An Open Letter to Executives: Respect the Assistants

To C-Suite Executives, VPs, Pastors, Managers, and Leadership Team Members:
Many of you are very kind, professional, and understanding when relating to assistants. If that’s you, thank you for treating us as colleagues and partners. We love to serve, and leaders like you make it more enjoyable and fulfilling to do so. If not for you, many of us would have given up on being an assistant a long time ago. I wrote you a thank you letter for you here, if you’d like to read about why you’re awesome.
But this post is not about you. This is for those of you who belittle, disrespect, and abuse assistants. You know who you are.

This is a call to stop looking down on executive assistants, administrative assistants, virtual assistants, personal assistants, dental assistants, and any other type of assistant you come in contact with. It’s time to see us as a valuable member of the team, not just a means to an end.

Did an executive do something you don’t appreciate? Don’t take it out on us.

Did we ask you to give a reason for your meeting request? Don’t tell us it’s none of our business. Share an agenda with us for the meeting you requested. If it’s confidential, then tell us it’s confidential and/or give us a vague topic to report back to our executive.

Did we get your coffee order wrong? Tell us it’s “no big deal,” and thank us for picking it up.

Did we double-book you? Don’t berate us in front of the entire staff. Ask us in private to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Did we fix something you broke? Publicly thank us for saving your rear.

Do you have a non-urgent matter you’d like to deal with on a Saturday night – our agreed upon day off? Don’t call us. Figure it out yourself, or wait till we are back online to help.

Sucking Up to Assistants

In his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, author Ben Horowitz encourages everyone to treat assistants with respect. He says executives should consider “Sucking down” to assistants (as opposed to “Sucking up”). In other words, be kind, patient, and considerate to us – if you want to get anywhere with our bosses.

Horowitz reminds executives that an assistant’s job is to help our boss get their job done, not to help you get your job done. He suggests you stop taking offense when we deny a meeting request in order to guard our executives’ time.

Don’t Take It Personally

Any assistant with even 6 months of experience has likely been disrespected by a high net-worth CEO, small business owner, or pastor – yes, pastor – like you. When this happens, it’s often because you have a sense of entitlement. You believe our bosses owe you a meeting, or you think our bosses are terrible people for not being able to make time for you. Or sometimes you think we’re out to get you, and that’s why your meeting requests are being rejected.

The bottom line is we’re doing our job when we say, “I’m sorry, my boss is not available for a meeting or interview or (fill in the blank) at this time.”

So please don’t take it personally, and certainly don’t get upset at us for doing our job.

If you disrespect us, don’t be surprised if you get push back when asking for time with our bosses – the resistance is probably warranted. That said, if we’re doing our job well, we will respond in a professional way, and revert back to our bosses for feedback on the matter.

In general, any strong push back should be vetted with our bosses first. Then, depending on the circumstances, our bosses may end up being the one who needs to step in and call out your inappropriate conduct – not us. Thankfully, many of us have been fortunate to work for bosses that protect us in this way, when needed.

Protect Your Assistant

If you’re reading this and thinking about someone who has disrespected your assistant, it’s time to take action and stand up for your assistant.

If it was a blatant offense, you should communicate to the offending party to let them know you don’t appreciate how they treated your assistant, and ask them to apologize, at the least. If the problem continues with someone in your organization, you may have to go through a more formal disciplinary process, or even fire them.

If you’re still not convinced you should change your attitude towards assistants, try putting yourself in our shoes.

How do you think it makes us feel when you treat us poorly? Do you consider how hard we work, even when no one is looking? Do you picture our families when you walk all over us? When was the last time someone disrespected you? How did that feel? Do you care about how other staff, clients, and executives treat us?

All we’re asking for is a little respect. After all, a good assistant is often the most valuable player on your team.

You wouldn’t want to lose your MVP, would you?

Sincerely,

Assistants Everywhere

If you’re an assistant who has experienced bullying, abuse, and disrespect – I’m sorry. I’m hoping this post reaches many executives and challenges them to treat all assistants with more respect going forward. Even if one executive reads this and changes their behavior, or one assistant reads this and stands up for themselves, it will have been worth my time.

If you’re an executive or assistant who would like help walking through situations similar to what I described above, reach out to me for one-on-one coaching. I’d love to help.

2017-12-04T03:10:46+00:00 July 23, 2017|Leadership|
  • Irhobbitish Baggins

    In my 35+ year career, it has been my experience that those to which this article has been addressed will not see that they are the problem. In the past, I had often gravitated to what I would call “high maintenance” executives. The ones that were unable to keep an assistant for a protracted period of time (in some cases, they would cycle through an assistant in less than a year). In all cases, I worked for these individuals for three times as long as any previous assistant. In that vein, I have kept good relationships with most of these executives and consider them as friends. The KEY to working with these types of executives is to DEMAND the respect that you deserve. Don’t be afraid to tell your executive “how the cow ate the cabbage and what happened after.” Be assertive when you are right and know when to accept constructive criticism if you are wrong.

    • I agree, you do need to demand respect in some circumstances. Thanks for reading!

  • Ashfa Virdee

    Thank you for this article, it was about time someone said something.
    I have been told so many nasty things in my life,sometimes i wonder what is wrong with people?
    That is not how I talk to my employee, so why would someone behave like that? Shame

    • Ashfa, sorry to hear you’ve experienced some bad bosses. Hang in there!