8 Characteristics Of A Good Assistant

Jeremy Burrows, Executive Coach | GoBurrows.com

*This post originally appeared on GoBurrows.com


Are you making a positive and powerful impact as an assistant in your workplace?

I believe a good assistant should have most, if not all, of the following seven characteristics. Take some time for a self-assessment to determine where you need to grow in each area.

1. Loyal

A good assistant is loyal to the organization and to their executive. If you struggle to prioritize tasks that come from your executive against tasks that come from someone else in the organization, something needs to change. Your executive should be your number one priority, and all other requests should be run through your executive first.

Note: some of you may not have a boss who has set clear expectations in this area. If so, I recommend clarifying your job description ASAP. For example, if you are being asked to equally support 2 or 3 executives, then the dynamic is obviously different than if you’re primarily the EA of one executive.

2. Anticipates Needs (aka – “Mind-Reader”)

Every executive I’ve talked to says they wish their assistant could read their mind. In other words, they want an assistant who anticipates what is needed, long before it’s needed.

You should be thinking 5 or 6 steps ahead of your executive. Why? Because they are always thinking ahead, and you need to help plan for what’s coming next week, next month, and even next year.

If you cannot anticipate, ask your executive to bring you into their long term goals and ideas. A simple way to do this is to sit down with them once a month and go over their top three goals for the next quarter. Discuss what needs to happen in order to accomplish those goals, and write out action items for each.

If you’ve tried something similar to this before but you still seem to be a few steps behind, you may need to seriously consider some outside training/coaching, or possibly a new role.

3. Organized

Many people hire an assistant because they need help getting organized, but others are highly capable organizers and just spend too much time on the wrong tasks.

For example, your boss should not spend much time organizing their calendar or dropbox files, or formatting a presentation. They should be meeting with key staff, reading books that inspire them and help them stay focused, and creating raw content for their next meeting, presentation, book, blog, etc.

You need to be able to synthesize everything they throw at you into prioritized tasks and projects, and execute those projects with little oversight.

4. Flexible

An organized, loyal assistant who anticipates needs is hard to come by. I have seen assistants with these three characteristics who are not able to adapt in the moment. Instead of getting excited about change, they freeze and panic.

Early on in my career, this was me. I hated last minute changes and would get defeated because all the work I put into a project seemed to be for naught. However, I started to see change as a good thing, and instead of feeling like that work was pointless, I realized the “wasted” work was part of the process and helped us all get better at our jobs.

I know how it is. Your boss loves to change things up at the last minute. It’s part of why they’re the boss. They know when to throw everything out the window and start over, or when to adjust the plan slightly — right before a deadline. Because of this, they need you to be very flexible.

5. Willing to Push Back

That said, a rock star assistant will not only be flexible, but will know when to push back and say, “We cannot change the plan this late in the game. It’s not worth our time and energy to shift directions at this point. We just need to move forward.”

You need to help your boss keep a level head. If they’re always changing things at the last minute, they’ve got an unhealthy pattern that needs to be addressed before everyone around them (you included) burns out and loses trust.

6. Focused

In today’s fast-paced, screens everywhere, never-ending notifications and alerts society, staying focused on one task at a time is more difficult than ever. Most executives struggle to stay engaged, so an assistant who lacks focus will not help at all. You need to be able to focus on your own tasks, but also help your executive stay on task.

Author Greg McKeown says it best in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less:

“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”

One of the most crucial characteristics of a good assistant is the ability to focus. Executives won’t waste time working with someone who can’t.

7. Others-Centered

The job of an assistant is not a glamorous role. It requires hours and hours of behind-the-scenes work, much of which no one (not even your boss) will see. If you want to be the center of attention, the last job you should have is an assistant. Your job is to further your boss’ goals and agenda, not your own.

You must care more about your executive and other team members than you do yourself. Do you need to grab coffee for a meeting or make 100 copies of a proposal? You should be happy to help and excited to contribute. A “woe is me” attitude will not cut it.

However, you need to be careful if your boss abuses their authority. Hopefully, your executive gives you challenging and interesting projects and tasks, as well as the necessary, mundane ones. They should also leave you alone on your days off and be grateful to you for putting aside your desires to serve your executive and other team members.

8. Friendly

Lastly, you should be a likable person who encourages others, and has a good sense of humor. Your boss and their team will be spending a lot of time with you. You need to be personable, have good social skills, and enjoy working with others.

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to be an extrovert. In fact, introverts are some of the best assistants because they like to sit by themselves in a quiet office and get stuff done (can I get an amen!?).

I’m a strong introvert with extroverted skills and my prior boss was a high extrovert, which worked well in my 6 years as his Executive Assistant. Take a minute to think about the extravert / introvert dynamic in your working relationship with your boss and how that has an impact.

There are plenty more characteristics I could add, but if you’re an assistant with these seven, you’ll be in great shape. Leave a comment to let me know what other characteristics you feel are important to look for in an assistant.

One of my former bosses went through several assistants before he hired me. I believe the longest any of them lasted was 1.5 years. One assistant was loyal but unorganized, and another was organized but could not anticipate his needs. He had yet another who simply could not focus long enough to complete projects. He saw the above characteristics in me and I ended up being his assistant for 6 years.

Being a rock-star assistant will help your executive gain time and energy, an increase in productivity, and will ultimately help them accomplish their goals without burning out.

P.S. – Don’t forget to join us for the 30-Day Assistant Challenge here!

*This post originally appeared on goburrows.com

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