EAs and Executives: Exercises to establish a productive working relationship

As an executive assistant, nothing is more important than establishing a good relationship with your executive. The sooner you get to know each other the sooner you will be effective in making her job easier. Work is so much more enjoyable when you have good working relationships with your colleagues and, especially, your boss.

Establishing a successful relationship consists of many pieces and is more than just learning working and communication habits (although those are an important piece). You will want to learn her preferences, both personal and professional, as well as her interests, and what really makes her who she is.

The EA-executive relationship is so much more than project management. An EA is not only the resource that manages the exec’s schedule, but they are a consultant on how to manage meetings, priorities, and new initiatives. If an executive is taking on a new initiative, like a major company event, for example, the EA is going to be planning a bulk of it. It’s important for the EA to understand how the executive’s goals funnel into that event, so every task and step to execution aligns with those goals.

If you are about to start a new relationship with an exec (or if you have an existing one you want to improve), use these tips to hit the ground running with productivity.

Getting to Know Your Executive: How to prepare for your first meetings

To ensure you start out on the right foot – you want to get to know your executive. You will be her right hand, you will be doing work on her behalf, sometimes making decisions for her when she is swamped. Your job is to make her life more efficient, after all! Having a clear picture of who your exec is both professionally and personally will help you make decisions that reflect positively both on her and on the company.

You will want to use your first meetings to make sure you get to know your exec and that you gather all the information you might need. Gathering this info upfront will help you to be able to act when tasks and projects come up without having to go back to your executive for more information.

For example, if she asks you to change a flight for her last-minute while she is traveling, already having her airline account, payment info, frequent flier number, and travel preferences on hand enables you to handle this task for her quickly and with ease, rather than having to bother her for more info at a time when she is in a pinch.

To prepare for these conversations, start by figuring out what you already know, then list out what you need to know. Personal information can be as important as professional when you are an EA. For example, if you know she has three kids in school and sports, you know it is likely important to keep her calendar clear for their sporting events. Maybe she is training for a marathon? You can ensure she has time for her long run each week.

Here are some examples of information you will want to gather:

  • Professional background
  • Role responsibilities
  • Calendar preferences
  • Communication preferences
  • Preferred Airlines
  • Preferred payment method for work related expenses (and for personal)
  • Passwords and logins
  • Branding info
  • Favorite restaurants
  • Systems

Use this list to help guide you in your conversation with your executive to ensure you get all the info you need.

Don’t forget to learn about your executive as a person. Build some rapport and get to know each other.

How can you get to this level with each other? Schedule a coffee or lunch date for you two to meet. Sometimes a casual setting can foster more natural conversations for getting to know each other. You can also set aside time in your 1:1 agenda for checking in on a more personal level. For you to really be an effective EA, you want to know what is important to her both professionally and personally. Show your executive that these work hand in hand and will ultimately help you make her life easier.

Pro tips:

  • Make a note of important dates (her birthday, work anniversary, her kids’ birthdays) and send her a gift/congratulations/reminder of the event to really impress her and show her you care.
  • Make sure her calendar is clear for that yoga class she loves but has a hard time making.

How to structure your executive meetings

The objective of your meeting will be to find out as much as you can about your exec and her working styles, as well as to establish expectations and boundaries on your working relationship together.

Request a meeting with your exec and make sure that request explains your objectives and not only what you want out of the meeting, but how it will also benefit her.

Include an agenda in the meeting invite. This will allow your exec to come to the meeting prepared to give you the answers you need. Use your list of information you need that you prepared in the earlier step to help you make this agenda. Keep it simple.

Here’s an example of a meeting invite you can use and tailor to your executive:

“Subject: Get to know each other

Invite Copy:

Help me help you – Let’s meet to get to know each other!

My objective for our meeting will be to gather details and preferences that will allow me to work on your behalf and help simplify your work and your life.

Here is an agenda of information I’ll be looking for:

  • Communication preferences
  • Travel preferences
  • Systems and logins”

When it comes down to actually having your meeting, make sure you are ready to take notes and that you are prepared to guide the topics in a way that will get you all the info you need to set yourself up for success. (Here’s our article on effective note-taking tips and apps to use!)

Don’t forget to set aside time to also talk about your own needs. This can feel a little uncomfortable, but transparency and setting expectations from both parties is what will really foster a successful relationship. Here are some examples of expectations you may need to set from your end:

  • Set boundaries on work hours (are you willing—or not—to take calls on evenings or weekends)
  • Communication preferences: Do you mind communicating via text with your executive, or do you prefer to keep it in email, or are you best in person?
  • Important events or activities outside of work: Do you have a running club you meet every Thursday at 5? Do you need to be home for dinner every night? Do you have a school program you need to attend?

Don’t forget to keep it conversational; you are getting to know each other. This doesn’t need to be formal. Make sure to share information about yourself, and have fun!

Follow-up

You’ve had your meeting, and you know your exec like the back of your hand. Now, set up a system to record this info for easy access. You aren’t expected to memorize everything you were told, but if you can make sure you use a trusted system, it will seem like you do have it memorized.

Lastly, establish a cadence. Set up a recurring meeting, based on her preferences, to make sure you have a regular touch point.

Establishing the foundation for a great relationship with your executive will ensure that you are both set up for success, and will make working together both smooth and enjoyable.

Follow us on Twitter and join our EA community by entering your information below.

About the Author

Chelsey Lewis

Chelsey Lewis

An executive assistant and writer, Chelsey Lewis has extensive experience in business operations, customer success, leadership, and training, primarily in the SaaS industry. She has her BA in Strategic Communications from the University of Minnesota and now resides in Northern Montana. If she isn't coordinating chaos, she can be found on her family farm or hiking in Glacier National Park.