Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a keen listener to the BBC World Service and recently they ran a programme on Global Business discussing the appointment of personal assistants (PAs).
Past title was traditionally secretary and now it is common to call the secretary a PA and the PA the Executive Assistant (EA).
The stereotypical PA is female and the programme made the point that only 1% are male. Just why this is was not discussed.
Recently one of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group told me that his part-time PA would be away for possibly six months on maternity leave and he was considering appointing a full-time replacement while making sure that his existing PA would have another opportunity in the business.
I suggested that he talk to other members of the group who have PAs who are fully involved in the business and this he did.
On reflection I also realise that not everyone in the group has a PA or even secretarial assistance while there are several who have truly excellent assistants in place.
I recall some years ago that one of my members suggested that he was considering appointing a PA although he was dubious as to whether he had enough work to justify the appointment.
He interviewed and eventually offered the job to a very suitable and experienced candidate. She discussed with him the role and after some discussion he came to the realisation that he would be able to delegate a remarkable (to him) number of activities and tasks.
It didn’t take him long to realise that he had done exactly the right thing by taking on a PA and he could still indulge himself in writing letters and emails himself without needing to dictate them.
On the other hand I worked in the past with the leader of a very large conglomerate and he had a (male) personal assistant and a female secretary, before the onset of modern nomenclature and technology, let it be said.
The whole rationale for having a PA or EA starts with the purpose. Why is there a need and what aspects of the CEO role can and should be delegated to an assistant?
The role definition is easier after that although it will always develop as the relationship develops and the level of mutual trust increases.
A great PA or EA can become the eyes and ears of the leader. The position of the PA is anomalous to an extent as it encompasses the highly confidential aspects of the business while still not normally being an appointed executive of the company.
I believe that the PA plays a vital role in the management of any business and can be a valuable link to the next layers of management.
I find more and more that I contact PAs so as not to bother a member in the certain knowledge that my query or request will be actioned quickly and effectively.
Then there is the gatekeeper role where the PA makes absolutely certain that no-one gets past to the leader without being thoroughly examined and either passed or rejected. Trying to speak to some leaders can be an exhausting experience as a consequence.
Some years ago I wrote (pre-blog) a newsletter and as I had some problems on getting through to some people, I offered a small prize to anyone who could suggest an approach that would smooth the path.
Among the more repeatable suggestions the winner was the one that ran thus:
“Does he know you and will he know what it is about?”
“Would you please tell him that we have the rubber suit that he ordered in his size in stock but not with the chains”?
“I’ll put you through”
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