Episode: Top 10 Tips for Leveraging an Executive Assistant

Larry Wilson: Hi, I’m Larry Wilson, and welcome to this bonus episode of Lead to Win. Today, we’re going to answer your most pressing questions about what Michael calls the most important hire you’ll ever make. That’s an executive assistant. I’m joined today by two bona fide experts on the subject. One is our own Suzie Barbour, senior director of operations here at Michael Hyatt & Company, and the other is Tricia Sciortino, chief executive officer at BELAY. Welcome to both of you.

Suzie Barbour: Hey, Larry. Good to be here today.

Tricia Sciortino: Hi. Thank you, Larry.

Larry: Before we’re done with this episode today, we want you to have all the confidence and the tools you’re going to need to make that very first hire of an executive assistant or, if you’re already working with an EA, maybe to leverage that relationship a little more effectively. In fact, we’re going to close out the show with a list of Tricia and Suzie’s top 10 tips for working with an EA.

Before that, we’re going to get to some questions we commonly hear about working with an executive assistant. So, let’s dive right in. There’s kind of something interesting here, Suzie, to start out with. You and Tricia kind of have a long history together, even though you now work for different organizations, and that kind of revolves around Michael Hyatt.

Suzie: We do, Larry. We actually have a fun story of how we connected. I had left my career as an executive assistant, where I ran teams of high-level executive assistants who were supporting US presidents, celebrities, NFL players, some big names. I left because of burnout and just realizing that I never thought I could have a work-life balance in this industry. I was home with my daughter. I had just become a parent and left my career, and I just felt like I needed to do something that didn’t have to do with diapers, which anybody who has ever been in the newborn phase will understand.

So I started looking around for work-from-home opportunities, and I found BELAY, who Tricia is the CEO of, and they paired me… I started working just five hours a week, and they paired me with a guy named Michael Hyatt. Tricia and I were actually both Michael’s assistants. He had two of us in the beginning when he started Michael Hyatt & Company. He, too, had walked away from corporate burnout and was on this mission to have what we call the double win: succeeding at life and also at work.

So that’s how I met Tricia, and all of these years later, Michael Hyatt & Company has grown so much and BELAY has grown so much, providing assistants to leaders all around the world, and Tricia runs BELAY. So that’s how we met, how we connected, and how we’re here talking about Michael’s new book today, Larry.

Larry: Yeah, that’s right. Your World-Class Assistant: Hiring, Training, and Leveraging an Executive Assistant was released in October, and it’s a fantastic book filled with practical information, just the information you need, the tips you need, the inside track on how to find, hire, and onboard the person who is going to make your life so much easier, and that’s really what we want to get into today. Let me turn to Tricia. I feel like we don’t have Michael on the podcast today, so, Tricia, we can speak freely. What is it really like to work with Michael Hyatt?

Tricia: That is a great question, Larry. Michael and his team, Suzie included on the call, have truly been amazing leaders to work with at so many different levels. I remember, Suzie, meeting you so many years ago when you first joined BELAY and knowing that you were going to go way farther than we could ever take you. You just brought so much expertise to the virtual assistant realm, and it was amazing to work with you at that time. I knew you supporting Michael with me at that time was going to be a great experience for Michael, and I feel like we were a pretty good team, Suzie.

Suzie: We were. I don’t feel like there has ever been a better team, Tricia. We should get awards.

Larry: I have a list of some of the most common questions we hear about this. It’s the kind of thing, as you both know, that people get a little skittish about making that first hire. So, here are some of the questions people have a little bit of a hard time getting over. Let’s see if you can help our listeners get over the hump here on hiring an EA or working with an EA. Maybe the most common question is this: “How do I know when it’s time to hire an executive assistant?”

Suzie: I think that’s a great question, Larry. What I’ll say (and, Tricia, you can let me know how you feel about this)… I always like to say that if you have even thought about it, you probably needed to do it at least a year ago. You’re probably behind the curve. Michael would attest to this. I really believe executive assistants probably make the world go around, let’s be honest, but they really are the secret weapon and the thing that differentiates really successful leaders from other leaders who are maybe not as successful, because they really help you elevate your game.

