Don Harms is the CEO and founder of Emmre, a software tool that helps assistants and their executives maximize their strategic partnership.

In this episode of The Leader Assistant Podcast, Don shares his story of hiring his first assistant and how that hire changed his career. He also shares what he calls a “1 job, 2 people” mindset, dives into the power of the EA / executive partnership, and gives us a sneak peek at his software for executives and their assistants, Emmre.

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Whether you believe that you can, or that you can’t you are usually right.

– Henry Ford

Don Harms Leader Assistant Podcast

Don Harms has been married for 23 years and has 5 kids (two sets of twins). He lives in Colorado Springs, CO.

Throughout Don’s entire career, he’s always wanted to have a positive impact on the lives of those he works with. Don is an entrepreneur at heart. In grade school, that is what he put down for “What I want to be when I grow up.”

At Emmre, Don and his team are on a mission to help assistants and executives/entrepreneurs maximize the effectiveness of their strategic partnership in a way that positively impacts their lives.

In 2016, Don felt like he had no time. His schedule was full, yet things weren’t getting done. He began missing family activities, his leadership team wasn’t getting what they needed from him, and a hopelessness began to set in.

Five years after hiring his first EA, Don can truly say that it was the most important hires he’s ever made. Because of his EA, Don became a better leader, father, husband and friend.

Don’s hope and passion is to help others experience the same.

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Don Harms 0:00
Hi, I’m Don Harms and leadership quote is from Henry Ford. Whether you believe that you can or that you can’t, you’re usually right.

Podcast Intro 0:12
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident, Game Changing leader assistant

Jeremy Burrows 0:24
The Leader Assistant Podcast is brought to you by goody. If you send business gifts to employees, clients or sales prospects, goodie is a game changer. You can send one gift or hundreds at a time without ever worrying about shipping details. With goody your gift recipients provide all their shipping info. And they can even swap out your gift for another option if they prefer. It’s free to start gifting and you can get a $20 credit when you sign up. Oh, and if you mentioned you heard about goody from The Leader, Assistant Podcast, goody will add an extra $10 credit to your account. So go to That’s g o o d y To start gifting today. Again, that’s Hey friends, thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast. Welcome to Episode 175 You can check out the show notes at To find out more about today’s episode. And to connect with my guest which I’m excited to be speaking with is Don Harms Don lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And he’s the founder and CEO of Emmre. Don, how’s it going?

Don Harms 1:57
Good. Good. Thanks for having me.

Jeremy Burrows 1:59
So you have a lot of kids tell tell us how many kids you have.

Speaker 1 2:05
Yeah, yeah. got five kids. And so we got to five kids, the non traditional way, we had our oldest and then 18 months later, we had twins. And then three years later, we had twins again. So my oldest is actually just graduated from high school and is off to college. But at one time we had five kids under five years old.

Jeremy Burrows 2:31
Wow. That sounds like a lot of work. So yeah, that’s crazy. I bet you’re glad they’re older now though taking care of themselves.

Unknown Speaker 2:41
Yeah, yeah, they just take care of themselves. We don’t have to do anything anymore.

Jeremy Burrows 2:45
Awesome. Well, tell us about your a little bit about your career and your professional journey. And and then we’ll dig into talking about sistance. And what you’re currently up to.

Speaker 1 2:58
Yeah, so my I kind of had a couple of different careers. My early career was in marketing and project management at a manufacturing company, Pella windows and doors in Iowa, and was there for eight years in Iowa, and then three years in Detroit. And then after that, we did something totally different, and moved our family of seven to Africa. And we started a social business there providing jobs to rural Africans. And so we lived in Africa for a little over three years doing that. Then we came back. And that’s when I moved to Colorado Springs started working at a software company that did SAS for churches, and was the president of that company, and then the CEO of that company. And in 2019, we were bought by a public company. And I was there for one year after the acquisition. And then I started Emory. And I’ve been doing that for just a little over a year now.

Jeremy Burrows 4:05
Awesome. And tell us a little bit about Emory real quick, and we’ll get into it more later. But what is Emory?

Speaker 1 4:13
Yeah, so Emery is software really designed to help maximize the partnership between an EA and an executive.

