Characteristics of a great EA

How well do you influence your executive’s approach, or the standard of outcomes they achieve? Asks Karen Gately.

If you’re struggling to play a bigger role, take comfort in the fact that you are far from alone. The range of impact EAs have on leadership and organisational success is undeniably broad. Some EAs are highly respected influencers, others struggle to play a significant role, often because the very people they support won’t let them.

The extent to which any EA is able to influence and drive outcomes ultimately comes down to the depth of trust and respect they earn. The simple reality is, your ability to influence anyone is directly proportionate to their willingness to let you. Underpinning that willingness is the depth of trust and respect they feel.

Trust is driven by the beliefs people hold about both your character and competence. Belief in the strength of your skills and experience is just the starting point. What matters from there is that the people you work with trust and respect your character. That is the person you are, the values you hold, and the attitudes and behaviours you bring.

Commitment

Taking ownership of your role and your executive’s success is a first order priority. Focus placed on important priorities, demonstrated through investment of time and energy in driving essential outcomes, is what most senior leaders are looking for from their EA. Holding yourself accountable to baseline expectations on your role is non-negotiable. Holding yourself accountable to ambitious objectives is necessary if you want to be regarded as a great EA.

Fundamentally, the manager or managers you support need to believe that you are on their team and fully invested in supporting them to deliver to a high standard. The key stakeholders around them need to believe that you are operating at a pace and standard reflective of the demands of your boss’ job.

Collaboration

Reflect for a moment on how often you have heard an EA referred to as a ‘gate-keeper’. Do you find yourself at times wearing that label as a badge of honour? If so, think carefully about the signals it sends to people you ultimately need to influence. The purpose of gate-keeping is to restrict access and keep unwelcome visitors out. That is hardly the position from which you are likely to earn the depth of trust and respect you need to be a great EA.

Of course, it matters that you control the demands on your executive’s time. At times that will mean saying no, or delaying people for longer than they would like. However, if you are typically seen as someone who is a team player and supportive of collective team outcomes, most people will be comfortable with the decisions you need to make to bring order to your boss’s world.

Integrity

While integrity means different things to different people, common definitions include operating with honesty, fairness and good intention. Strong moral principles of decency, sincerity and truthfulness lead to trust and respect from most people. In the role of EA, you have endless opportunity to earn or lose respect based on the depth of integrity you bring to your role.

For example, most EAs have access to private information and are privy to sensitive conversations and goings-on. Your ability to maintain confidentiality and be discreet is fundamental to your ability to earn and maintain trust.

Emotional maturity

Let’s face it, no one likes working with someone who is emotionally unpredictable, and likely to have a meltdown if things don’t turn out the way they want them to. Reflect on your own emotional maturity. How well do you take on board constructive feedback, deal with challenging people in a calm and rational way, or simply process frustrations that are holding you back?

While none of us is perfect, having a reputation for being a mature professional who is capable of responding to challenge with composure is key. Great EAs bring order to chaos, they don’t make themselves a part of the problem.

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