Christine Kininmonth (CK) sat down with Jan Jones – Author of the CEOs Secret Weapon - How Great Leaders and their Assistants maximise productivity and effectiveness to discuss the success of her latest book.
Jan Jones has two decades of experience at the highest level of executive assistance and among many top drawer appointments she’s been at the side of author and personal development icon Tony Robbins and small business guru and entrepreneurial visionary Michael Gerber. She’s the founder and president of speaker’s bureau Jan Jones World Wide and is an expert on and mentor for Executive Assistants.
CK: We’ve talked a lot about Leadership and Management here, but this is the first time we’ve touched on Executive Assistants. Is the reason EAs are the secret weapon because they often fly under the radar?
JJ: In the book I discuss this in many ways. Essentially, EAs are there for the executive, not to shine for themselves. Their focus is on making the executive look their very best at all times, whilst staying in the background. My book is in fact attempting to pull back this veil.
CK: A key point you make in the book is hiring or at least training up someone to be an exceptional executive assistant. What are the kinds of things that an exceptional executive assistant would bring to the table to improve productivity and effectiveness?
JJ: Well, there are several things that an exceptional assistant would bring. When I interviewed executives and assistants for my book, without exception, everybody said the first and most important characteristic is anticipation. The ability to anticipate, the ability to look ahead, the ability to stave off problems. Executives said they needed EAs who were able to look ahead and avert disaster and in many cases ‘save the day’.
One I believe is equally important as anticipation is resourcefulness. Somebody who knows how to get things done and make things happen because there is no point in being able to anticipate if you can’t take action. If you see a disaster coming down the road an EA needs to be able to find a way to avert that disaster.
Lastly, another skill of an exceptional EA is communication. The ability to understand completely what the executive wants and being able to step in, take charge and make decisions on the executive’s behalf.
CK: One of the key points you make in the book is that the EA should have total control of the executive’s calendar, could you elaborate?
JJ: Absolutely. An executive assistant is the seamless extension of the executive and one of these is having control of the calendar. It can become very chaotic at times with both parties editing the executives calendar - often times there can be conflicts, there can be confusion, sometimes the assistant is holding a date for something and the executive is talking on the phone to somebody and decides to go ahead and fill that slot in. The executive has to learn to relinquish and trust. If an executive can’t trust their EA, they shouldn’t be in that position. Once you hire them, hire well and hire smartly and when they’re in that chair, let them do their job.
CK: Well let’s talk about that hiring process. Why do you think it’s so important for an executive to understand themselves before they then hire an executive assistant?
JJ: Executives need to know what they’re looking for first of all. The way to do that is to define what it is they need. An executive needs to define their work style, whether they are a morning person, whether they micromanage or like to see the bigger picture. I told a story in my book about this one assistant who started working for an executive and he was always angry with her. She was like, “I’ve done nothing to this guy, why is he so upset with me?” Well, it turned out that he was not a morning person but she was. Each day she’d come in very cheerful and say “Good Morning” and this would drive him crazy because he just wanted to be left alone for the first hour. So when an executive find outs about themselves and what’s important, then they must look for the person who is going to be able to match that regard.
CK: There are a lot of wonderful real life examples in the book, from Cindy Crawford to Richard Branson. It’s a very readable and really fun to delve into the lives of some of these people. One of these was Donald Trump. I just wondered why you chose him as an expert in executive assistants?
JJ: I had the very good fortune to meet Donald Trump’s executive assistant. She was so professional and so thoroughly schooled in business protocol that she understood him inside and out. She was a fabulous representative of Mr. Trump. When I asked Donald how he found his assistant he was very candid about getting her on-board. In fact, in the beginning he wasn’t sure she would fit in his organisation. She was with him for over 30 years. Remarkable, remarkable relationship. He says that there is a tempo to his business and what he likes about his assistant is that she knows when to lay low and when to be seen. It was really important that she was able to read a situation well and know what action to take on his behalf.
CK: You also say in the book that a lot of young executives are a little reluctant to take on an executive assistant. You had mentioned Mark Zuckerberg for example.
JJ: I give him full credit because he didn’t know what to do with an assistant, he was a young guy, 26 years old starting his company Facebook and he hired this woman and fortunately hired somebody with a lot of experience. For months they actually sat on different floors, he didn’t know what to do with her and she finally said “look this is ridiculous, I am just going to step in and take charge and do whatever I need to do”. So, she stepped in and started actioning items and then he began to realise what she could do. From there he began to rely on her. It’s so interesting because a lot of younger executives were saying to me “this is not your grandfather’s organisation anymore and we don’t need assistants, we like to be in the trenches”. So I decided to ask Donald Trump about this and he said just like his book cover “assistants save time and time is money, that’s as clear as it can get." So this is not me anymore, this is people like Donald Trump, Steve Forbes and Richard Branson all saying that they couldn’t possibly do what they do without the services of their executive assistants who again operate as a seamless extension of them.
CK: Ok, so you’ve painted this beautiful, beautiful picture, I’m just wondering in terms of action steps, what might be the very first action step we should take to determine whether we should hire an executive assistant?
JJ: Well, take a look at your workload. Are you absolutely stretched and strapped and is your desk piled up with files and phone calls to be answered and emails and are you being buried? If you’re being buried in all this stuff, then yeah, you’re going to need somebody to help you. And from there you decide what level of assistant you are going to need – do I just need somebody on a part time basis who may come in a few days a week. But be honest with yourself and tell the truth about yourself, don’t make yourself – I mean this is for you in the end so be truthful about what it is that you really really need and be truthful about your work style that is really important as well.
CK: Terrific, well we are about to wrap up here and I was just interested to find out having worked with all these amazing leaders, if there is any particular piece of advice that has resonated with you? Some saying or some piece of advice that one of those leaders has given to you that we could share.
JJ: Yes, one thing I will share is that hard work is really important, there’s no substitute for hard work. Whether it’s Richard Branson or Donald Trump, these people are constantly working hard and you have to put the effort in to your business every day. You have to be hands on in your business, it doesn’t mean that you have to be dealing in every last minutia but it does mean that you should really understand and know your business. You have to understand that, and when you understand that, you can communicate that to your assistant, you can communicate that to the members of your team so really know your business.
CK: Well thank you very much Jan Jones, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking with you today and I do appreciate your time here.
JJ: Oh it’s my pleasure, thank you so much
Jan Jones will be the MC for the EA Leadership Forum taking place August 2016. All delegates will receive a copy of “The CEOs Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and their Assistants Maximise Productivity & Awareness”.
The EA Leadership Forum is designed for senior executive assistants, personal assistants, office managers and other high level administrative professionals. This two-day event is packed with from-the-trenches critical information and advice you won’t hear anywhere else. For more information, please visit the website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org