Trust Building

How to Help Your Executive Be More Trusted

Practical strategies to employ in your partnership to bolster trust across your organization.

Trust plays a critical role in the success of any executive. This kind of trust comes in many forms. For example, it is important that employees know they can trust their leader, and it is especially important that employees feel like they can rely on their executive’s promises. It is crucial that employees be able to trust the character and values of the person that they are working for as well as their ability to follow through on their guarantees and commitments. An executive can’t afford to just be good at only one or even two types of trust. In fact, it is important that every executive prioritize being trustworthy in all possible ways. Executives should take notice if they are described as “They mean well,” or “Their heart is in the right place.” Statements like this generally indicate that there are some issues regarding how much people can trust or rely on them.

However, sometimes there is just too much for an executive to remember or do all on their own. That is where you, as an executive assistant, can be assertive and take action to help your executive be more trusted.

Be Aware / Keep Your Radar Up

One of the most important ways that you can help your executive become more trusted is simply by being aware. Try to really tune in to anything that your executive says that is correlated with their employees’ trust. It may be as simple as your executive saying that an email will be sent out by a certain time or that more group activities will be scheduled on a regular basis. Regardless of how important, all promises made are meaningful to the people they are being made to.

Teach yourself to be especially aware during staff meetings where a lot of different agendas and priorities are being shared. This is one situation where I often found myself struggling to remember everything I agreed to or said, since that is where a lot of my “small promises” were being made throughout the workday. It is important to remember that those types of promises can easily be forgotten if they are not properly prioritized.

Make sure you get each commitment documented. One of my favorite things was when I would be in my leadership meeting and I would say to the group, “I’ll send the budget guidelines by the end of the day today.” Within seconds, I would hear my phone buzz and see that Kristie, my EA, had already made a task for me in Emmre. Without Kristie being proactive to get that documented for me, it was probably a 50/50 chance whether I would remember to get those guidelines out or if it would take a reminder the next morning from someone on my team.

Create A Process

Imagine this scenario with me for a second. An executive is walking down the hall to their next meeting when Jill from accounting comes up to ask if they can meet to discuss the details of a project. The executive immediately responds by saying, “Of course! I’ll get something set up!” Then they walk into their next meeting promptly forgetting the commitment they just made.

Too often, these types of “hallway promises” are forgotten in the busyness of the workday. Maybe you’ve experienced similar situations. It isn’t as if the executive doesn’t care about the request. They could actually be really excited to go over whatever the employee was asking about. But with everything else on their plate, it is a promise that easily slips through the cracks.

As an executive assistant, you are definitely at a disadvantage in situations where you aren’t around to hear the commitment that was made. Setting up a process for these situations can be very helpful. You can figure out the process that works best for you and your executive but here are some tips that may help…

1. Quick Reminders - Give your executive permission to send you quick messages as reminders. Let your executive know that if something like the above scenario happens, they should feel free to message you a couple of words like “Jill meeting.” Have an understanding that texts like this will serve as placeholders for future conversations and information you’ll be sure to ask them about later. I know for me, without that communication and process in place, I would feel uncomfortable sending a message like that since it would be impossible for Kristie to know what it meant and might cause her a lot of unnecessary work trying to figure it out. By having this process set up beforehand, I know that I can send messages like this, the meeting won’t get lost, and Kristie will understand that this is a subject we will need to revisit.

2. Ask Questions - Another way that you, as an executive assistant, can be sure that no commitments are being forgotten is by asking questions! One thing Kristie and I put into practice was a list of standard questions that she would ask me at the beginning or end of the day. Our questions included things like, “Did you tell anyone you would meet with them today?” “Did you tell anyone you would send them anything?” etc. If I had made any promises that day, the process of her asking me those questions would often jog my memory. This helped me remember any small promises that I had made and helped ensure I didn’t accidentally break them.

3. Give Permission - As an executive, my day is filled with many interruptions and scheduling challenges. I understand that it can be intimidating sometimes to let your executive know they are late on something or are about to break a promise. You might think, “They must have a reason for not getting that done,” or “They’re super busy. They don’t need me nagging them about the budget guidelines.” This is why setting up a process is so important. Since I asked Kristie to make sure I never missed a promise to my leadership team and I gave her permission to remind me, I understood when she got a bit forceful to ensure things didn’t get missed. With this process in place, I can assure you that Kristie did not let me miss anything. Sometimes it was painful as she would hold me accountable for promises I made, but I was always so thankful she did when my team would tell me they could always count on me to do what I said. Other processes we set up were daily summaries to help ensure things were visible and nothing got missed the next day. We also kept a shared to-do list that she would prioritize, set reminders on, and assign do-dates for me so that I always had visibility of what needed to get done. When I had a larger project on my plate, she would help schedule time on my calendar to get done with what I promised I would do.

Having all of these processes in place was extremely helpful in making sure I was following through on things I committed to.

