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Double Your Executive Impact With An Executive Assistant with Carmella Siravo
My guest is Carmella Siravo. She is a deeply experienced executive assistant who now works with executives and their assistants to get the most out of the executive’s cognitive capacity and the ability to truly lead the organization where they need to go. Welcome, Carmella.
How are you?
I’m so well. I’m excited to have you on the show for a couple of reasons. This show is about helping people figure out how to disrupt markets and use tools to disrupt the markets. This is the first time we’ve had a conversation about how an executive can bring an assistant into their inner circle to expand their capacity. I’m glad to have you here. Let’s talk about why an executive assistant? What’s the value?
An executive assistant is a tool within their self. Using the executive assistant as a tool adds great value to the executive. The number one role that the executive assistant brings value would be that gatekeeper role. Every executive, no matter what level, if you were from C-level, which is usually the level that has their own personal executive assistant and the board of directors to the vice presidents and the senior leadership team, you are that gatekeeper. You are that person that in the middle of all of the chaos and all that is surrounding on their plates, you are the one that is organizing, maintaining control of all of that. You are that go to person. You are the person that they know when they’re traveling or they’re not in their offices or they’re running out of town. You are representing them as an executive. You are representing their office and you are going to handle matters. You’re going to use your discretion, your judgment to handle matters on their behalf that they frankly don’t have the time to do.
One thing that’s an important point is that they’re acting as a surrogate executive when it comes to executing certain plans. A lot of people get tied up in the need to take care of every little detail. The reality is that it chews up way too many resources and it’s not an efficient use. In this role of a surrogate executive, you said gatekeeper before, but I see this more as a surrogate executive. The trusted assistant that can represent the executive’s desires and communication style.
The keyword there is trust. That is the number one factor that is the foundation of being able to use the executive assistant efficiently. I believe that once you build that trust with the executive and the leadership team and those that you’re supporting, once you’ve earned that trust by getting the jobs done that they need done and being dedicated and loyal, I believe that that is the key. I believe you hit the nail on the head with using the word trust because once that is there, the rest falls into place.
I can imagine it takes a little bit of time and effort to establish the relationship that generates that trust as well as creating the systems, the procedures, processes and checklists that trust can be built upon.
It absolutely does. One of the most popular questions I get from both sides, the executives and the executive assistant, when I’m doing any type of training or discussing the role to them is, “How do you earn that trust?” It is quite simple. You just get the work done. As you build your relationship, you’re getting the jobs done that they need to be done, you’re understanding what’s on their plate, you’re taking off of their plate, a large amount of work for them. The more that you get done when it starts with little tasks that you can do the smallest task on time and efficiently and you’re gaining trust. Once they see that they can depend on you to get the jobs done they need to be done, then they will continue to delegate more to you. They will give you more responsibility. You’ll have more authority to make decisions and help them and you’ll become more efficient. Just getting the job done and being there when they need you is the foundation for building the trust.
One of the things that is important that we discuss here is both sides of the equation. You work with executives on how to get the most out of their assistants. You work with executive assistants to show them how to connect and amplify the power of the executive. How does an executive create this process of trusting their assistant?
It is not an easy process for the executive. There are many executives that have had some failures with assistants over the years that I have worked with.
I’ll bet most of us have because if we don’t have a process, we’re going to screw it up.
Most executives aren’t sure of the processes. They don’t know how to use an executive assistant. Some of them are clueless and don’t know, “What can this person do for me? What can I give them? What is too much for them? What might not be enough for them? How do I balance that?” That falls on the part of the executive assistant to help train them so to speak in how they can help them. Instead of saying, “What can I do for you?” you’re walking in with an attitude of, “This is what your schedule looks like and this is how I can help you. I can take this off your plate. I can do this. I can prepare these materials for this meeting. Here are the materials you’ll need for this meeting at 3:00 PM. Here’s your schedule where you’re going for your 5:00 PM meeting.” Just being proactive, having all that ready, teaching them how to use you in effect.
What you’ve said sold every executive in the audience. Anybody who walks in my office and say those things, “You’re hired.”
I go into startup companies a lot and they have no clue how to use an executive assistant or what to do with that person. It was important that the executive assistant relays that and takes the initiative.
Part of it is that over the past couple of decades, executive assistance has gone out of style with many companies. Part of it is because we can do so many things on our own. It’s very easy to go to Kayak.com and book hotels and rental cars and travel information versus offloading that to somebody else. We can sit here, we can whack out our own emails and our own memos. It used to be that we would have to get an executive assistant to come and take a shorthand and then translate those into the letters and memos that would go out to the organization. Through this process of, “It’s easier for me to do it myself. It’s quicker for me to take that on.” We’ve moved to this place where we don’t see the value of an executive assistant.
