Three CEO admins share the critical steps for landing, and staying, on top:
• Weed out information and people ruthlessly. The goal, of course, is keeping distractions to a minimum, so the boss stays focused on important tasks. Barbara Cashin, executive assistant to the CEO of the American Association, says, “I go through [my boss’s] e-mail, and print out and put in front of him the messages he needs to follow up on ASAP. I maintain a list of to-do’s, and some of the messages land on that list, so I can follow up.”
When it comes to dealing with people, Cashin says, you must remember that your boss is paying you to be discreet and trustworthy. “You can’t get too friendly or close with people, even other employees,” she says.
• Delve inside his head with one-on-one time. Trudy Vitti, executive assistant to the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, says, “When I started the job, people immediately began asking me things like, ‘Can I have dinner with [the CEO]? Can I call him this afternoon?’ I didn’t know the answers. So I sat down with him [the boss] right away and said, ‘I need to know what you’re thinking, what you believe, what your likes and dislikes are.’ That helped a lot. Now, 10 years later, I think I could answer anything.”
• Share what you know by being a mentor. “You’ll find as you move up that we all need to be supportive for each other,” says Judy Fallon, executive assistant to the CEO of AXA Financial. “Mentoring also shows your boss your ability to step out of the box. It shows your own personal growth.” Vitti says she’s already mentoring the person who will eventually take over her job, passing along valuable knowledge she’s learned from her CEO over 10 years.
• Excel by showing your ability to find solutions. “I realized that if I could try to partner, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the work, then I could be the one to offer solutions,” says Cashin. Now, she says, “I’m considered part of the management team.” Fallon agrees: “You’ve got to present your work in a way that makes it sound smart, and show how you’re making a particular solution work. Because they never want to hear ‘can’t do.’”
• Finesse your relationship with the CEO’s spouse. Lynne Small, executive assistant at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, says she met with her executive VP’s wife once a month, “so I wouldn’t book things on top of his social events that he may not have even known about.”
She says to keep in mind that a spouse’s stress level “is up there. They’re dealing with a spouse who is always ‘on.’ A lot of times they may not have had time to talk with each other, and that can cause a lot of problems. I recommend taking this approach with a spouse: ‘What do I need to make this right for you?’”
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