Leveraging Soft Skills to be a Standout Executive Assistant

Three critical components of leveraging soft skills as an Executive Assistant.

I speak with executives each week, some of whom have spent the last 20+ years, all their life savings, and significant amounts of emotion and energy growing their business. And finally, they did it! They broke through the growing pains, and they climbed the mountain many small businesses are unable to climb. They find themselves having the success they always dreamt of having and needing to begin the process of delegating things to a strategic partner - an Executive Assistant.

These executives are looking for someone they can delegate to, someone they can trust. Often, because their business is their “baby,” these executives are nervous about delegation or even bringing on an Executive Assistant. They may even know that executive assistants bring so much value to the table by being exceptionally organized, technically savvy, and persistent in project management, yet they still struggle to embrace the idea of hiring an EA.

So why are they still hesitant or nervous? I’ve observed that some potential barriers often fall on the “soft” side of things - the exec’s concerns with the EA’s personality or even the cultural impact an EA can have on an organization. In other words, executives are often nervous about the SOFT SKILLS of potential EAs.

What are soft skills? Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterize a person's relationships with other people. In the workplace, soft skills are considered to be a complement to hard skills, which refer to a person's knowledge and occupational skills.

Soft skills are vitally important to the executive/EA partnership because of the deeply personal relationship an executive often has with their business and team. Taking time to invest in these skills can help you stand out as an executive assistant. Soft skills can help you gain more trust, allow more responsibilities to be delegated to you, and ultimately lead to a more fulfilling role for years to come.

If you’re still not sure investing in your soft skills is worth the time and energy, please consider these 3 critical components of leveraging your soft skillset to be a standout EA:

1. Enhancing company culture builds trust. Every company and small business has a personality or culture. Some are created purposefully while others just happen. Understanding and aligning with the executive’s desired culture, business personality, values, and brand is the stuff you simply can’t teach. When an executive knows they can trust you with this, they are going to trust you with a lot more as well! It’s easy to teach someone how to navigate a spreadsheet or enter data into a CRM. It is impossible to teach someone how to represent an organization with the same values and caliber as the leader.

The way an executive assistant represents the business internally and to the marketplace drives impact, engagement, and the ability to scale. Therefore, the executive must invite people on board who can orient themselves to the company culture. As an executive assistant, you are a direct reflection of your leader - and you need to be an extension of their personality, culture, and behavior. This is invaluable.

2. Confidence is key to growing responsibility. As an executive assistant, you will be thrown lots of projects and tasks that feel outside your comfort zone. This is actually great! It gives you an opportunity to really expand some of your technical skills. But underneath the journey to growing your technical skills is a soft skill anchoring your steps - confidence.

A leader will quickly pick up on a lack of confidence, which may often be seen as a lack of desire to serve. As an executive assistant, you are an expert in serving. But if you lack the confidence to forge ahead on behalf of your leader, you will not gain the trust and rapport for ultimate success in your role. This does not mean you don’t ask questions or ask for training on areas you need more experience in, but that you do those things with confidence.

3. Emotional intelligence is critical to your career. What is emotional intelligence? Simply put, emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, manage, and regulate emotions. Believe it or not, this is a skill many adults have never been taught how to develop. I have had the opportunity to interview incredibly intelligent and accomplished people who lack considerable emotional intelligence. The bottom line: they will not succeed.

Will they have basic success in aspects of their role? Maybe. Will they have the kind of measurable success that impacts others well? Absolutely not. The ability to process emotions with maturity, come up with a communication plan, and speak with respect rather than impulsivity is an incredibly attractive quality in any team member, specifically an executive assistant who often acts and speaks on behalf of their executive.

You can not focus all your training and learning in “hard-skill” areas, just like you cannot invest only in “soft-skill” areas. It is having both hard skills AND soft skills that make a powerful combination and a successful EA.

What stories come to mind when you think of soft skills being necessary for success at work?

Don’s Thoughts

Don HarmsI’ve worked with many people who had great hard skills but lacked the soft skills they needed to attain their higher-level goals. As Anna mentioned, those individuals will only go so far. Working with an executive assistant that has the soft skills Anna discussed above is a dream for any executive. What they are able to delegate and trust their EA with grows exponentially when they are able to trust their EA’s soft skills.

It is definitely an area worth investing in. There are great books and other resources out there on how to positively impact a business culture, how to do things more confidently, and how to improve your emotional intelligence.

As an executive, I can tell you these are skills that everyone needs, but an EA with these soft skills paired with hard skills is hard to come by, extremely valuable, and very sought after!

Emmre - Software for Assistants and Leaders

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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