The training executives really need to succeed? How to use assistants

By Bonnie Low-KramenBonnie Low-Kramen

This column gives me the golden opportunity to share burning workplace issues with CEOs and leaders. I get to pull the curtain back on what your support staff is thinking, and what they need. This piece is about the need to train new managers on how to use an executive assistant. Why? Because most don’t know. This is important information that is not taught in business school or anywhere.

Imagine this. You are a new driver, and one day you go outside to find a brand-new car with the keys hanging on the window and a note that reads “Good luck!” The car is filled with gadgets and shiny buttons, but there is no physical manual and no one to tell you what to do.

Here’s the problem. You want to drive the car now. So you struggle to understand how to unlock the driver’s door and finally figure out how to turn the car on. You find the online manual, but you keep bumping into buttons and symbols that you don’t understand, which ends up being frustrating almost on a daily basis. The annoying and energy-consuming learning curve continues for several weeks and months.

Unless executives bring their EA with them to the new company, this is how it feels for a new executive to be given a new EA.

Assistants around the world report that they feel underused and poorly managed. Why? Because there is no training for the executives about how to use assistants.

Assistants believe that what is strongly needed is a two- to three-hour training class about what EAs do and how they are best used. This training would be an integral piece of the onboarding process. It would include a conversation on what is and is not appropriate to ask of the assistant. In coordination and cooperation with the HR team, this training would be delivered by a high-level EA and take place during the first week of employment.

Advantages of training new executives on EA use

  1. Instant comfort level. Executives get to hit the ground running by having the answers to FAQs right from the beginning.
  2. Expert knowledge. No one knows the way the company really works better than the EAs.
  3. Save time and angst. This kind of training sets up the executive and the assistant for success by clarifying processes and expectations. The training also allows for red flags and potential problems to be revealed and handled immediately.

As the workplace gets more and more complicated, the need for training is becoming more urgent. The role of EAs is evolving, and many are taking on the role of a strategic business partner to their executives. Some discussion is called for, because every company is different in how they handle onboarding and the assignment of staff. Assistants are often acting on behalf of their executives, writing their emails, and sitting in on meetings. For both the executives and the assistants, doing all this seamlessly takes time and training.

The time that is taken for training during the first week will have long-term positive pay-offs for everyone.


Bonnie Low-Kramen is a workplace leadership expert and international trainer and speaker. She served as Olympia Dukakis’s executive and personal assistant for 25 years. Through Ultimate Assistant, LLC, she is now dedicated to opening the lines of communication between executives and their assistants in every organization. Her purpose is to educate executives on how to leverage this powerful relationship, and empower assistants around the world to find their voice, and communicate with intention, confidence, and honesty. Sign her SpeakUp Pledge at www.speakuppledge.com, and follow her on Twitter @BonnieLowKramen.