The Second Most Important Person in the Biz

By Mark Wardell

[caption id="attachment_2298" align="alignright" width="261" caption="Mark Wardell"]Mark Wardell[/caption]

Behind every successful leader is a great Executive Assistant. That’s no surprise; after all, most successful business owners try to stay focused on strategy, rather than get tied up in the details of their business. And the perfect EA helps the business owner do just that.

Essentially, an Executive Assistant has four main roles: gatekeeper, organizer, documenter and confidential advisor. If you’re on the hunt for the second most important person in your biz, here’s what you need to include in the job description:

Looking for an exceptional gatekeeper: Can you spot a time-wasting phone call or meeting from a mile away? Have you worked with enough business owners to be able to assess their top priorities and shield them from low priorities? Are you tough and tactful enough to make people feel their time is valuable even while declining their requests?

One of the four essential characteristics of an ideal EA is the ability to act as “Gatekeeper.” They shield the owner against time wasters (internal and external) and free that person to focus on the most critical tasks of running the company.

Must be obsessively compulsively organized: You’re someone who always has big picture company goals in mind. At the same time, you have a natural affinity to take on the daily legwork required to bring those big picture goals into reality. You have the psychic gift of anticipating a business owner’s needs (travel, meetings, materials). You’re tireless to the point of obsession on following up on details (travel plans, important contacts, numbers) and making sure that quality goes into every document (letters, meeting minutes, reports) before the owner’s name goes on it.

Yes, the perfect EA really does have it all: Uber organized, diplomatic, detail-obsessed, yet big-picture minded. If you secretly might think this person could organize your company better than you, you’ve found the right person.

Needs to be a natural born Documenter: Do you sometimes think of your brain as a systematic filing machine? Do you live to oversee policies, processes and procedures? Are you ten steps ahead of everyone else when it comes to following up post-meetings, on everything from documenting meeting minutes, to sending a reminder to the web designer to fix that broken link?

The ideal EA doesn’t need reminding. No, they store and document like they live and breathe, so ‘following up’ is simply effortless, second nature.

Must be a trustworthy Confidant

Are you a completely trustworthy professional who is comfortable being privy to private company and financial information (even, sometimes, personal information)?

Lets face it; you need to be able to trust your Executive Assistant with the deepest of confidences. A big part of an EA’s role is “Confidential Advisor,” as this person is privy to financial and business information that you may not yet have even discussed with your spouse! To this end, a good EA will know the business in a way that is different from other staff and thus have much more of an overview to be able to anticipate potential bottlenecks or people problems – maybe even before you do.

As you begin searching for the EA of your dreams, just a warning that when you’ve found all of these qualities in one person, your next challenge will be to keep your EA happy and ward off advances from your competitors.

P.S. In case you weren’t sure, the owner is the first most important person in the biz… just barely!

Mark Wardell is President and Founder of Wardell Professional Development (, an advisory group that helps business owners plan and execute the growth of their companies. The author of seven business books, Mark also writes regularly for several national business publications, including Profit Magazine, the Globe and Mail and CGA Magazine. Email him at [email protected]

By Adam

October 04, 2010