Now, the pendulum is swinging back where for every million dollars that an executive oversees in the organization, they’re responsible for $480 an hour worth of production. If there’s $100 million organization, it’s $48,000 an hour is what their time is worth and if they’re booking airline tickets, this is not a good use of effort. Part of this is we have to swing back to understanding the real value of an executive assistant and letting them amplify, multiply the power, the cognitive power specifically of the executive.
I would also add, have you ever seen a memo that an executive has tried to write and send? It’s not a pretty sight. We are there to polish, to represent, to have excellent communications where they may fail or where they may not have the time to communicate. I believe that in this world, the executive assistant has grown, she has advanced her skill set, her resources and everything she needs for her toolset.
The experienced executive assistant can make their lives a million times more productive and also make them look good. They represent them in a very professional way and they are that go-to-person. I have worked with many executives over the years and earning their trust and building that relationship where the chemistry is there. You can almost read each other’s minds, you can know what each other’s thinking and know what the next move is. It is a relationship that can accomplish a lot and can accomplish it much more efficiently.
The executive has so much on his plate. He doesn’t have time for all the administrative task. To have a good executive assistant, a caring executive assistant, one who has a passion for her work and has a very good intent in her heart will never fail him. There are times when I know it may fail. There’s been a reputation at times where executive assistants go into this for other reasons. Maybe it’s a temporary job and while they’re pursuing school or their dream job, but the professional executive assistant that does this for a living whose heart and passion are in, will be the greatest asset to any executive.
It’s important that the readers know that. A lot of time executives will hire somebody part-time temporarily and then it takes time to establish the processes, procedures, communication patterns and trust and then they’re gone. Meanwhile, they’ve worked with somebody who doesn’t have the skills and the capacity of an executive assistant. What you’re saying is, hire somebody who’s a professional. This is what they do for a living. This is their aspiration. This is their dream. This is their passion. Work with them to multiply the capacity of the executive.
A lot of these roles are interim and a lot of the candidates who come in an interview for these roles, they’re trying to get through school or something temporary for them, their career or something else. They may have a niche in marketing, they may have a niche in sales, and they may have a niche in IT. An executive assistant role is something that they come across and they think, “I can do some of these tasks.” A professional executive assistant goes way beyond task. It’s no longer task-oriented. It’s the thinking, it’s your skill set, it’s your working as an executive with the executive, understanding all this on their plate. It is a mindset. You have to have the mindset, you have to have the emotional intelligence and you have to have the passion for this work. This is a passion. This is a career like any other career.
Let’s talk a little bit about mindset and what separates a professional executive assistant from others. Let’s go through the three elements that you teach when it comes to working with executive assistants.
The three key elements that I present are one, your mindset. I believe it starts with the mindset. I believe everything in general in life starts with your mindset, positive versus negative, but with the executive assistant role, your mindset has to be one that understands what is on the executive’s plate. You have to understand what is on their mind. You have to look beyond their faults and see their needs and that is basically the mindset that is, “It’s that simple.” I teach this over and over again, look beyond the fault and see the needs. They may come in, they may not have the best day, they may not be in the best mood, but you’ll notice. You’ll know when to ask some, “Can I get you something? Can I help you this way?” You’ll know when to sit back and not say a word.
It’s your mindset saying, “I know what’s on their plate.” They have a lot on their plate. They are responsible for whatever size company they’re running and to be honest, I don’t believe they’re appreciated enough. A lot of staff down to entry level backup to the executive corporate ladder. They are working so that you can bring a paycheck home to your family every week and all of that pressure is on their plate. It’s understanding that pressure, looking beyond their faults, seeing their needs and tending to those needs. I have been doing this for twenty years and I will tell you that I will humbly be happier to get someone a cup of coffee if that is what they need at that moment to make their life easier. Then that is the greatest task that I can accomplish that day and I’m proud of that.
Then the second key element is skill set. You need the skill set. They depend on you, they’re going to send you a memo and maybe say, “Get this out.” You don’t just send it, you have to look it over, you have to correct the English, sometimes the content. You have to know what it is about, that’s an example. Another example in communications that’s very important is that you are relaying the message they want you to relay. It’s no longer they’re going to draft something. For the most part, they tell you, “I need to let him or her notice. They need to understand this.” Then you’re going to create the correspondence for them. You have to have your grammar skillset intact. You have to be able to type good 70 or 80 words a minute.
You have to be able to transcribe minutes and know how to take those minutes in high-level board meetings sometimes and you have to have all the technical skillsets. You have to be technically inclined. Most of these executives are not. I have taught these executives how to use iPads, how to use your iPhones, how to upgrade to certain levels in their technical services. IT isn’t always there, so you have to be that help desk for them. The third element and a very important element which I wrap into toolset, are your resources. You have to be resourceful. You need to know who to reach out for when, because these executives do not have time to look for resources.
