I recently had coaching conversations with two superstar EAs who were unhappy in their roles. Both were considering resigning but hadn’t spoken to their CEOs about their concerns. When I asked why, they said they didn’t think their CEOs would listen to them because they were “just EAs.”
This belittling statement about the EA role riles me! Top-caliber EAs are essential assets to their executives and companies. They are trusted confidantes, decision-makers, problem solvers, and efficiency experts. Over the years, I’ve seen firsthand how CEOs value an EA’s business judgment, insights, and feedback.
By nature, many EAs can be conflict-averse.
They want to avoid burdening their executives with negative feedback, or they worry that speaking up will damage their relationships. But difficult conversations are essential for high-functioning teams. EAs must be able to speak their truth to their executives, even if it’s not easy.
Fifteen years ago, I worked with an EA struggling with her CEO’s frequent check-ins. He would interrupt her throughout the day to ask if she had completed tasks. It made her feel her new boss didn’t trust her. She was reluctant to speak up about it because she was deferential to his powerful status and what she thought was his particular work style.
I encouraged her to speak her truth and have an honest conversation with her CEO. I told her she needed to let him know that his constant check-ins impacted her productivity. I also suggested that she earn his trust by providing a daily recap at the end of the workday to show him she was on top of things and didn’t need to check in constantly.
As expected, the CEO was receptive to her feedback; he was happy to receive a daily recap and stopped interrupting her throughout the day. They built a high level of mutual trust and truth-sharing and are still working together all these years later!
If you’re an EA currently struggling with how to share difficult feedback with your executive, here are a few tips:
- Choose the right time and place. Don’t try to have this conversation when your executive is stressed or busy. Schedule a time when you can both focus on the conversation.
- Be clear and direct. Don’t beat around the bush. State the problem and your concerns directly and honestly.
- Use “I” statements. This will help you clearly and directly communicate your concerns without blaming or accusing anyone else.
- Be specific. Don’t just say that you’re unhappy or frustrated about something. Provide specific examples of what’s causing the problem.
- Be open to feedback. Your executive may have some feedback for you as well. Be prepared to listen and consider their perspective.
- Be solution-oriented. Don’t just identify a problem. Come prepared to share some solutions that would work.
- Focus on the impact of the problem. How is the problem affecting your executive, the company, yourself, and your work?
- Be respectful. Even if you’re unhappy with your executive’s behavior, it’s important to maintain a respectful, neutral tone.
- Be patient. It may take some time for your executive to decide on the best action or change their behavior.
Your executive will likely thank you for sharing, and they may learn something they were unaware of before you spoke up. You will feel empowered by using and owning your authentic voice.
Speaking your truth can be difficult, but it’s an essential skill for EAs.
Your perspective and insights are valuable; your executives need to hear them. If you’re struggling with these conversations, I encourage you to contact us for coaching. Like any skill, it takes practice to build competency. I’m happy to help you develop the skills to speak your truth and build stronger relationships with your executives.
Kathy Macdonald is the Founder of Kathy Macdonald Associates, Inc., a retained search firm specializing in placing top-tier executive support and consulting with CEOs on optimizing how to leverage their EA to increase their effectiveness. To read additional articles and learn more about our services, please visit our website: http://kathymacdonaldassociates.com