Out Here On Our Own

Ever notice this when you look at your company's org chart? The EA, for some inexplicable reason, is always positioned way out in Timbuktu with a dotted line somewhere between the Exec they support and the rest of the team. The sad part is, this is exactly how EAs are perceived within the human organization itself.

I used to look at org charts and feel my blood pressure rise, especially when I knew just how vital my contribution was to both my Exec AND the team I was helping to support. But one day I looked with different eyes, and I saw something much more powerful in this diagram. AUTONOMY.

The position represented in the diagram is one with a global view of everything. You have full view of your Exec's world as well as that of the team. The connecting line between the two is intersected by the EA. It's a powerful position with the ability to affect the outcomes on both sides of the line. So embrace it.

This week's teaching moment is for my EA sister/brotherhood and anyone curious about the MEGA Assistant movement afoot. Not everyone will agree. And that's okay. But it will make you think. So let's get started:

  1. Embrace the space.

I believe it's necessary to build in some space between yourself and the exec(s) you support. I use the analogy of somoene standing right in front of you. If they stand too close, you won't be able to see all of them, including their shoes. And you can't see around them. Place them at a distance and you can see everything from their head to their feet as well as how they fit into the landscape.

Your role is no different. It's imperative to keep a bit of distance so that you can see and understand EVERYTHING that's going on. We have a propensity to want to help and solve problems and be that omiscient resource. But we often allow emotions to rule our decision making vs. remaining tactical and dynamic. We strive to become the best friend or the confidant or the extended family member instead of the friendly yet fierce negotiator, service provider, and mini mogul. And I'm going to put this out there....our execs aren't exactly asking to be invited to our birthday parties or dropping by our houses to grab coffee or inviting us into their offices for long conversations about the TV series du jour. This is business, folks. First and foremost. And as huge as your heart is and as strong as your paternal instincts are, you need to snag a big ass Hefty bag and stash them away so that you can support from a position of complete engagement and tactics for winning.

I've heard horror stories over the past several weeks about EAs and Execs being super friendly and dancing blithely, back and forth across that professional/friendship line until the EA decides to move on or the Exec has to move on because the EA has lost their ability to separate the work from the friendship. One EA was considered an "auntie" to her Exec's children and an extended family member. Until she found another job and respectfully tendered her resignation. Her Exec went from friend to psycho in 6.8 seconds, had her escorted out of the building immediately, cut off all communication and maligned her to a potential new Exec when they reached out for a reference. One can only imagine the devastation. So I counsel EAs to never put themselves in that position. Because, inevitably, the biggest loser will NO DOUBT be the EA. It's kinda set up that way. Always has been. Always will be. Unless you own the company.

Embrace the space. It allows you to see everything, anticipate, be nimble, be informed and pick and choose your battles. It allows you some protection from the fray while giving you the ablity to manage the communication pipeline between your Exec and the team.

2. Be the "CEO of ME."

The position on the org chart diagram provides the perfect opportunity to operate as an autonomous business within a business, where YOU are the CEO. Try approaching your role as an entrepreneur vs. "the help." It's quite liberating.

Look at your role as your very own Customer Service business. Per the diagram, your primary client sits to your left while your secondary clients sit to your right. As a premium service provider your #1 goal is to please your clients. If you achieve that goal you not only stay in business, but you profit. Handsomely.

Set your business up with that as your core tenet. Learn everything you possibly can about your clients. Use your skills to provide for every want or need they might have. And perform perfectly, providing necessary feedback, communication and by producing at a level that exceeds their expectations.

Sometimes we choose a client and they just suck. And despite our best efforts we can't reach any sort of synergy or rhythm. Many EAs, foolishly, continue trying to please a client or rectify a situation that simply can't be salvaged. And as things degrade everyone becomes more and more frustrated until something has to give. As a "CEO of ME" it's easy to simply fire the client vs. hoping not to be fired. There's a little thing called SELF AWARENESS that many who get too close lose sight of. Your intuition gives you fighteningly obvious clues as to whether something will or will not work. The less self aware you are the more apt you are to ride a sinking ship all the way down to the final floating iceberg. The more self aware of us will have cut that dinghy down and are already half way to the shore by the time the ship has sunk.

Being an effective "CEO of ME" takes a tremendous amount of self awareness and courage. It also takes an equal amount of preparation, flexibility and focus. In our roles as EAs, we have all of these abilities at our disposal, yet often choose to let emotions cloud our judgment and influence our decisions. And sadly, this manifests in riding sinking ships a little too long, allowing ourselves to be mistreated by our clients or be wooed into believing that our "friendships" will somehow magically supersede our flagging performance. WAKE UP, 6. This is business. Plain and simple. And your friendship means bupkiss once business starts to suffer.

3. Don't Be Afraid to Jack Your Rates

Service providers do it all the time. Think about it. When a client requests more services be added, the rate goes up commensurate with the new services being added to the plan.

Soooooo....

...why is it that when EAs are given more Execs to support, more responsibilities to oversee, employees to manage, etc. we simply take it on without having a discussion about compensation to PAY for all of this extra work (and time) being required of us? Part of what I teach at MEGA Assistant University is that being the "CEO of ME" requires you to have the same mindset as the CEO you support. I assure you your CEO isn't giving away 10s of thousands of dollars in free labor with no ROI in sight. So why are you as an EA?

Do I believe companies purposely go out of their way to undercompensate EAs? Depends on how many glasses of champagne I've had. I do believe that companies love to cower behind the "budget's already out" excuse a little too readily. They have no problem lumping on responsibilities, often without asking, and holding you accountable to them in your annual reviews. But when it comes to having the compensation discussion you'd swear you were asking for the Chairman seat. And that's where EAs typically lose their confidence. Simply having the conversation. More importantly, coming prepared when they do have the conversation with the correct information to state their case authoritatively, quantifyably, and speaking the same language as the person on the other side of the desk. You'd be amazed at what you can get by pushing through the fear and simply ASKING. Yet, we often fall short of the simplest part or hope that magic dust and sh*t will descend from the sky in the form of a raise or bonus or promotion. That's not how any of this works.

If additional services are being requested of your business, jack your rates. It's kinda simple. And if your client doesn't want to pay up, fire your client. Again, it's kinda simple. Don't continue to allow yourself to be exploited (yes, I said it) because you actually normalize the behavior across the industry and you make it more difficult for all of us to achieve the parity that we are working extremely hard to procure. Being a "CEO of ME" is not only about providing incredible Customer Service, it's about being compensated commensurate with your contribution and for ALL of the services you provide to your client. If your CEO isn't giving services away for free, neither should you.

And there we have it!

Phoenix Normand