You need to know, “He needs this so I know who I can call within five minutes and get it on my desk.” You cannot take no for an answer from anyone who can’t say yes. You have to get to the right resources. You can’t talk with a customer service representative to change a flight while they’re waiting at the airport who doesn’t have the authority to do that or doesn’t know how to do that. These are the types of toolsets and resources that you need to have from your basic travel when they’re traveling to your basic staff. I am very resourceful when it comes to staff. I believe in a good rapport with staff.
We help each other when they need something from me and it’s hard to get or they need something from the executive, I try to be that liaison and that go between. In return, when I need something, if I need an IT to come up to fix something right away, they will. They’re happy to do it. If I need the receptionist to help me, if I’m overloaded and I need somebody to help me get a meeting together or run to a conference room or deliver something, they’re happy to do it. We work as a team, but you need your resources and then your external resources.
Your other executive assistants, I call it the EA pool, you have this pool of executive assistants. You’re working with your board of directors. You build that rapport with their assistants, keeping in mind that your boss reports to the board. The rapport that you have with those executive assistants to get information to and from effectively, fluently all of those resources. Wrapping it up with the three key elements your mindset, you need your emotional intelligence in check. There are courses that you can take on emotional intelligence.
I’ve taken an entire course by Jack Welch. It was fabulous. There are courses you can take on skill set to brush up your skills. Know your technical skills, get the applications down that you need to know so that you can train your boss as well. Have your skill set intact. Lastly, have your resources. With those three key elements, you’ll find that you will be pretty successful all the time. Keeping a positive mindset always. Always smile. There’s always something to smile about.
The boss doesn’t need to cheer up the EA. One of the things I want to point out is that we’re using male and female here because of traditional roles. It absolutely goes the other ways. There are male executive assistants and there are plenty of women who head up organizations. We’re making the grammar here a little simple for us, but without a doubt that’s the case. I want to go back and take apart some of the things you laid down for us. You dropped a whole bunch of truth bombs for my audience here. One of which is mindset, look beyond their faults and see their needs. The thing to keep in mind is an executive is hired for their ability to foresee the future.
They’re the visionary.
The executive assistant is the person that helps them take care of this moment now so they can foresee the future. I see this interesting balance between this long-term thinker and the short-term doer that have harnessed themselves together to accomplish outstanding things. The thing about visionaries is they need to have somebody come behind them, cleaning things up. It’s the nature because visionaries are good at starting things but bad at finishing things. That combination of mindset, “Don’t worry about their faults because their faults are what enable their strengths” is an important component for both the executive assistant as well as for the executive to understand.
The second thing when it comes to skill set, I love this concept that the EA is the help desk for the executive. That’s an absolutely brilliant concept and it brings to bear the true value of a professional executive assistant. Then the third thing is that concept of, “You cannot take no as an answer from someone who cannot say yes.” That is the concept of rounding up the right tools, the resources that are necessary to facilitate the outcome of the executive, freeing them to take care of what’s important. An important executive concept is this. Executives have more in their to-think list than on their to-do list. The executive assistant allows that to occur.
They are the visionaries. They have to be thinking constantly. I don’t think they stop thinking. I believe they think in their sleep. I believe they think when they’re dreaming. The executive assistant, a passion for her work, she will be the same. It’s not a 9 to 5 job. It’s not for the faint of heart. If you have a passion and you are willing to dive in with the mindset of the executive. Sometimes it’s that 24-hour thing. It’s being on call. I’ve had bosses that traveled to Europe frequently. One of my bosses and she was a female, we keep in touch to this day. We grew very close over the years. She had a passion for Africa and she was in Africa, six weeks here and there.
She would spend months sometimes and I would sleep on the couch and I would tell my significant other, “She’s in Africa this week, so I’ll be sleeping on the couch every night,” because I didn’t want to keep him up because I needed to set my alarm for 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM in the morning when she was having meetings out there. It’s a passion and it’s a very rewarding job. The executive assistant role has come a long way.
It’s not for the faint of heart because it’s an adventure. If you’re an adventurous soul and you want to be on the leading edge of what happens in the world of business, that’s the place to play. We’ve covered so many great ideas here. Let’s shift gears a little and talk about how an executive can find a good professional executive assistant?
I know with my own career experiences, a lot of it is viral through their associates. They’ll be in meetings, they’ll be networking or there’ll be at board meetings and they’ll hear, “We need an executive assistant,” or they’ll see someone with their executive assistant at the meeting and they’ll say, “She’s doing all this for you. Where can we find one?” They may say, “I know so and so. His executive assistant is leaving.” A lot of it is viral. A lot of it are referrals. Most of my positions have been referrals from former bosses.