Take On What You Can

While this may seem kind of obvious, as an executive assistant, you should always be looking for things to take off of your executive’s plate. This goes for helping your leader to keep promises too. Oftentimes, if your executive is not getting something done, there is a reason for it. The reason might be one you can help with…

1. They don’t have time. - Maybe they just don’t have time. If you can do it, just do it!

2. They just need a jumpstart. - You can help your executive get things done faster by laying a foundation for them to get started with. This may include writing the first draft of an email, copying a similar presentation and changing the headings to what you think will be presented, or doing some research on a specific task. When I had a ton of things on my plate, I would often find myself hitting respond to an email, then looking at the blank email for 3 minutes before deciding I would do it later. This was a problem until Kristie started writing drafts. I would see the draft and think, “That’s good! I just need to change this and add some stuff here,” and the next thing I knew, it was done!

3. They have consistent patterns but it ties up their time. - Your keen eye for detail and your ability to bring order and systems can be leveraged to observe patterns and create a more effective process to accomplish the same work. Does your executive like to send a personal email to team members on their work anniversary and birthday? Do they send out daily metrics to their teams? Can you create a process that adds these birthdays and work anniversaries to their calendar along with draft celebratory emails for those individuals – so all they have to do is personalize and hit send, or pull the metrics together each morning so all they need to do is add some color before distributing? Taking on aspects of these routines can help ensure they get done on time which continues to build trust.

Even great executives will struggle to remember the small promises that they make throughout the workday. However, what I have found is that this opens up a very important opportunity for executive assistants – an opportunity to help their executives become more trusted.

Key ways for you to pursue this goal is by being aware and taking notes of any promises you hear being made. Even when you aren’t there in person, set up a system whether that means utilizing quick text messages or using another method. And don’t forget to reconvene at the end of the day to ask those standard questions. Executives from all over need this sort of support and assistance from their EAs.

An executive assistant that helps to make their leader more trustworthy is truly invaluable.

Kristie’s Thoughts

Kristie Webber

If I view the roles of executive and executive assistant as ultimately doing the same job, it just makes sense that as an executive assistant, I would do all I can to help my executive.

Don mentioned several practices that we put in place to enable our success in working together. Here are a few additions and things to keep in mind:

If you’re working together in person, take advantage of ad-hoc ‘desk-meetings.’ Don would often stop by my desk between meetings, or we’d walk together from one meeting to the next, and he would give me a quick download of what happened and any action items. This allowed me to get started on the action items and not wait until our next Tactical Touchbase to get the information. If you’re remote, these ad-hoc meetings take a bit more intentionality. You can have a quick call post-meeting or start a video call. However, not every communication needs to be video-on when it’s a quick information download.

I previously worked as the Administrative Director at a church and supported the lead pastor administratively. On Sunday mornings, there would be a lot of people who would come up to talk with him and ask about meeting. It was too much for him to remember everything in the moment, so he put the ownership back on the person. He told them he’d be glad to meet but to contact me to set something up. You can do something similar with your executives. Remember Don’s example of Jill from accounting? The executive can tell the person they’d be glad to meet but to contact the executive assistant to set something up. At that point, I can gather information about how much time to allow for the meeting, any prep material, etc.

Either way, I agree that it’s important to communicate that short texts are permissible and welcomed. If the executive has to type out every detail of what’s included in the task, they might not have time for that or think they’ll get back to it later (but then it gets forgotten). It’s much more helpful for everyone if the executive can get the task out of their head and the two of you can connect at a later time for context.

Having a shared task list like Emmre is extremely helpful for taking things off my executive’s plate. It gives us both a level of awareness to know what we’re working on and allows me, as the EA, to be proactive. Executives allowing access to their email is another great way for an executive assistant to take things off their executive’s plate. EAs - read through your executive’s sent emails to learn their tone and writing style. This allows you to get your drafts closer to something that requires very few edits before sending.

Don mentioned that having first drafts of emails, presentations, job descriptions, etc. was helpful so that he wasn’t working from a blank slate. As an executive assistant, it’s important to recognize the value in just getting something started vs. having it 100% done and tied up with a bow. There’s a time and a place for that, but often the skill of just getting something started is what provides value.

Executives - Where possible, include your executive assistant in the meeting. This doesn’t mean that your EA needs to be in every meeting with you (We need to get work done too!), but in high-priority meetings, it can be helpful to have your assistant in the room so they can hear the information first-hand and can capture action items that come up. Additionally, there’s less context that needs to be explained post-meeting because the EA experienced it in real-time.

Give feedback to your EAs (and EAs, ask for feedback!). What was helpful? What was good, but could have been better? Any feedback you can provide is a learning experience to allow the executive assistant to effectively help you build and maintain trust by following through on guarantees and commitments.

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Emmre is executive assistant software created by an executive and assistant for executives and assistants. Emmre's mission is to help supercharge productivity and maximize the strategic partnership between executives and executive assistants.

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