I have worked full-time for five different organizations in telecommunications, high-tech and academia over twenty-five years. The employee population in those organizations has ranged from 1500 to well over 50,000.
No matter the firm, business unit, or team, it is the executive assistants and support personnel who are the real heroes, the unsung makers of order. They are the lifeline to anyone and everyone in the organization.
Assistants come in all forms. Quiet and unassuming. Bold and boisterous. Some seem meek, while others come across as overly confident. Do not be fooled. However you perceive them, beware because it’s a trap!
The assistant is all-knowing.
Equally important, they are the glue that binds all pages together.
The assistant is paid to support the executive and by extension the team. Ultimately they are an individual contributor. There are no direct reports to an assistant, ever. But that does not stop the assistant from commanding an army.
From their very first day on the job, they begin a natural process of finding, building, and maintaining their tribe. It’s a tribe that does battle every single day, and it wins.
Who is their tribe?
Other assistants scattered across the organization. What’s more frightening than the one assistant who knows everything? A pack of wolves who can slaughter their prey in a matter of seconds with ubiquitous knowledge and wolf-like reflexes to get things done. This is the assistant. They form a pack of wolves like no other.
Not only does the assistant team up with other assistants through some invisible, cement-like bond, but they also begin the process of sleuthing.
Their ability to memorize an org chart is uncanny. Knowing who the alpha dogs/cats are in their second hour on the job is remarkable. From the confines of a desk—and the occasional strolls across a floor or building—the assistant amasses a network of contacts, intelligence, and superior processes to fool Napoléon if he were still around.
The assistant arrives early and often stays late. They answer emails and texts at all hours of the day and weekend. Proactive, collaborative, and intuitive, the assistant has a sixth sense anticipating what might hit the fan before it ever reaches those sharp blades. They stitch a wound before the blood ever reaches the ground.
Too many people classify them solely as schedulers, approvers, and organizers. Those that do often suffer the wrath of the assistant’s spell. Be mean or condescending, and you welcome yourself into a hellhole of nothingness. I have seen it many times before. The macho team member who undermines the raw talent of an assistant is quickly put in their place, often with a tail between their legs in the corporate version of a “walk of shame.”
Judge a book by its cover, and you will miss out on the brilliant knowledge found within. The same can be said for assistants.
Apparel company lululemon provides an example. In a recent job description for an executive assistant, lululemon asks for the following concerning the “day in the life” of the role:
Principle scheduler, timekeeper, planner and coordinator to a member of the lululemon Executive Team, the Executive Assistant has a vital role in the success of their department
Heavy calendaring: You will be the point of contact for internal & external requests as well as being responsible for organizing travel itineraries, coordinating meetings, and preparing briefing notes and minutes of meetings.
Coordination and execution of events.
Maintaining professional finances including all expenses, tracking of finances, paying invoices in a timely manner and keeping all spreadsheets up to date.
Opens, distributes and follows-up on standard incoming mail. Screens and directs incoming calls and some emails, and helps to file.
Composes and prepares documents for signature. Coordinates the preparation of corporate documents, as requested.
Delegates and follows up on action items that fall within the realm of responsibility.
Maintains an easy to use filing system for archived documents and computer files.
Provides confidential personal support and maintains confidential personal information.
Every assistant known to humankind understands the bullets outlined above. It’s the gig. They perform each of these actions not only admirably, but without hesitation.
I left one bullet out. It’s the final one found in the job description:
Undertakes special assignments and projects as needed.
It’s where the assistant shines, where they exhibit those wolf-like skills, cunning, networking, sharp as a knife. “Special assignments and projects as needed” is perhaps a throwaway line, but it’s precisely where the assistant becomes one of the single most important people in the organization itself.
I have been blessed to work with many assistants over the years. Kim, Wendy, Stephanie, Heather, Michael, Anna, Ryan, Linda, Winnie, Georgia, Mehroon, Kim (again) are just a few of the colleagues I have witnessed deliver incredible leadership.
They are superheroes without the cape.