Executive Assistants run the Universe

Think | Act

One in a series of Leadership Articles to cause you to think and perhaps to act. Read other articles.

I have had the privilege of working with a number of excellent Executive Assistants (EA) who tried very diligently to keep me on the straight and narrow. From these folks I learned a great deal of how to make that relationship work. Most of the foundation of an Assistant’s success in managing with an executive comes from effective commitment management.

The area most likely to be the focus of this is calendar management and related areas. What I have learned is that by setting up rules that allow both the executive and the assistant to work collaboratively, but not trip over one another, maximizes a EA/boss relationship. What follows is:

Shulist’s Ten Rules for Executive Assistants
to convince the world that their Boss is really in charge
( when we know that EA’s run the Universe)

1. Who gets to see your boss is important

The executive will provide the following lists:

  • A list of folks who can always get in their calendar (This is the Always List = Customers, Boss, Spouse etc.).
  • A list of folks who can get in their calendar on a recurring basis (This is the Regular List = Subordinates, peers).
  • The rest must have a reason that is crucial to the executive’s success (a comet will strike the earth in ten minutes etc.).

Make sure these lists are regularly updated

2. Recognize the practical constraints.

Some of the obvious items to look out for are:

  • Enter all holidays in to the calendar; know about holidays in other places your boss travels to (and take that into account).
  • Be knowledgeable about the various time zones your boss travels and works through. Make sure this is accounted for.
  • No double booking of any appointment is allowed. Resolve any conflict immediately.
  • The next seven days should have no ‘To be Determined’ (TBD), or ‘To be Announced’ (TBA) information. Resolve these.
  • If you book meetings “back-to-back” ensure there is enough time between to get from place to place, collect info, food, etc.
  • Ensure you know the working window of your boss for any given day (Is your boss available from 08:00 to 17:00? Does your boss have different hours?)

While the world does not need to know about your boss’ personal life, you should know critical personal commitments that affect availability.

3. Regularly scheduled

Routine items must be mapped out at least a month in advance:

  • Signing documents.
  • Reviewing information.
  • If you screen mail or reading material, then block the time to do so.
  • Routines that are communicated and predictable are effective. Schedule your activities and ensure they are known:Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, Annually

4. Appointments

For appointments requested in the next 24 hours confirm with each other verbally (or by some other positive electronic means).

5. Trip Return

Allow your boss two hours of free time immediately after extended travel (to allow for trip notes, expenses, catch up).

6. Open / Closed Door

If your boss has the door closed, allow for no interruptions (shoot to kill), the exception may be the Always List — just wound them.

7. Meetings

Meetings that your boss is chairing must be started on time. It is your job to ensure this happens. Leadership is about setting examples and you can assist in that with your boss. For meetings he is attending you must ensure that he gets there on time. If your boss is responsible to issue minutes suggest that you attend to take notes (much better that than be given a few pages of scrawled notes to make sense out of two days later).

8. Commitments

In all cases, if you make a commitment for your boss:

  • Recognize that you wield a lot of power by affiliation with your boss. So, when you make a commitment, you are doing so as an extension of your boss.
  • You must know EXACTLY what the purpose is, request formal confirmation if possible and establish what your boss is expected to bring (reference material, minutes, presentation etc.).
  • Have supporting material organized for the meeting in advance.

9. Calendar Shorthand

When you enter appointments into a calendar (electronic or otherwise) use a standard, consistent method:

Rules for Calendar Management

Event Possible Calendar Entry
Meeting Example Purpose [With whom] {where} (file reference)
Meeting Strategy Mtg [Brown] {office} (corporate strategic plans from Jack)
Call Proj Rev [White] {905 555 0000, you call in }
Flight dep YYZ AC#1234 19:30 arr LAX 21:45 (#ABCMFT)
Accommodation: Hotel [HI Express] {123 Anystreet, 888 555 5555} (#123789)
Abbreviations: Use standard abbreviations to compress the data i.e.
B = Breakfast
L = Lunch
D = Dinner
Mtg = Meeting

10. Your Boss Time

Schedule your time with your boss regularly - you are a critical part of his team. Your career development and the issues that affect your success need airtime also. Set the agenda and ensure that you can cover the issues that are important.

Send this article to:
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • Google
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • Print this article!


  1. JamesD:

    Thanks for the useful info. It’s so interesting

  2. Run an excellent meeting | Shulist Group Inc.:

    [...] progress and end successfully. If you’re not good at something then find someone who is (see related post) and have them do it. That’s the MO for a successful executive. If you are a leader, I would [...]

Leave a comment