part of the leadership team, giving them a stronger voice, from a position of equality with other leaders in that team.
Recently I was facilitating a workshop entitled “Adaptable Leadership” with a leadership team, made up of 18 people.
On this workshop was the PA who had liaised with me prior to the event. At the end of the day, I always ask individuals to provide feedback on their experience. As I gathered the feedback forms in, I glanced at the comment from the PA which was as follows “You have been brilliant at bringing a light to an individual’s life. Thank you.”
At the end of the event she came up to me and thanked me personally and I said it was my pleasure. She then said that being on the workshop had been a surprise to her as she wasn’t part of the Leadership Team and was “just the PA.”
I took her to one side and we sat down and I asked “Why do you feel that you are just the PA?” She replied, “Well, all I have done is arrange this event.”
So we then discussed the skills and competencies she had used to arrange the event:
Time Management: She had managed 17 leader’s diaries and mine to book a date when everyone was available.
Planning: She had researched venues to find one suitable for the event.
Negotiation: She had negotiated an acceptable price with the venue to deliver what was required in terms of space, refreshments and equipment.
Risk Management: The initial date to deliver the workshop had to be changed to another date, due to a strategic issue that had arisen. She had already thought about future dates which she put into action.
Stakeholder Management: She had liaised with both the venue and myself to ensure that needs were covered. On the day she was checking in with her colleagues to ensure their needs were being met.
Communication: She had been the main channel for communication to the rest of the Leadership Team to ensure everyone knew the objectives of the event, pre-work required and by when, the details of the venue and timings.
Team-building: She had organised a social meal for the team after the workshop, so they could continue to bond as a group in a social setting.
Decision-making: She had made a lot of decisions independently, based on her own knowledge and experience.
We reviewed the above and I posed the question, “Aren’t the above qualities and attributes of a Leader?” A big smile spread across her face and she replied “I suppose they are.”
In addition, as she was the PA to the CEO, she was privy to more strategic information than the majority of the rest of the leadership team and therefore was able to talk knowledgeably and share her ideas with the rest of them.
So, if you are an assistant, do not belittle the valuing-adding skills that you have.
In conclusion, I believe that change is happening and that momentum must continue, with assistants finding their voice, speaking up and if not already, ensuring that, through discussions with the leaders that they support, they become a valued and integral part of the leadership team.
Can I help you by working with your team or speaking at your conference?
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Wishing you continued happiness and success in both work and life.
Yours engagingly, Nick
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