Is it right to mix professional and private?


After recently writing the Ultimate Guide for EAs and PAs, it left me thinking about  the other side of the coin; the boss’ insight.  To find out more I took a look at some of the most successful women in business, how they got there, and how their EA/PA relationship helped…

One person who really stood out was Chandra Clements, Managing Director at One Legacy. Chandra won the Gold Stevie for Best Female Executive (Asia, Australia & New Zealand); a Gold Stevie for Most Innovative Company; and the Marie Claire National Young Business Woman of the Year Award to name just a few.

As a successful leader, Chandra certainly knows a thing or two about working well with her EAs and PAs over the years. We had a chat about the changing role of the EA or PA and how to make the most of it.

We also discussed one of the questions I’ve heard come up frequently over the past couple of years; what should and shouldn’t be shared in the workplace? It can be a struggle knowing how much of our private lives we should discuss at work, Chandra firmly believes the key to success is transparency between the EA or PA and the leader.

I found our chat insightful and a few key areas emerged that I wanted to share with you:

Do you really need that?

You have to balance what the CEO needs to know versus what people want the CEO to know. Over time those two groups tend to be very distinct. What the CEO or the leader needs to know versus what their team wants them to know can at times be very different.  It’s the fundamental role of the EA or PA to work out and distinguish between those two groups. That starts by being able to create appropriate boundaries with general employees or even people external to the organisation. The EA needs to begin by setting some very reasonable expectations regarding how people interact or communicate with them and that they’re not simply the portal by which, anyone that wants time with the CEO can actually get that.

Transparency is a good thing

There isn’t this complete separation between CEO and the EA/PA, they’re on the same continuum and they operate as two arms of the same body, understanding that, being humble enough to know there are times when your EA  knows more than you. Defer to them and let them do their role to the full potential , there are times where you’re going to have to step in and remove the stress or the barrier or the blockage that’s causing your EA or PA concern; getting that bit right means that people then increase in loyalty and trust and authenticity and security with you.

It comes down to authenticity. When you look at this notion in the business place, people have two lives, their personal life and their professional life.  I don’t believe that and certainly my relationship with my current EA is based around authenticity and complete transparency. Through that process, you get to know each other’s weaknesses and strengths, hot buttons and cold points and what each other’s stress loads are. Through that process of complete transparency and authenticity there becomes a complete alignment in terms of the big issues that we both need to deal with now and what’s important in this very moment in time.

It’s about more than taking actions

There’s a fundamental shift that’s occurred in the marketplace in terms of what needs to be achieved in any one day. Time is of the essence; look at your options for dealing with the request. Do you pass on and advise or assist the leader to make a decision or take an action?  Alternately, would you be handling the request better if you directed the enquiry to a more suitable place, advising someone that the request brought to you may be dealt with better in another way.

These skills are quite new to the role; negotiating and influencing and can really set you apart, distinguishing between what people need to know and what potentially employees and suppliers and customers want the CEO to know.

Nobody’s perfect

It goes back to the idea that people are living two separate lives, their personal life and their professional life. You get one person and that person comes with a holistic bag of strengths and weaknesses and you accept and develop some way to use that. In many cases there’s been a longstanding misnomer that EAs or PAs need to be extremely perfect and have it all together and that their role is the buffer between the sanity of the CEO and the complete insanity of the business.

Whilst that may be, on some level, true, there needs to be an understanding that the EA, PA role is a humanistic role and there’s times when that person needs time out, there’s times when that person is going to have a good day or a bad day It’s  important to have a complete picture of a person in that sense, it should be embraced.

Never underestimate

It’s unfortunate that many companies still only use the EA/PA role as administrative or as a caretaker role for the CEO. It’s a major mistake; the role of both the leader and the EA or PA is to make sure you’re being developed to achieve your full potential.

Chandra will be speaking during the EAPA Summit 2013.

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