Jeremy Burrows 4:23
Awesome. Can’t wait to chat more about that. But first, I met you. Let’s see. I don’t know four years ago, maybe when you were at the SAS company in Colorado Springs and I connected with your assistants at the time. Christy and you know you are very What’s your first assistant Tell me about that? I can’t remember that story.

Speaker 1 4:54
Yeah, she’s actually she was my second second. Yeah.

Jeremy Burrows 4:59
And how How tell us a little bit about that experience? So, you know, what was it like hiring an assistant for the first time? And then what did you gain from having an executive assistant?

Speaker 1 5:15
Yeah, I probably have a story similar to other stories out there. I think it was 20 2017. And I was I just became the president of the company. And I was pretty overwhelmed. And I was slow to respond to people, I was relatively unavailable, I was busy, I was missing way too many of my kids events and working long. And about that time we did reviews. And part of our review process is the team that you’re going to review, they first review you as a leader. And so I was getting the, the feedback of just that I was not available, slow to respond. And getting that feedback was just crushing. For me. I was like, That is not the leader I wanted to be. And somebody suggested that I got, I would get an executive assistant to help me out. And just to give you an idea of how much I understood the role, I thought, what could an assistant do for me? Like, how can how would that even help me and didn’t hire somebody than a couple months later, still having the same problems. And I told again, you really should hire an EA. So I did. And first thing I asked my first EA, I just I gave her the feedback that I had gotten, and I just said, helped me fix this. And really, over the next six months, I became a better leader, you know, really a better husband and father friend. And me, it’s pretty life changing, just to experience what a a great partnership can have that can change you as a leader in a person. And so I got pretty lucky and fortunate that that somebody pushed me to do that, so that I could realize the impact that could have.

Jeremy Burrows 7:09
Yeah, so what’s a couple of practical examples of things that your assistant did to help you be a better leader?

Speaker 1 7:22
Oh, man, there’s, there’s probably so many examples. But you know, like, like, a lot of leaders, I, I just, I wasn’t good at email, I wasn’t good at getting meetings set up. You know, maybe I’d write I’d write down on a bunch of post, it notes, a lot of things that I promised people that I would take care of, and get to those, you know, it would take me longer to get to those initiatives. And, and so really, Christie, my second EA, she really took over my, all of those things for me, which wasn’t my idea was really her idea, she kind of pushed me to give up more than I probably would have been comfortable with. But it was amazing to have somebody take over email, take over my calendar, follow up on all those things, make sure that I was being responsive. It just really helped me be a better leader when you’re available. And she protected my calendar, so that I did have time for the meetings that I needed to have. And yeah, just all of those things just created that availability, that responsiveness that you really need to do to be a great leader.

Jeremy Burrows 8:36
So you, you talk about the idea of or the mindset of one job to people, and you have a blog, one job to Tell us a little bit about that concept. And in what what you’re passionate about when it comes to the executive and assistant partnership.

Speaker 1 8:59
Yeah, I think, you know, when I first hired an EA, I had the mindset that that she would be doing a very different job than me like I had my job. And she had her job. And I viewed it that way. So that was how I you know, I didn’t we didn’t really invest in any training we didn’t do. We didn’t spend a ton of time together, figuring out processes. And with Christy, she helped me delegate more and give more things up and I started realizing more and more that, okay, she’s just helping me do my job. Like we really have one job. And if we really wanted to have a strategic partnership, I needed to give her more of my job. I needed to invest more time with her I need to invest more money in training for her. And I think as I was learning how to work together, that mindset just shifted in me, of the fact that we really were just doing one job. And we were just doing it together. And I think once you get into that mindset, it just changes the way you view the relationship and the way you invest in it.

Jeremy Burrows 10:17
Yeah, well said, So, why do you think some executives struggle to buy into that or fully value and invest in the partnership?

