As assistants, it’s our job to navigate the minds and lives of our executives – it’s no easy feat. We often operate in a constant state of ambiguity, whereby an ask for ‘that meeting’ can lead to a multitude of questions. Who’s involved? What’s the agenda? Is there preparation required? How long do you need? What’s the priority? Without the answers, any and all efforts we make to finally get that meeting scheduled with all those people can prove totally fruitless, and lead to the need to reschedule the thing you’ve just spent two hours (or two weeks) trying to get in the diary.
Throughout my years as an EA, I’ve learned the hard way how imperative this is. Believe me when I say I’ve had my fair share of mishaps which could have been avoided had I asked one particular question. This question goes a long way to eliminating the need for almost every other. It’s become a part of my daily vocabulary and completely changed the way that I work.
Or, more specifically, “For what purpose?”
Understanding the reason why your executive wants to do (almost) anything, will have you operating in a totally different capacity. Suddenly, you’ll understand not just the details of a specific matter, but the purpose of it. The background. The ultimate goal. Asking why ensures your priorities and focus are aligned with your executive’s.
When you understand their focus, their mission, and what is keeping them up at night, it becomes much easier to effectively prioritise and make key decisions on their behalf. You won’t need to ask about every niggling detail – you’ll just know.
If you have a regular meeting with your executive in which you run through their week/schedule/upcoming pipeline, I’d encourage you to ask about why they are doing the things they are doing. It will become evident throughout the conversation where your collective focus should be, help you understand current pain points, and get clear direction on what needs to happen to propel them forward and manage their time more effectively.
If, like me, you’ve been afraid to ask ‘too many questions’ for fear of frustrating your executive, know this – they will appreciate your interest. And when they start to see how it changes the way you work together for the better, they will be all the more thankful.
What other questions do you ask that have had a great impact on the way you work?
I’d love to hear them!