So, whether you have an executive assistant and you’re not optimizing that relationship and you’d like to do more with that or you’re just thinking about getting one, it’s so important to do it and to do it right, but nobody is teaching this, Larry. And, Tricia, you would probably say “Amen” to that. There are not classes in college that say “How do leaders find, hire, and work with executive assistants?”

But usually, at some point on a leadership journey, you’re going to run out of capacity, and you’re going to need help, and this is what’s going to take you to the next level. So, yeah, bottom line: you need an EA. If you’ve thought about it, you needed one a long time ago. It’s time to just make the jump and try it. What’s the worst that can happen?

Tricia: Yes. I would absolutely, 100 percent agree, Suzie. At BELAY, we’ve actually practiced, our team ourselves and our leadership… It’s actually the first hire every leader has here at BELAY. Many, many years ago, when I was first promoted to a director role, the first thing I did was get a part-time executive assistant before the need even arose.

There is absolutely administrative work that every leader has to do, even at the very beginning of that role or that level of leadership, that if you could off-load even the smallest amount of administrative work and spend those few hours a week focused on growing the business, sales, marketing, the things that generate growth and not the things that take away that are minutiae and administrative, you are growing yourself, growing your capacity, and growing your organization. So we absolutely believe it should be one of the first hires you make as a leader.

Larry: Tricia, you bring me to the second question I wanted to ask the both of you, because it’s one that a lot of leaders ask. I hear it all the time. You said you hired even before the need was fully apparent to you, but a lot of people think, “What would I have an EA do? I don’t think I could keep somebody busy for 40 hours a week or even 20 hours a week or 10 hours a week.” How do you answer that objection, that “I don’t have enough work for somebody”?

Tricia: There are a couple of things I would recommend somebody go through at that time. There is absolutely administrative work that every leader is working on. One of the things we would recommend is that somebody walk through a delegation matrix exercise to show yourself. We also recommend even doing a time study.

Even as a leader, if you monitored what you spent your time on every day, it is pretty much guaranteed you will find many hours in a week that you are spending on administrative tasks that somebody else could do for you. Even if you’re in a start-up mode or at a lower level management experience level, you will find the opportunity for there to be things to off-load to somebody else. Whether it’s administrative work you don’t like to do or the work you’re not good at, it’s there.

Larry: You used a term just a minute ago I want you to go back and define a little bit more: a delegation matrix. Can you say a little bit more about what that is?

Tricia: Yeah, absolutely. It’s an exercise you walk through where you run through the given responsibilities or tasks you are working on in any given day, week, or month, and you truly list out all of the responsibilities and things you spend time on. You can put them in a grid. BELAY actually has a matrix we use to do this.

You put them in a grid, and you start putting them into buckets of the things you should do, things somebody else can do, things that are administrative, and so on and so forth. What you do is you wind up recognizing what it is you’re spending time on that you really shouldn’t as a leader. That’s a great place to start, when you start looking at the things you might off-load or get an executive assistant to help you with.

Larry: Tricia, thanks for clarifying that. I would love to see us make that tool available to our listeners. Could we put a link in the show notes for this episode to that delegation matrix from BELAY?

Tricia: Absolutely. Please do. It’s an excellent, excellent resource. We use it internally for our team, and we recommend it for our clients and those looking for a virtual executive assistant to get them started. So, happy to give it.

Larry: Here’s a quick question for both of you, and I don’t know if you have this at the top of your minds or not or if it’s anything you’ve actually studied, but how many hours a week do you think a part-time, say, a half-time EA would save an executive?

Suzie: Oh, wow. I mean, I would say at least 10 hours. At least. I think I’ve seen it be more. You don’t realize sometimes how much time you’re spending on administrative work. Here at Michael Hyatt & Company, we actually don’t require our EAs to only focus on tasks for the business. That means our executives can also ask for help with administrative tasks in their personal life, like sending flowers to their spouse or getting their kids’ soccer games on a calendar or ordering grocery delivery or planning a birthday party.

If you add up all of the things you do personally that are administrative and all of the things you do professionally that are administrative, there are probably more than you realize that are taking your focus away from your most important, high-leverage contribution to your business. So if you get an EA, even part-time, who is just rocking it out and taking over some of those tasks, it’s going to save you an immense amount of time and allow you to focus on the things that really move the needle, that make you more profit, that bring you to life, which is so important in your business.