Speaker 1 10:30
Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting. I mean, I think about when I hired my first EA, you know, I had, I’ve had the opportunity to take executive classes at Harvard and Kellogg, I got a undergrad in business, MBA, and in all of those classes and all of that training. Nobody ever told me how to work within EA. Nobody ever told me the value of an EA, nobody, nobody explained how important it could be for my career, and how important you know, that could just be in the way that you know, you’re you are as a leader. And so I do think a lot of it is, I guess I’d say ignorance, I think that there’s a lot of people who just don’t understand it. And they know that they need help with a few specific things, typically, administrative things. And so they hire somebody to just do those tasks. And they don’t realize, and nobody’s told them, that there’s so much more. And that if you create a strategic partnership, not only will your your career be better, and the way that you manage things, the way you lead will be better, but also your EA will be more fulfilled, and you can create more of a career for them as well. And I think as I talk to executives who you didn’t think that way, don’t think that way, have never thought that way. I think that’s really why I started to blog and write about that mindset is trying to get that message out there more, and really trying to educate because I do think that’s probably the biggest challenge out there.

Jeremy Burrows 12:13
Yeah. So what’s what’s what are a couple of things you’ve learned a couple of lessons you’ve learned, working with an EA or even just from some of your EAS?

Speaker 1 12:27
Yeah, I think as I, you know, as I as I learned that mindset, I think the the next thing that I learned was that there should be at EA career path. And that that was also something that I wasn’t aware of at all, I just really it came from, from my EA just kind of asking how can they progress in looking at our development team, which we had a really great five level structure in place. And so just understanding, okay, we need to create a career path that’s got the right incentives and the right salary and pay structure in place for each of the different levels. So that was, that was a big lesson that I think it was a couple years in when I put that into place and created more of a career ladder an opportunity for not only my EAA, but the other EAS in our company. And then I just think going through, a lot of it was slow learning, but just the value of spending time investing, getting to understand each other understanding how Christie worked. Spending time with Christie, so she knew how I worked and just the importance of of that time, it’s so easy to cancel those meetings or cancel that time together. But you know, really valuing that time and making sure that we invested that time together was a big, you know, I don’t know if it was I just think over time as we did that I just kept learning and realizing how important that was and how valuable it was.

Jeremy Burrows 14:14
Did you ever have other executives or team members pushback? When or have conflict in the workplace when you try to give Christie or one of your other assistants, more work and more of your job? And did anybody ever push back and say, hey, that’s your job done? Like? What are you doing given that to your sister?

Speaker 1 14:38
Yeah, yeah, a couple a couple times. You know, I would say there there will be times where there’ll be a meeting, maybe that I would invite Christy to that, that maybe somebody in the room would be uncomfortable with that and say, Hey, this this meetings, we’re gonna be talking about things that are confidential. And so I would always have to explain that that’s not an issue. And the value of having Christie in that meeting, and the reason that she would be in that meeting, and the reason that she belonged in that meeting, and so sometimes I’d have to spend a little bit of time educating somebody in a meeting that that maybe would initially feel uncomfortable with that. Then, actually, when we, when we did the merger, and we were purchased, the other company really didn’t have a culture of EAs, the CEO was the only person within EA and I remember, in a meeting, one of the executives telling me that they were capable of, of setting up their own meetings. And, and so we had to have a little discussion about their understanding of what an executive assistant was capable of, and the value that they brought there as well, that they kind of pushed back that we shouldn’t have executive assistants in the company.

Jeremy Burrows 16:04
So what how would you answer the question, then just kind of spin off of that comment from that other executive? How would you answer the question? What makes an assistant a leader

Speaker 1 16:21
and I mean, an assistant, I mean, part of it is that they should be doing part of your job, and you’re a leader. And when they’re doing your part of your job, they’re taking on critical elements of your job. And that that is part of leading. I think that there’s all different levels of leading but I mean, one of the one of the big ways that I’ve personally experienced in EA leading is leading up. And, you know, we’ve, I’ve had to make some big decisions that I would run by Christie sometimes, for example, when we were doing the acquisition, there were four people in the company that knew that that was even going on in the early days. And Christy was one of them. And so I was able to get a lot of advice from her. And Chrissy did a really great job of leading up and I think assistance should be a confidant and somebody that you can, you can ask those questions about and and, and so there’ll be times that Chris, they say, I don’t think that’s a good idea. So yeah, and EAA can lead in so many ways from, from making key decisions on on areas that I would delegate, and that’s would be showing great leadership to Yeah, leading up and helping make huge strategic impacts on the company.

