Is this the perfect assistant?

Is this the perfect assistant?

I have a simple theory: rude, power-crazed, pushy executive assistants usually work for rude, power-crazed, pushy bosses. Satan and his little helper burn anybody who comes near them.

In contrast, polite, professional, helpful executive assistants usually work for bosses who are much the same. The assistants know their dealings with people inside and outside the firm reflect on their boss, and a pleasant work environment helps them remain upbeat, kind and super helpful.

A generalisation, I know. I’m sure there are evil bosses with lovely assistants, and friendly bosses with Rottweilers outside their door, parading as secretaries. I just haven’t met many. Have you?

Perhaps the evil boss once had a nice assistant. But after years of working for a bully, he or she inevitably adopted the boss’s personality to survive. Or an awful assistant who works for a good boss quickly realises a positive approach achieves more, with less stress.

What’s your view?

  • Do executive assistants usually adopt their boss’s work personality?
  • How quickly does the transition happen?
  • How damaging are rude, power-crazed, pushy assistants to the organisation?
  • Does your organisation have overly pushy assistants?

As a business journalist, I have interviewed hundreds of CEOs, managers, partners and company directors over the years – and dealt with hundreds of executive assistants who set up interview times and the like. I wonder how many bosses realise their rude assistant alienates people.

It may seem a trivial matter. But as more companies cut costs, and as administrative people are usually the first asked to take on heavier workloads, I suspect there will be more unhappy assistants, receptionists, and others who are the organisation’s or executive’s first point of contact.

Yes, many personal or executive assistants do a terrific job. They are polite, professional and productive. They work long hours. They put up with demanding, often ungrateful bosses, sometimes for low pay. Or their job continues to expand, as they work for more executives, without extra pay.

But every so often you find assistants who abuse their position, are unreasonably demanding and rude, or tease other staff with bits of sensitive information to strengthen their position. In my experience, such assistants do great harm to the executive office and broader company.

The busy bosses give little thought to their assistant’s performance beyond their direct working relationship. They have not considered how the assistant relates to others inside or outside the organisation, or sought performance feedback from those who deal with the assistant.

Or worse, disliked bosses are overly protective of their assistant, brushing off complaints from other staff in the belief that the assistant is “watching their back”.  They rely so heavily on their assistant that it becomes hard to rebuke him or her for poor performance. They are too close, professionally.

Good executives and managers recognise that their personal brand, inside and outside the organisation, is in part reflected by their assistant’s style. They know the assistant has some custodianship of their reputation. A great assistant enhances it. A terrible one detracts from it.

They seek to hire and keep highly good assistants, value their role, treat them fairly, support them, help them grow professionally, and reward them. As with other staff, they assess the assistant’s performance through their own experience, and after feedback is sought from a wider group. They notice if there are behaviourial changes and pull the assistant into line, if required.

If you have a personal or executive assistant, ask: does he or she enhance my reputation and that of the firm? What type of image do I want my assistant to project when dealing with people? Do I understand how my assistant relates to internal and external stakeholders, or is it taken for granted? And how much of my leadership style has rubbed off on her or him, for good or bad?

If you haven’t asked these questions, you may have a personal assistant who is burning your reputation through his or her sharp tongue and pitchforked emails.