Inheriting an Assistant Requires Reeducation
by Dr. Karen Otazo
Excerpted from “The Truth About
Being A Leader... and Nothing but
If you inherit an
assistant from your predecessor, you have to tread carefully in
establishing this important relationship.
It is a mistake to
underestimate your assistant or secretary's loyalty to the previous
incumbent in your job—and to what he or she believes the company is
or should be—as compared to his or her initial loyalty to you. You
might think you "butter your assistant's bread," but you are the
newcomer. In a sense, you are part of a "hostile takeover," since
your assistant probably did not have a say in your taking over the
role. If you don't concentrate on the relationship early on, you
will be in trouble.
But if you get your
assistant on your side, he or she will be your biggest support in a
crunch. Your assistant can run interference for you and be in the
"end zone" when needed. So, deal with your assistant first and in a
different way from how you deal with the rest of your team.
How you deal with
your assistant will vary depending on your style, his or her style,
and which scenario you're faced with when starting the job. Here are
three scenarios that the new relationship may present to you:
you come into the job, your assistant is already on your side and
supports you completely, since "the boss is the boss."
Convincing is not the problem; rewarding is the way you need to
think. If you don't notice and thank your assistant, he or she may
not stay on your side for long. If you don't offer rewards like a
bonus, flowers, lunch, working to get rid of jobs the person doesn't
want, the relationship is one-sided and thus unstable.
assistant is suspicious of you and waits to see who you are and how
you treat people.
You're being tested. You'll recognize this situation when your
assistant's behavior seems inconsistent. Sometimes you'll think your
assistant is on your side, and other times you'll wonder why you
were left out to dry instead of being given a heads-up on something.
You need to reward your assistant when he or she is there for you
and especially for giving you warnings and guidance. When your
assistant fails to meet your expectations, express your disappoint-ment
and ask for a different set of behaviors in the future. The key is
that once you have asked for the new behavior, you need to move on
and not dwell on it so that you re-educate rather than reject as you
keep the air clear.
It is a
mistake to underestimate your assistant's or secretary's loyalty to
the previous incumbent in your job.
You find yourself
with someone who has a limited view of the job, its relationship to
you, the role that he or she has in giving you fair warnings, and
the loyalty required in the way you are talked about.
In this case, you need to take more serious action. If you have
repeatedly asked your assistant to leave 20 minutes between
appointments so that you can regroup and prepare, but he or she
consistently does not do so, several things may be happening. It
might be better if he receives your instructions in writing. She may
be pressured from the outside to schedule your time to meet other
people's needs. He may only do things the way he's always done them
and can only stay in a groove. She may be undermining you. For the
last two, you have to deal with facts, not feelings. How frequently
and to what degree does your assistant not follow directions? In an
objective and unemotional way, you need to lay out the facts as you
see them, along with your expectations and requirements. And you
need to do this as a time-out rather than in ongoing coaching.
It's vital that you
understand what your assistant is doing. Don't just get angry
because he or she is not doing things the way you want. The key is
to be objective, since most people fluctuate in their skills and
commitment. If you find yourself with someone who believes there are
areas that are "not my job," you need hard facts about what happened
to ensure your objectivity.
with your assistant is important. Paying attention to that
relationship early on increases the effectiveness and efficiency of
your working together. If you find that it's not working because you
have someone stuck in a groove who can't adjust, you should think
about getting someone in the job who can work with you.