How Can Executive Assistants Add Value to the Business?

We’re BACK with another round of Q&A with the one, the only Al-Husein Madhany. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the first post in this series, What Every EA Should Know during their First 90 Days in Supporting a CEO. Then come on back to this page for more from AHM on what steps you can take right now to develop your role at your company. Good stuff!

How can go-getters go after more in their executive assistant role?

One of the fantastic things about executive assistants is that we have high emotional quotients, and high agility quotients. We know when and where we should probe, poke, engage; when and where we should act and ask for more opportunity. We know [where there’s opportunity] before executives know because we’re the pulse of the organization. We read the pulse from their direct reports; we read the pulse from their peers. We know what’s happening just by the energy in the air. And I would say we apply this to the executive as well. Whether it’s a static organization or a fluid one, use agility intelligence and emotional intelligence to find those opportunities because they do exist. 

I have not met a single executive assistant in my coaching practice that has not been able to identify opportunities where the executives come back and say, “Yes, thank you for adding value.” At the end of the day, professional development for executive assistants starts within their own company. There’s so much to learn there.

Describe the importance of loyalties for an executive assistant, and how privacy plays into that?

Your loyalties should be as follows:

  1. Your loyalty to the company
  2. Your loyalty to the executive 


We often confuse that because we’re so embedded with the executive. And we forget that their loyalty is to the company and not to us. Executive assistants are paid top dollar because of our confidentiality. The reason we can attract more compensation year over year is that we’ve been brought under the tent, and we’re often privy to information before big things happen that can impact a lot of people’s lives. If a company shuts down, if there’s a merger or an acquisition, we’re usually the first to know.

If you aren’t being compensated for that, it’s a missed opportunity. But part of being paid well is knowing and having the judgment to act, stay silent, add value or speak not just to your executive, but to the rest of the team. That’s your game face. You stay happy-go-lucky in the office even if deep down, there’s a tornado going down. They have no visibility into that, so it’s your responsibility to keep the secret. That’s why we are compensated well. 

Should an EA give their executive a personality test?

Yes. Especially when working with new executives because we don’t know their triggers and we don’t understand how they operate. You’re taking in their cues and that information is not complete if you don’t understand their experiences, their past and other things. You’ll be able to know when they are being triggered. You know that this is not personal, so I think it’s imperative.

But to understand your executive, I must reiterate: The best executive assistants have high agility and high emotional quotients. They can read a situation and respond accordingly. They have to move beyond what they would have done with the executive two years ago, not to do what is habitual, not to do what others would expect, but read the situation and act accordingly based on the room and the situation at hand. Spending the time to read your executive is critical because that is how you better understand the dynamic between them and their direct reports. 


How can hungry executive assistants work better with their non-hungry executives? 

Start talking to their direct reports. Say “Hey, I’d like to sit in on those staff meetings to learn more about the company.” That will loop back to the executive. There’s tremendous opportunity to get involved in different business areas. The question is, are we looking for them and are we open to them?

I have one executive assistant who I mentor who has joined the sales team and the sales calls. She supports the CEO. She said he wasn’t being provided much context or access to deliver her business acumen. I asked her a few questions: 

“Do you know what you’re selling?”

“Yes, we’re selling x.”

“How are you selling? Do you know who your customers are?”

Now she sits in on a sales call once a month. She understands the pain points of customers, understands the pain points of the sales team. Now she can go back to her executive and say, You know I noticed there’s a disconnect between marketing and sales. Our salespeople are saying x, but marketing is saying y. The best part of this approach is that she isn’t doing anything involved with the executive. She’s showing initiative, and she’s showing that she cares about the business. And even if she’s wrong, the fact is she’s practicing, she’s raising her hand, challenging herself to do something that’s outside her comfort zone. That’s what is really important.


Although this transition is uncomfortable and will result in some growing pains, it is also a great opportunity for you to step up as a leader. Show not just what you can do, but how you do it. Be the change you wish to see within your organization. Throughout the transition, there are transferable skills that are used from one executive to the next. Take this time to review and reevaluate your best qualities and ways to mold these qualities into your new position. Finally yet importantly, your worth should grow and prosper knowing you have faced adversity and made it to the other side. Not to mention, you are never alone.

For more tips on navigating challenges in the EA career, join the ELS Forum in a city near you, here. For instant resources, check out our blog, here.