Jeremy Burrows 17:56
Awesome. So what’s one thing you wish you had known when you first started working with an assistant?

Speaker 1 18:07
Yeah, I mean, I think about how much time I wasted early on, just because I didn’t understand how you could create a strategic partnership. And so all, you know, probably a year or so, not delegating enough not giving up enough holding on to too much stuff thinking, you know, there’s no way that an assistant could understand how I would do email. So I can’t give that up. And they really wouldn’t understand how maybe I would do travel. So I can’t give that up. And you know, just the the painful learning, of giving all of that stuff up. I mean, I just do it instantly now.

Jeremy Burrows 18:54
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, what tips do you have for executives, or even just assistants listening who support executives that are a little bit hesitant or a lot hesitant to give up? Things like calendar access, or email access, or whatever it is like what how would you encourage assistants listening to help their executives? Let go of some of that control.

Speaker 1 19:25
Yeah, one, I’d be persistent. And I definitely would, would, would recommend that you don’t assume that they don’t want to for a good reason. Because they just might not realize that it’s even possible. And so, for me, I think about there’s a lot of things I would have never given up if I hadn’t been asked. And so if if Christie had just assumed well, because Don didn’t ask me to take over those things he must not want me to. I don’t think I would have learned any of the things I learned and so I think her or going to me and saying, I can take over your calendar. Even put the idea in my mind, I think when she asked me, I thought, Well, I think that’s crazy. Nobody does that. And then I researched it a little bit like, oh, there’s a lot of people doing this. But I don’t think I could do it, I don’t think I could give it up. And then Christie would push on it and just say, Well, why don’t we experiment? Why don’t you let me just help you organize it? And, you know, we kind of took steps are like, Well, okay, I think I could, I can get my head around that. And, you know, one of the things I was just talking to a, to a group of EAs to, because I think sometimes there is a hang up on this, like confidentiality, and the feeling of like, well, if I give my email up, you’ll they’ll, my ear will see everything. And I don’t know if I can, if that’s okay. And I think is an EA, letting your executive know, even though they probably should know it. But if a if an EA came to me and said, I just want to let you know that I hold everything in the strictest confidence. And I take my job very serious. And if you let me do that you would never have an issue. You know, and reassuring an executive that can help them because I think there is a lot of fear sometimes with an executive of law, I get emails that are have things in them that I don’t know if if my EA should see. And I had a little bit of that concern at first also, and but we had a conversation about it. And I said, okay, yeah, we should. But I wouldn’t have done it if Christie hadn’t pushed for it. Yeah, told me that she could do it to me kind of inched our way into it. You know, now if I hired a new EA, I’d make that requirement that they could do it. And she didn’t do it, we’d be doing it as fast as we could. But I would advise and just say ask for little things. Will things and you’ll get more. Do well with what you what you get more. And hopefully, eventually, the the executive just continues to see that value and continues to delegate more and more to you.

Jeremy Burrows 22:26
Yeah, that’s great advice, tick, tick. Bite it often in small small bites and baby steps or whatever you want to say. And yeah, it’s it can grow and grow, the executive can grow and their trust that you’re handling it. And you can take more and more off their plate.

Don Harms 22:45
Yeah, exactly.

Jeremy Burrows 22:47
Awesome, Don. Well, tell us a little bit about Emory. That’s E M M R E, for those listening and what caused you to want to start the software to help assistants and executives maximize their time.

Don Harms 23:06
Yeah, when, when we were early on working, I asked my first year just said, Hey, can you just just go find the software out there that’s made for executives and EAS to work better together? Thinking that she just do a Google search and download the software and we start using it. And at the time, she couldn’t find it. So this was in 2017 Again, and she didn’t find anything. And so then I looked, I couldn’t find anything. And so we just decided, okay, well, let’s just cobble something together. So we started using slack, with Asana, with some texting with email. And it worked. Okay. You know, it helped us create a system that worked for us. And, but it was still frustrating at times, there were things that I just that just felt really manual. I got feedback from Christie of, you know, I have to do a lot of copying and pasting. And some of our processes are pretty manual. And I thought, well, I worked at a software company. We know how to make software, maybe we should just try to make a simple software for us to use. So it really just came out of the frustration with lack of tools that were made specifically for the partnership we were trying to create. And we started working and using that I think in 2018 was when we kind of had our first version that just Christina used and use that for a little bit. And and then after the acquisition of our company, and I knew I’d be there for about a year. I started planning for what would be next and I you know, again, I just I got so much value, personally from working with an EA A and I knew so many executives that were hesitant, or had maybe had a bad experience with an EA. And I just thought that if we create better tools, then there can be more strategic partnerships out there. So that was really my goal was can we make something that can help people have more strategic partnerships together. And so that’s, that’s what we worked on. And then when I, when I when I left the company, and so I’ve been doing ever since.