Another resource are agencies. There are very good executive recruiting agencies that recruit C-level executives and vice presidents and all of your top-level executives. The recruiting agencies who recruit them, will also recruit their assistants. You can absolutely go through a lot of good agencies and I do refer some agencies to a lot of people. I have a rapport with several very renowned agencies at that level that can recruit good executive assistants. The third way is what happens is when executives leave a company, they will take their executive assistant with them.
I’ve seen that happened many times. They are a team, you hire one, you hire both.
I have done this. I have gone into different companies with bosses as well. What will happen in that case, sometimes the executive assistant, him or herself will have someone that they can refer. A partner they know or someone who’s been waiting in the company for the job to move up. There are several ways and there are some other ways that you can. There are a lot of networking events for executive assistants that I know CEOs, executives, vice presidents, directors and managers are all invited to. I believe an executive assistant is an executive assistant at any level. If that’s what you do for a living, you do it at any level. You can find a good executive assistant at any of those types of networking events as well.
Is there a specific educational course that creates executive assistants? Is there a business school for executive assistants? Is there something like that?
There are many accredited schools that will do certification programs. There is also a lot of executive assistants who have their college degree. They have an associate degree in business management or business administration or they might even have a Bachelor’s or Master’s in business administration. For those who are not completing a college degree and you do not need a college degree to do this job. However, there are a lot of accreditors. There’s an agency called the American Management Association. I did some speeches for them and they do a lot of training for executive assistants.
There are some organizations that are called executive assistant organizations and they specifically train. They’ll provide training. They’ll do some certifications. I have provided training for some of those organizations as well. It depends on the executive assistant, where she is in her career or where she wants to go in her career. If she’s already has a business degree, then she may go to different jobs and to supply with her business degree. If she’s in a position as an executive assistant and feels she needs to brush up on her skill set or even her emotional intelligence or her mindset or any of those skills, there are multiple courses and multiple agencies for executive assistants that do have courses such as that.
What is the process that an executive should use when interviewing for an executive assistant?
It’s an interview like you’re going to interview for any other job. You’re going to touch on their skill set. Executives look for seasoned executive assistants. I believe they want experience. They want to see what types of companies that you work for. Are these Fortune 500 companies? Do you have experience in smaller companies? Your mama and your papa companies. Where is your experience besides companies? Who have you worked for? Sometimes working for an executive that’s known, as opposed to someone that’s not, can speed up the interview process a little bit. They’ll look for your experience. They’ll want somebody who is spoken well, who can communicate verbally and written. You have to be able to write, that happens to be a niche of mine.
I do a lot of training in business writing. The speaking, the writing. I’ve done presentations. I’ve trained through presentations. They’re going to look for all of this. They’re going to look at what they think they need. Every executive and every senior leadership team has different needs. There may be the executive that wants more of the personal assistant type, personal/executive assistant. He may want somebody that’s going to be able to run his errands, buy Christmas gifts for him. In the midst of that, setup his meeting and setup his travel. You may have an executive that says, “I have a personal assistant at home. My wife does all of that, so what I’d rather have from you is someone who can do some presentation work for our meetings. Someone who can help our senior leadership team organize their meetings and their agendas and meeting materials and things like that.” The interview is going to depend as well on exactly what they need.
Establish what the gaps are for your skill set. What will free you up as an executive to focus more on your to-think list and then find the skillset, the mindset and the toolset to backfill that to free you up to fly? Lots of great things that we’ve covered in this conversation, Carmella. Thank you so much. How can people get a hold of you? What would you like for people to do next?
I can put out my cell phone number, they are free to call on my mobile number. They can connect with me on LinkedIn. I have all of my information on LinkedIn. My entire life and profile are on LinkedIn. I like to use LinkedIn to network, but I also like to use it to record my career history. I guess it’s the professional Facebook world. Everyone puts all of their personal things on Facebook and wants to put their pictures and all their happy things on Facebook in their personal life. I like to do the same for LinkedIn. On my LinkedIn, you’ll find my entire profile, you’ll find some pictures, some photos of events that I’ve spoken at and that I’ve trained. LinkedIn is a good way to connect with me. My mobile phone number is on LinkedIn as well and I can shout it out to the audience here on this call.
Scott Adams, in his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, pointed out there three important elements to success and that is diet, exercise and rest.
All of which the executive could get a lot more off if he has a good executive assistant.
Carmella Siravo, thank you so much for sharing your insights and helping my listeners become more efficient, more effective and more valuable through their executive assistant.
Thank you very much, Mark. It was an honor to be here.
- Carmella Siravo
- Jack Welch
- American Management Association
- Carmella Siravo on LinkedIn
- How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
About Carmella Siravo
Consultation and hands-on management of the business activities, schedule, travel and expenses, meetings and communications for the CEO and Board of Directors.
Organizing Board and Committee meetings worldwide. Implementing processes for structuring the Board of Directors, standing and ad hoc Committees.
Providing dedicated remote and onsite support.
Meeting amazing people along the way!
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