3 Strategies to Build Leadership Skills as an Assistant

As an Executive Assistant, it can be tough to step beyond the confines of a supportive role and create new opportunities for yourself. When you’re juggling someone else’s life, it can start to feel like you and your goals will always come second. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Assistants are in a unique position to study and learn from business leaders. By embracing this position and taking advantage of these opportunities, you can gain so many valuable business and leadership skills to propel you into the next phase of your career.

We recently hosted a fireside chat and Q&A with Ann Hiatt, author of Bet On Yourself and former right hand to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Google’s Eric Schmidt, and Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer, where she shared how she positioned herself as a leader next to these major tech CEOs.

Watch the full masterclass below or keep reading to learn Ann’s top strategies to go from assistant to confident leader. 

Find your mentors 🎓

One of Ann’s biggest tips for building your leadership skills is to find great mentors. She breaks mentors down into three distinct categories of people: 

First is your manager; the person who knows your skills, your deficits, and gives you assignments. They are invested in your success because that’s how they’re successful. 

Second is a sponsor; someone in your company or network who is a step or two ahead of you. They have the ability to open doors and expose you to new skills and opportunities that will help you get to the next step. 

Finally, you should have an avatar mentor, or someone who is 10+ years ahead of where you are right now. This person can be a high-profile figure or someone in your company. They don’t need to know you even exist. Their purpose is to be an inspirational figure for you, and to give you a roadmap that you can reverse engineer to reach the success you want out of your career

Embrace your novice factor 🧩

One of the biggest challenges assistants face when building their leadership skills is imposter syndrome. When you’re in rooms with people who seem much smarter and more established than you, it’s easy to feel like your voice doesn’t matter. 

Ann reminds us that everyone deals with imposter syndrome, but urges us to reframe it as an “imposter moment”. This discomfort is not a permanent syndrome or sign of inadequacy, but rather a moment of recognition that you are growing. 

Instead of letting your position hold you back, embrace it as an opportunity to learn. Ann says, “raise your hand and expose some of your weaknesses. Ask some of the dumb questions. Try stuff that you don’t know how to do perfectly the first time.” In doing so, you’re showing initiative and an ability to notice what others don’t. 

Know your growth vision 🚀

A big component of growing in your career is knowing your end goal. Ann encourages us to know, first and foremost, what our passions and values are. Once we know what we want in exchange for our work, we can start to demand it. 

Ask yourself: What reputation do you want to have? What is your living legacy? How do you want to be known? Answer these questions and continuously seek them out in your roles. 

Then, continue to set the bar high. Ann reminds us that as much as your job expects from you, you need to expect in return. So give yourself permission to know what you want to ask for, and then don’t be afraid to demand it. Whether that’s access to a room, learning a new skill outside of the confines of your role, or just being included in high-level conversations that accelerate your learning.

The tools you use can impact your role, too.

Here at Base, we’re all about helping strategic assistants do their best work. Our app was built solely for assistants’ daily workflow so you can utilize your time more efficiently and support your leader more effectively. Base is a single place for you to create executive briefings, field emails, track projects, manage calendars, and more. 

Get a demo of Base to see how you can accelerate your growth with the right tools to support you.

Written by Bryn Smith

Bryn is the Senior Manager of Brand and Product Marketing at Base, where she is on a mission to build a world-class EA community by connecting them with top-notch thought leaders, invaluable resources, and cutting-edge insights.