Recently someone asked me what was most important to me in an assistant. Great question. A drama-free soul who is committed to making me as productive as possible is worth his or her weight in gold. That person who keeps my professional world spinning makes me twice (you read that right) as effective.
Hiring an assistant calls for self-awareness on my part about what works for me. Start with the obvious stuff: He or she must
- draft a warm and grammatically correct thank you note;
- understand the relevant software that I and my company use;
- sound (and be) friendly and efficient on the phone;
- and never schedule me into two places at once.
But the rest of it lies in the vowels. I’m looking for someone who anticipates my needs, has empathy for me and for the team, operates with integrity, is open to opportunities to make things better, and shares my sense of urgency.
I want a scout who anticipates my needs, sets priorities and breaks down the voluminous onslaught of demands into actionable items. Oh, and remind me about what’s coming up and what we left behind that needs follow-up. Free me up to get the big stuff done. (To be clear, I’m not talking about having someone fetch me coffee or my dry-cleaning or buy my partner’s birthday gifts.)
True anticipation is intentional looking and listening: empathy. My complex schedule requires a conscious imagining of my experience. From the first day, I plead: “Put yourself in my shoes. Does this schedule make sense? Does it put me up-town, then down-town and back up-town in short succession? Will it exhaust my introverted self? Have we planned enough time to get from this meeting to the next? Imagine what it’s like to head into these meetings unprepared. Or getting to the airport and not having ticket information.”
It is comforting to work with someone who is of high principle, can keep my confidences and has my back. I also use the word integrity in the sense that a safe bridge has integrity; it is intact and sound. It means that there aren’t short cuts taken in construction (no missing rivets, no shoddy girders, no lowest-bidder nonsense) that lead to panic or disaster. Integrity makes sure the task is done impeccably before it’s handed to me. Too much time spent correcting small mistakes or editing a sloppy draft and I’ll get pulled off mission.
Be open for opportunity. Open to new approaches, open to moments of connections and open to praising others. Help me make connections and celebrate moments we can all delight in. To be open is an active state of alertness. Be on the look-out for opportunities of all kinds, to connect, to suggest, to make us all better. Be open to engaging others appropriately and chiming in at the right moment.
I’ll admit that my calm affect is sometimes a facade. Underneath I’m often a seething mass of impatience, so a sense of shared urgency is critical. Part of the job is to share my concerns and alleviate my anxiety by moving intentionally and with focus to solve the challenges that surface. And if I ask for a project to be handled, get ‘er done or let me know about the obstacles.