Executive Assistants - Unnecessary Luxury or Integral Part of the Organization?


While many feel that a senior executive doing basic tasks creates a sense that they are ‘all in it together’, Melba Duncan, author of the article ‘The Case for Executive Assistants’, argues against this in a recent discussion for Harvard Business Review. In this article we have gathered the key points raised by Ms. Duncan in the discussion, the full video of which can be viewed at the bottom of the page.
Why are Executive Assistants so important?
Those at a higher level are in that position for a reason – they have a specific role to play and certain tasks they are expected to carry out to contribute to the wellbeing of the company. If executives are doing tasks such as changing copier cartridges, they are being distracted from the tasks they have been hired to do – tasks in which they are highly qualified and have the ideal skill set for. Assistants, by taking on these tasks and others, can help create a productive work environment that is devoid of distractions and complications.
What makes a good Executive Assistant?
To be effective in this role, a person needs to get to know the executive well, understanding their likes and dislikes, to the point where they can think for the executive. Another key skill is the ability and experience to ‘see around corners’ – having foresight of potential problems allows you to identify them and take measures to prevent them before they occur. A good assistant uses tact, diplomacy, discretion and displays impeccable judgement of a situation.
Is there a generational difference in how Executive Assistants are viewed?
Younger managers sometimes have difficulty feeling comfortable with having assistants of this nature, and are used to being self-sufficient. Today’s young executives have grown up in a world of ever-developing, time-saving technology, and feel that this technology is their ‘assistant’. They need to understand that having someone else to deal with their travel plans, or organize the avalanche of emails they receive, is a valuable time-saving device and allows them to focus on the more important aspects of their job.
Where do you draw the line between Personal/ Professional assistance?
As an ‘assistant’, should you have knowledge of the executives personal life, or is this a role that should remain firmly in the workplace? This is entirely down to the individuals involved, and what both the executive and their assistant want from their role. In most senior positions, dealings in the executives personal sphere by assistants becomes a natural part of the job – it is a 24/7 role and they may well need to be in the centre of their boss’s life, getting to know their family and their needs in day-to-day life.
The full interview:


This article was written by Chris Storey, Marketing Assistant at the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 6,000 executive search professionals in over 70 countries. Be visible, and be considered for up to 50,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at www.BlueSteps.com 


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