You have been promoted to Manager. Congratulations! The good news is that you have been assigned an Assistant. The bad news is that you have no idea how to utilize her. Since you don’t know how, you continue to do everything yourself by default.

This scenario is all too common throughout the world. It is one of the most common complaints among Assistants in our Ultimate Assistant workshops. We will hear the frustration: “My manager has no idea what to do with me and he doesn’t allow me to do the things that I was hired to do and that I do really well!”

This article is written for both of you.

Like every other skill, managing an Assistant takes practice, work and a willingness to give up total control. For 25 years, I worked as the Personal Assistant for Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis and we lovingly called her the “Queen of the Delegators”. She wanted as much on my plate as I could handle to enable her to focus on the things that only she could do. This meant opening every piece of mail and answering every call, scheduling every appointment and, and, and… What Olympia also understood was that I would not do everything 100% the way she would have done it and mistakes would happen along the way but the trade-off in the form of freedom was totally worth it.

Just as Assistants need ongoing training to stay relevant and at the top of their games, so do managers. How would managers know how to best utilize an Assistant if they were never told or taught? The fact is that Assistants can assist their managers best by training them in this area.
Some Assistants say that their managers are micromanagers and control freaks who do not want to delegate tasks that, in reality, Assistants are much better equipped to do. The main tasks include answering calls, scheduling, sending correspondence and responding to email. So what should you do in this situation?

My best advice is to take baby steps. Take it slow. Trust and credibility build over time through positive experiences. You, the Assistant, have the opportunity to outline the various ways your manager can utilize you, especially in light of your special skills and interests. Your manager won’t know what those skills and interests are unless you tell her. As her eyes and ears, you also see your manager’s pain points and challenges which pose opportunities for you to pick up some of that slack.

For example, if your manager is eager to leave the office every Wednesday by 4pm in order to make it to his son’s baseball game, you might be able to make suggestions regarding the week’s scheduling that would make the puzzle pieces of time come together beautifully. You ensure that your manager accomplishes all his meetings and he gets to leave for the games each week with time to spare. Show your value in this proactive way and you will never be unemployed.

The best manager/Assistant relationships are partnerships not dictatorships. Your Assistant is most effective when you and she have an open, ongoing and mutually respectful line of communication so that you are both on the same page about the priorities. Your Assistant is a professional who, when given clear information and direction, can be a project manager who helps you achieve and exceed your goals.

Delegating requires communication and trust. Will it be 100% perfect? Not right away so it will be important to tell your Assistant how you want things to change for the “next time”.

Crash course to utilizing your Assistant
Prep work
1 As a manager, make a list of everything you do each day that are things that only you can do.
2 Make a second list of everything you do each day that could be delegated to your trusted Assistant.
3 Have a 1:1 meeting to discuss these lists with your Assistant who will have a copy of her actual job description handy. Have a conversation to come up with a plan about what will be delegated to your Assistant and how she will report back to you with progress reports. Tip: turn off your cell phones and no answering emails during this meeting.

Four ways to utilize your Assistant
1 Answering your phone. Your Assistant knows your priorities because you have told her. She will screen phone calls so you receive the ones that help you to stay focused on your priorities rather than get distracted by the calls that she can handle. Your able Assistant can triage seamlessly so that your callers get what they need and you are kept informed about their status.

2 Sending emails on your behalf. This is a major time saver for you. Many Assistants have access to their manager’s email accounts. You can dictate letters and notes and then receive copies on the finished products. Your Assistant will learn your “voice” and in a very short time, can write like you would – at least on certain types of emails. You and your Assistant can decide if, at first, you need to see the correspondence before the “Send” button ever gets pushed.

3 Scheduling meetings and planning travel. If your preferences are clear, your Assistant can take over the scheduling of appointments, meetings and travel. This will give you tremendous freedom and newfound time. You will still have control through viewing your shared calendars. The irony is that giving up control of your schedule will actually put you more in control of your life. The secret sauce to scheduling: tell your Assistant what the priorities and preferences are and why, for example, you want to end your day on Thursday on the north side of town.

4 Listening to her opinions and suggestions. Your Assistant is your business partner. She is in your corner and wants to support you to succeed and achieve your goals. She is very smart, is resourceful, and has ideas. Ask questions and give express permission to speak her mind. Say things like, “I really want to know what you think. If you see something I need to know, I want to hear it. I respect and value your opinions.” Then listen. Even if you do not agree, say that you appreciate what she said, why you don’t agree, and encourage her to continue to speak her mind without repercussion.

Hot tip: People say things to your Assistant that they would never say to you simply because you are “the boss”. She can be a very powerful secret weapon.

What not to do
1 Don’t yell, throw things or use profanity unless the building is on fire.
2 Don’t humiliate or embarrass your Assistant – not alone and not in front of others.
3 When mistakes happen – and they will – have a calm and direct conversation about why the problem happened and how it can be prevented the next time. Chances are your Assistant has already taken steps to prevent a “next time”.

To guarantee success
DO respect your Assistant.

INVEST in ongoing professional development.

HAVE weekly 1:1 meetings to hear what is going on.

SAY please and thank you.

BE generous with compensation, communication and feedback.

The bottom line is we each only get 24 hours in a day. Our challenge then is to use our gift of time in the most effective, efficient, profitable and satisfying ways. If utilized properly, a great Assistant can help you gain more time in your day which will allow you to focus precisely on the things that you were hired to do in the first place.

Bonnie Low-Kramen is the founder of Ultimate Assistant Training and is one of the most respected thought leaders on workplace issues. She is a TEDx speaker, bestselling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant and Staff Matters, and her work has been featured ... (Read More)

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