“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs *
It’s about love.
The great assistants all love what they do. They unabashedly and unapologetically love their work in support of others. They blow off comments like, “You’re just an assistant,” because they know better. Personal assistants are some of the brightest, most organized and resourceful people on the planet. That is why not everyone is cut out for this demanding work. They are very far from being “just” anything. The smartest people in the business world know to invest in the true power of the assistant.
I worked for 25 years as the personal assistant to Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis, and I loved it. Yes, I said it. Friends would say that I was one of the only people they knew who genuinely loved their job. That always struck me as important feedback as I observed how often the world treats assistants with disrespect. That happened to me too. Working with a movie star did not make me totally immune. Now I teach Be the Ultimate Assistant workshops for assistants all around the world and I want to share some universal truths about this thing we call love. These apply whether it is an assistant in Maryland or Malaysia or any point in between.
Here are the top 10 things that assistants do better than anyone else:
- They are relentlessly adaptable. They love the variety the job offers and that no two days are ever the same which makes it easy for them to shift gears at a moment’s notice.
- They love a challenge. “No” is usually not an option. True confession: I used to play a game at work called “How few emails or phone calls in the shortest time will it take to get this answer?” I won if it took three or less in five minutes or less.
- They underplay their power. Looks can be deceiving. The assistant has the ear of her manager and wields tremendous influence. Do not underestimate this. Seriously.
- Making people happy is their goal. Going above and beyond is SOP. Personal assistants have an innate desire to please and to figure out the myriad of ways to do that. Assistants are born with a “service heart” and receive great pleasure and satisfaction from being supreme implementers.
- They read minds. They usually need a clue or two. A look on their principal’s face or the way a fellow staffer responded at the staff meeting. Great assistants are clairvoyant and truly know when “it is a good time” to approach the boss, and more importantly, when it is not. Anticipating what needs to be done is their gift.
- They love to put out fires and bring order to chaos. The assistant is the go-to person in any crisis whether it is prepping for Hurricane Sandy or untangling a meeting gone haywire.
- They are master jugglers. The best assistants enjoy managing 12 invisible balls in the air and are able to handle #13 and #14 too. Just give them a fresh cup of coffee.
- They are hungry to learn. Assistants know that they need to commit to life-long learning in order to stay at the top of their game. Smart CEOs and business leaders recognize this need and invest in their assistant’s professional development.
- They are connected. Resources are an assistant’s best friends. The best assistants have the widest and deepest networks. They know the magic power of relationships to get it done…now.
- They yearn to make a difference. Assistants are the ultimate enablers for their managers and companies. It gives them great pleasure to see the results of their plotting and planning. They don’t need a lot of feedback. A little goes a long way.
If fully utilized and are well managed, assistants are the eyes and ears of their principals and can be the powerful secret weapons of every household and estate.
* If you haven’t heard Steve Jobs’ famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, it’s worth much more than the 22 minutes running time.
Bonnie Low-Kramen and Vickie Evans interview Simon Sinek on their Podcast. Hear about how to build a healthy and strong relationship between an assistant and a principal. Simon Sinek has the third highest viewed TED talk with 23 million views.