career advice Dec 11, 2018

I am fortunate enough to have a mentor, her name is Marianne. Marianne was my first boss after I graduated from college when she hired me to be the receptionist at a consulting firm in Boston. We have stayed in touch all these years as both of our careers progressed.

Without even knowing it, Marianne set an example for what I wanted my work-life to look like. Everyone could see how much her executive trusted and respected her and vice versa. One of the things that stood out to me with Marianne is that she saw herself as a strategic partner.

Generally speaking, we all have a winding path to becoming an administrative professional. Regardless of whether or not your path includes a “Marianne” who showed you the possibilities of what your future can look like, you can adopt the mindset of being a strategic partner to your executive or organization.

How to Find Alignment as Your Executive's Strategic Partner

Gain Trust

I realize this is obvious to most of us, but it’s worth mentioning that in order to become your employer’s strategic partner you must first gain her trust. The best way to gain trust is to exercise integrity in everything you do. Own your mistakes and run toward a solution. Don’t compromise your moral boundaries, not even for your executive. He or she will really know that they can trust you if they see how uncompromising you are in this area! Go above and beyond consistently. As I said before, display integrity through and through, It’s less common than you think and will definitely set you apart as a top tier administrative professional.

A few years back I worked for an executive for which I read and filed every single email he received. I was the first to know everything, including his plans to leave the company. Knowing my executive would need to form an exit plan, I kept my lips sealed. He was so thankful for my discretion and integrity he ended up playing an integral role in helping me land my next position. How? He spoke to my new employer and gave me a stellar recommendation, telling my employer that I could be trusted 100%. Talk about having a great leg up for gaining my new executive’s trust!

Adopt Your Executive’s Priorities

Our work as assistants frequently feels like a balancing act as we are often tasked with managing multiple priorities simultaneously. Unfortunately, with all that’s on our plates, we can find ourselves at a loss for which task to handle first.

I’ve personally found that stepping into my executive’s shoes and viewing my list of tasks through her eyes is the best way for me to gain clarity with where to start. Which tasks will have the greatest impact on the life of my executive or organization? Which task will my executive notice first if it doesn’t get done? Which tasks are more on the back burner in her eyes?

When you are first starting a new position or working with a new executive I would encourage asking as many questions as necessary to gain clarity on your boss’s priorities. With that said, once you have had an idea of her priorities your confidence to take action on those priorities should rise and questions should become fewer and fewer. After a while, you will develop a 6th sense with regards to which priorities you should tackle first.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, gives me more pleasure than completing a task before it’s even been requested. This is truly where the magic of synergy starts and is the first step in functioning as a strategic partner. After a while, you will be able to understand how each decision you make impacts your executive. You will also learn the importance of assimilating your perspective with the vantage point of your executive. This assimilation leads to more innovative solutions and growth potential for your executive, your organization, and yourself.

Pay Attention to Recurring Themes

As our executive’s strategic partner set aside a couple of hours every quarter to get out of the weeds and take a broader view. Are there good or bad recurring themes in your executive’s life? What are they? Write them down. Are there strengths either you or your executive possess that are being underutilized or not utilized at all? What are they? What are some creative ways those strengths can be maximized? Write all of this down.

Once you’ve written down your observations, generate solution-oriented ideas to those items needing improvement. Sit down with your executive and let him know what you’ve observed as well as your thoughts on how to move forward. It’s amazing the number of times I’ve pointed out my observations to my employer only for him to affirm and expand upon them. We have amazing sessions of “pitch and catch” which have resulted in some fantastic solutions and increased growth opportunities. Do this enough and you will begin to notice your employer will view you as their strategic partner.

Taking initiative makes all the difference. Don’t wait to be asked to be your executive’s strategic partner as likely the request will never come. Instead, I would encourage you to see yourself as a strategic partner and embody this idea! You’ve got this!!

Be Solution Oriented

A strategic partner presents strategic solutions, not just problems. Whenever I come up against something for which I need my employer’s feedback, I do my best to present a few possible solutions in addition to the dilemma. This demonstrates my commitment to him as well as our organization and demonstrates a positive attitude despite the dilemma. Everything is figureoutable.

Being solution-oriented means we need to always maintain a positive attitude. Negativity often blinds us to solutions we would otherwise see. We all have moments of negativity but I’ve found when setting aside whatever it is I’m feeling down about and return to it later I often think of a solution immediately. Funny how that works!

A Seat At The Table

Once we’ve gained our executive’s trust and fully embraced the role of strategic partner we will likely be trusted to take higher levels of action on their behalf. Such actions I’ve taken include screening key players in my executive’s life, attending networking events on his behalf, and acting as his proxy for meetings. In order to perform these tasks effectively, I have developed a synergy with my boss. I have worked hard to consciously align my priorities with those of my employer and take action in these situations with unwavering confidence. Trust and alignment coupled with action, I’ve found, is the most effective way to acquire an invitation to the table.

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