I’ve supported numerous supervisors, managers, vice presidents, and CEOs throughout my career (herein referred to as “executives”). I feel very fortunate that the majority of those executives treated me as a respected member of their teams but not all did. At the time, I didn’t think consciously about what I was doing that created the environment for partnerships to grow. But now that the tables have turned and I have a team of administrative professionals supporting me, I’ve become acutely aware of exactly what is involved in defining and building a partnership with your support team and how vitally important it is to develop a strong partnership with the executive(s) and team(s) you support. Let me share from a very personal perspective of someone who has provided executive support and someone who is now being supported by a fantastic team of administrative professionals how to begin the process of forging a strong partnership with your executive.
Let’s begin by defining the word SUPPORT. Here are a few definitions of SUPPORT from Webster’s Dictionary:
- to endure bravely or quietly: bear
- to promote the interests or cause of
- to uphold or defend as valid or right: advocate
- assist, help
- to act with (a star actor)
- to keep from fainting, yielding, or losing courage: comfort
- to keep (something) going
When you break it down into specific bullet points, supporting your executive is a BIG job. But you’ll notice these elements of support aren’t all clerical, they’re much more significant than that. When you begin to realize the full impact your non-clerical support has on your executive, your role takes on a whole new importance and a stronger partnership begins to develop with your executive.
Clerical support isn’t enough
Typing, filing, order supplies, answering phones, and proofing documents are all important things we do to support our executive(s). Your role as an administrative professional goes much deeper, though. How do you keep your executive going? How do you encourage your executive when he or she gets discouraged? How do you celebrate when your executive has achieved a goal? Do you even know what your executive’s professional goals are? We tend to expect our executives to pay attention to our professional growth and development, but are we leading by example and showing a true interest in theirs as well? How do you protect or promote their interests? These are all things worth spending some time thinking about. I like the visual analogy of my executive being the star actor and me being one of his all star supporting cast members. Do I measure up in the supporting star role?
Professional, yet meaningful, ways to show your support
Not every personality type is comfortable sharing information or emotions (excitement, joy, sorrow, disappointment, fear, etc.) in the same way. I strongly encourage you to find a way that you are comfortable with and show your support regularly in a professional, yet meaningful, way. I’m not a highly emotional, touchy, feely type, but here are some things I have done to show support for my executives:
- Leave a simple hand written card in their inbox or mail it directly to their home (people love real mail)
- Send a quick e-mail with the subject line of “Just a quick note…” and share gratitude or excitement about something that just happened (capture the emotion you’re experiencing while it’s fresh)
- Buy a bag of their favorite candy or sweet treats to stock their office with (hiding it in their office drawer as an unexpected surprise is fun, too)
- During garden season, bring in fresh tomatoes for my tomato-loving executive
- At Thanksgiving time, bake an extra pecan pie for my pecan-loving executive
- Buy a book on a topic I know they’re interested in or a topic that I want them to know more about
- Bring in a bunch of fresh flowers for my desk and their desk (It’s a proven fact that fresh flowers in the workplace boost productivity and stimulate more innovative thinking – it’s a WIN – WIN!)
I even had one executive who loved bread and butter pickles. One year when I made pickles, I saved a jar especially for him. He LOVED it! So you get the idea. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or highly emotional to demonstrate your non-clerical support. It just needs to be sincere and thoughtful.
Taking advantage of day to day events to show your support
After your boss finishes presenting at a big meeting or conference, do you check in with them to see how it went? Do you say “congratulations” to your boss? Do you ask how could we have improved it? What changes do we need to make for next time? Use these opportunities to capture valuable information you will need when you help him get ready for the next big meeting. This shows your interest, involvement, and proactive thinking.
On my way back from a conference I was speaking at recently, I received a call in the airport from one of my awesome admins who was calling to check in to see how things had turned out. The thing about this that really made me feel fabulous was she was on vacation herself but she made time to call me anyway. Her show of support meant the world to me.
Encourage your executive
Every executive needs encouragement: title doesn’t matter. It’s our responsibility as administrative professionals to pay attention and provide that positive encouragement when it’s needed. It may be as simple as a handwritten note on a post-it (or in an e-mail) attached to the final draft of a presentation you just finished editing that your boss is about to review: “Just one more review and you’ll be ready to knock their socks off!” This is a little thing that can have big impact on someone’s entire outlook.
Some days just having someone nearby who smiles, remains upbeat, and acknowledges that it’s been a tough day is all that’s necessary. There were many days that I only exchanged an acknowledging smile with my executives as they were flying by my desk in and out of meetings, but the smile was all that was needed.
Your loyalty matters
In corporate America, there are a lot of people in competition with one another for job titles, for customer accounts, for promotions and more. In the current economic climate, your executive is probably being pulled and stretched in ways she never has been before. Knowing that her admin is standing right there with her helping her meet those new challenges, opportunities, and pressures is very reassuring.
In a personal letter from General George Washington to Joseph Reed, his secretary and personal assistant during the Revolutionary War, Washington wrote:
“It is absolutely necessary…to have persons that can think for me as well as execute orders.”
That’s a tall order, but administrative professionals who provide complete support for their executives become an extension of their executive. We’re all human. No matter where we’re at on our career path, we all need the support of others to help us stay on course. When you demonstrate that you’re actively engaged and tuned in to what’s going on around you above and beyond the clerical tasks that your job involves, the partnership with your executive will strengthen.