Many of you know what it’s like to have a bad assistant. If not, you’ve probably interacted with one who was less than helpful. A good assistant should have most, if not all, of the following characteristics. If they don’t, you may need a new one.
That said, don’t be quick to point the finger at them. You’re the leader, so if you’re not equipping and empowering them, the responsibility falls on you to get more out of them.
Here are seven characteristics you should look for in an assistant:
A good assistant is loyal to the organization and to you. If your assistant struggles to prioritize tasks that come from you against tasks that come from someone else in the organization, you need to have a serious conversation with them. Set the expectation that you are their number one priority, and all other requests should be run through you first.
2. Anticipates Your 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.
Your assistant should be thinking 5 or 6 steps ahead. Why? Because you are always thinking ahead, and you need them to help plan for what’s coming next week, next month, and even next year.
If your assistant cannot anticipate, you may need to do a better job of bringing them into your long term goals and ideas. A simple way to do this is to sit down with them once a month and go over your 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 your assistant still seems to be a few steps behind, you may need to seriously consider hiring a new one.
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, you should not spend much time organizing your calendar or dropbox files, or formatting a presentation. You should be meeting with key staff, reading books that inspire you and help you stay focused, and creating raw content for your next meeting, presentation, book, blog, etc.
Your assistant needs to be able to synthesize everything you throw at them into prioritized tasks and projects, and execute those projects with little oversight. Don’t attempt to justify hiring a disorganized person to be your assistant because they, “have a great personality” or “work really hard.”
One way to get a good sense of whether or not someone is organized is to look inside their car. If it’s a mess, they probably struggle to stay organized. You could also ask them to tell you about their task management and email system. If they look at you with a blank stare, you probably don’t want to hire them.
An organized, loyal assistant who anticipates your needs is hard to come by. I have seen assistants with those 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.
Admit it. You love to change things up at the last minute. It’s part of why you’re the boss. You 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, you need an assistant who is very flexible.
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 an assistant who will help you keep a level head. If you’re always changing things at the last minute, you’ve got an unhealthy pattern that needs to be addressed before your team (assistant included) burns out and loses trust in you.
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 an assistant that can focus on their own tasks, but also help you 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. Don’t waste time working with someone who can’t.
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 you) will see. If someone wants to be the center of attention, the last job they should have is an assistant. Your assistant’s job is to further your goals and agenda, not their own.
Your assistant must care more about you and other team members than they do themselves. Do you need them to grab coffee for a meeting or to make 100 copies of a proposal? They should be happy to help and excited to contribute. A “woe is me” attitude will not cut it.
However, you need to be careful not to abuse your authority. Give your assistant challenging and interesting projects and tasks, as well as the necessary, mundane tasks. Leave them alone on their days off. Always be grateful to them for putting aside their desires to serve you and your team.
Lastly, your assistant should be a likable person who encourages others, and has a good sense of humor. You and your team will be spending a lot of time with this person. Make sure they are personable, have good social skills, and enjoy working with others.
Now, this doesn’t mean your assistant needs 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!
I’m a strong introvert with extroverted skills and tendencies and my boss was a high extrovert, which worked well in my 6 years as his Executive Assistant. If you’re an introvert, you may work better with an extroverted assistant, who knows how to respect introverts’ need for space.
There are plenty more characteristics I could add, but if you find 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.
If you put in the time to find the right assistant, or develop your current assistant, you’ll enjoy more time and energy, an increase in productivity, and will ultimately accomplish your goals without burning out.
Have questions? Want one-on-one help finding an assistant or developing your current assistant? I’d love to help! Learn more about my coaching services here.