Effective Executive/Efficient Assistant (Part 1)

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • What do I do with an administrative assistant?
  • What kind of tasks can I give my admin?
  • How do I manage my admin?

One of the lost arts of the corporate world in the past 20 years is how to work with an administrative assistant. While we won't argue that a great deal of the "leaning out" of corporations has been a good thing, working with admins effectively is one of the painful legacies of the cutbacks.

Of the executives who are assigned admins, our experience is that very few know how to use them well. There are many ways that the fantastic opportunity an admin offers are squandered. But in virtually all cases, the fundamental failure of managers who execute this responsibility is that they fail to delegate enough to the admin.

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Mike and Mark, I have been looking

Mike and Mark,

I have been looking forward to this your series on working with your assistant effectively for a while. I have always felt I could get more value out of my relationship with my assistant that I have in the past, but didn’t know how. I’m very pleased with what you have outlined and covered. I can’t wait for part 2 next week. Personally the timing couldn’t be better. I’m moving to a new position and will have a chance to start the relationship in the right way.

I also wanted to thank you for the way you broke the pod casts into two parts. Giving a brief summary of what was coming was very helpful. You increased my interest.

Please keep up the great work.



Martin- Thanks for your kind


Thanks for your kind remarks. I hope we do it justice - we have hours more detail that we've left out. But I think it will get you a long way towards where you want to be.

Let us know what you think after part 2!


Agreed w/ bigpilot. My situation is

Agreed w/ bigpilot. My situation is different in that I don't have an admin, so I've been thinking of the topic in terms of how I parse out my own time, task-wise. Taking the Drucker idea of spending an uninterrupted block of time for big ideas and combining that with your time management idea of 90 minute blocks for your top priority.

I really like your breakdown into roles that require effectiveness vs. dependant roles that require efficiency, which will by definition be effective assuming the effective roles work and the delegation flows. For me, it puts in perspective those tasks which need to be most efficient, and, more importantly, those tasks which which *don't* need to be efficient but instead which require uninterrupted time for decisionmaking and creativity. Also ensuring that the busywork, if you will, always flows from the big picture.

Thanks again,


Great introduction to a complex topic

Great introduction to a complex topic for which some practical advice is sorely needed. I first came to a job in which I had a secretary (she did NOT like being called and "admin" or an "executive assitant"--she was very proud to be called a secretary) about 5 years ago. I'd previously had clerks and such working for me, but never before a real secretary. The result was a rocky beginning, as I wrestled with figuring out how best to employ this particular asset.

My initial efforts were not very productive, leading my secretary to sit down with me and ask pointedly how we could work together more effectively. Eventually, she got me trained, and I learned that she could really carry a lot of my perceived load. Simply put, she was a lot more capable than I had realized, was dedicated to the success of the organization, and was willing to undertake any task...even those I might have considered too demeaning for her. Ours was a great alliance. She retired a couple of years ago and remains my wife's closest friend.

Right now, my new secretary and I are breaking one another in. I look forward to the remaining podcasts on this topic.


I'm sorry for off topic but I can't see

I'm sorry for off topic but I can't see one part of time management and one part of skip levels when I look on it through iTunes. Could you check it? Is everything allright with it?

Feodor, I've looked at iTunes using


I've looked at iTunes using 2 different computers and don't see an issue. Can you give me a little bit more detail on what errors you're experiencing (e.g., is it that you can't see the shows at all, or that they're visible but won't play?) and we'll try to figure out what's happening. Worst case, I can send you the specific links to those shows and you can download them manually.

May be best to cover off-line on email. You can email me at show AT manager-tools.com


Guys thanks! I'm an Admin Assist and

Guys thanks! I'm an Admin Assist and my Exec Dir did not utilize my services.
As a result, my position was the first removed @ our non-profit. All that you've stated I tried, but the fear of 'not being in control' on the directors part won the ruling.
I can not wait to hear the second part. I've been listening to you for a while, but now you're speaking my language. In addition, the salary of Admin Assists is decreasing in some areas around the country. Unless you live in NYC (constant work and great salaries there).

Thank you a billion!

Jes, Your comment was right on. I


Your comment was right on. I mentioned I was moving on to a new job with a new assistant. My replacement in my current job told me he never learned how to use an assistant and will eliminate his new assistant’s (my old assistant’s) position. This is not a tragedy for my old assistant who is moving on to a better position in a different company. I told my replacement about these pod casts as a way of learning how to better leverage an assistant, but he didn’t see the value in an assistant. I’m not sure if there is any relationship, but this guy is a very strong “D.” This may make it harder for him to share his work load and get the most out an assistant. I’ll be curious to see how he gets along.


Martin- Even if he is a D, I bet he


Even if he is a D, I bet he has a LOT of C in him. D's like Mike and I LOVE assistants. C's often can't see why they would want anyone do anything for them - because they do it better.

I have a funny joke I tell about the four styles. I call it the "er" rule (pronounced URR):

D's do it faster.
I's do it cooler.
S's do it warmer.
C's do it better.

To be clear, the "IT" is WORK. No double entendre implied, please.


Feodor: iTunes automatically removes


iTunes automatically removes items that have fallen off your downloaded list, and there's no built-in way to get it back. Probably you had downloaded the episodes you wanted, but they fell off the end of your settings (e.g. you had set it as "keep the last two episodes", and it's not in the last two).

The solution is simple: Select the podcast, then press the Unsubscribe button at the bottom of iTunes, then press the Subscribe button beside Manager Tools. This will reload the episode list, and your missing episode should show again.


As a veteran admin with almost 17 years

As a veteran admin with almost 17 years experience KUDOS for this. I am looking forward to the next two installments. I even got a few good chuckles out of this. This should be REQUIRED listening for all executives. Also, the really good admins are the one's who can "train" their executive.

Hilary- What a treat to read this


What a treat to read this late at night! A great note, one that I will put in my Hall of Fame (HOF).

The only reasons we didn't suggest more of the "admin training the exec" is that (1) so many execs don't seem to be able to hear that, and (2) many firms hire poorly for admin roles, and they aren't much better at teaching the how to than the exec would be without this help.

REGARDLESS: Thrilled you got some chuckles. Please do let us know where you think we were particularly on target, or where something rang false to you.


[...] Paul beat me to blogging about

[...] Paul beat me to blogging about it, but I finally hired a new assistant - Carolynn Duncan - read Paul’s post about how she got our attention with a blog! She is doing an awesome job! She’s working hard on getting me organized and is really focussing on making me more effective. When I hired her, I asked her to listen to this great 3 part series from Manager-Tools (one of my favorite podcasts) on effective admins. It describes to a T what I’m hoping for in an Executive Assistant and she has made that her benchmark for her job description. In the past week she has lifted mountains of stress off my back with the hundreds of little things that I never seem to have time to get done. Her second and third assignment was to read Good to Great and Getting Things Done. I can’t tell you how glad I am to have Carolynn working with me! [...]