Jeremy Burrows 25:32
Nice. So what makes Emery different? So now that was a few years ago. Now, there are a few different tools that are built for executive assistants. What makes Emory different than the other than the competition?

Don Harms 25:48
Yeah, yeah, I think there’s other good products out there, I think there’s a lot of products that are really focus on helping EAS be productive, which, which is great. And I think we just have a little, maybe a little bit different take on it, where we’re very focused on the partnership. And helping executives and EAS work together. And our software can be used just by an EA. But we really did make it to where you get the most out of it. And it’s the most powerful when both an EA and executive are in it together. And so I think that just makes ours a little bit different where it’s it’s very much around collaboration, transparency, visibility, communication, eliminating roadblocks for each other, and just maximizing that partnership.

Jeremy Burrows 26:43
Nice. So what is maybe give us one use case that you’ve seen your EAS and executives use Emery for that’s been a very productive and helpful pain point that or solution to a pain point, I should say.

Don Harms 27:04
Yeah, so the kind of the elements of our software’s we’ve got, we got messaging. So you can message back and forth. And we’ve got the task management so you can work on tasks, and you can communicate on tasks back and forth. And we have questions management, so you can create questions and ask them and make them really easy to respond to. And then we have summaries or executive briefs that you can send to your executive. And probably one of my favorite stories was one of our EAS, who their executive wasn’t in Emory. And they had told me that, you know, my executive, they never answer any of my questions. I’m always roadblocked. And they’ll, they’ll, they’ll never use Emory with me. And I said, Well, you can use it, even if they’re not in there. So you could send them an executive brief at the end of the day. And let them know all the key tasks that they have upcoming the critical tasks that you got done. Questions that are road blocking you, and and then any other FYI, as you have, and so they started using it. And every day, they started sending it out. And I think they they didn’t think that it would work or help them. And I got an email from them. And it said, I’m, I am crying tears of joy. My executive who is who never gets back to me never answers any of my questions. Every day opens up the brief, I send them answers all my questions, acknowledges my FYI guys, and I am no longer roadblocked. And he just told her that. Yeah, this is super easy. I just click it open. And so I think I think she just sent it to him in Slack. And basically, the way it works is he can just click open a link, and he can work on that executive brief without being a part of Emory. And so again, even even when the executive isn’t in there our focus is trying to strengthen the partnership together not just healthy a be productive, even though that’s certainly a goal as well.

Jeremy Burrows 29:14
That’s awesome. Well, yeah, let’s share how people listening how assistants listening can find out more about you. So where where’s the best place for them to go to check out Emory and then also, you know, your blog and all that fun stuff.

Speaker 1 29:31
Yeah, so And you said E M M R E. So You can go there and check out the product and do a free trial. If you want to connect with me on LinkedIn. I love chatting with people on LinkedIn. So Don harms and connect with me there. And then I write two blogs. I write one on, and that one talks a lot about just the problems we try I just saw through Emmre. And then I also read the blog you mentioned earlier, one job to people. And that’s really written towards, for education for executives, but definitely have a lot of interaction with that blog with executive assistants as well.

Jeremy Burrows 30:19
So sweet. Well, I will share all of those links in the show notes at And Don, thank you so much for sharing a little bit about your story and a little bit about your company. And thank you for valuing assistance and trying to tell others and other CEOs and business owners and executives that they should also value assistance so we appreciate your support.

Don Harms 30:47
Yeah, thank you. I appreciate you having me on and appreciate everything that you do also.

Jeremy Burrows 31:04
Please listen, you on Apple podcasts.


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