Tricia: I agree. Ideally, your executive assistant is way better at the administrative work you’re doing as a leader, so their productivity will exceed yours. If there’s a task that maybe takes you an hour, maybe they can do it in 30 to 40 minutes. You start replicating that over time, and what they’re able to give you back is more than even the hours they’ve worked. We see it time and time again, where somebody might work with an assistant for 10 hours a week, but what they get back is 15.

Larry: Yeah. You really gain leverage then. It’s not just that it takes an hour off your plate, but you benefit by the delegation math, as we sometimes call it, where the person you hire not only maybe costs less than you do but is able to work faster than you can, so it’s really a compounding effect.

Suzie: If you think about something like email management or calendar management, some of these administrative tasks you’re doing on a regular basis… If you do that delegation math and figure out how much your hourly rate is, as a leader, and then you think about the fact that you’re not that great, probably, at calendar management or email management (most leaders are not), and you have executive assistants out here who are experts at this work and love this work, and you realize how much you are paying yourself and taking yourself away from profitability and high-leverage activities in your business to manage your calendar… As soon as you do that math, it makes total sense to take the leap and get an EA.

Tricia: Yes. It makes it way easier to take that leap once you actually start plugging in some numbers. I think exactly what you said, Suzie, is we talk to leaders every day who doubt whether or not they should hire a VA, is to do that exact ratio analysis as to what you pay yourself or what your worth is to the organization per hour versus what you can hire an assistant for, and then knowing they’re going to be way more productive to you. It is an absolutely positive ROI hire.

Larry: Well, if I’m going to look for somebody as an entrepreneur, a solopreneur, an executive, a business owner who can do the things I’m no good at, then what are the traits or the competencies I really need to be looking for in an executive assistant?

Suzie: That’s a great question, Larry. Well, first, I want to shout-out to BELAY, Tricia, and your team, because they are really great. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend starting with BELAY, because they are really great at finding EAs who have the right kinds of characteristics for your business, and they can match you with someone. That’s a great way to take the guesswork out of it, but I will say, I have a few key characteristics I look for when I’m hiring an executive assistant, and I know BELAY looks for these as well.

The most important thing, to me, is what I like to call servant-hearted leadership. That’s a little bit of a churchy term, but what I mean by that is I’m looking for an executive assistant who has the confidence to jump in for their executive and tackle a big project or run a meeting on behalf of their executive when the executive can’t be there but who also has this heart for service; who doesn’t mind booking a play date for their executive’s children or grabbing coffee really quickly or picking up dry cleaning if they’re in person (obviously, some EAs are virtual) or arranging something like that, because you need both.

That’s what creates transformation: when you have support in both areas. So, someone who is a go-getter and confident and willing to attack big projects, if need be, and create new systems and processes but who also is totally here and loves and enjoys some of that administrative work.

Tricia: Yep, absolutely agree, Suzie. I would even say, to get down to a tactical characteristic competency level, some of the things we look for, or I look for, in virtual assistants are the simple one-liners, like very responsive, super detail-oriented, proactive, and one that might surprise people is, to Suzie’s point, someone who’s decisive and is comfortable leading. Ideally, as a leader, you get the most out of your virtual assistant if they are comfortable leading things without you.

The more you can delegate to them to own the whole process of something and the less you have to be involved, the more you’re freed up to lead. So, looking for an executive assistant who can make decisions, can lead through things is important, as well as some of the common things you would imagine for an assistant, like being detail-oriented, being an excellent written and verbal communicator, since they are representing you, and being able to proactively handle whatever it is you send their way.

Larry: I would like to come up with a list of top tips for executives working with an EA. Maybe between the two of you, could we come up with a list of top 5 or maybe top 10 tips for getting the most from an EA relationship? What do you think?

Tricia: Yes, let’s do it.

Suzie: I’m game. Sure.

Larry: Okay. Tricia, what do you think? Top tip.

Tricia: Okay. Top tip #1: over-communicate.

Suzie: Yes.

Tricia: Meet with them. Communicate with your assistant. Be responsive. Answer the emails. If you think you said it enough, you probably didn’t. Say it again. Connection in this very intimate relationship is important. You will get the most out of your VA if you have a great communicative relationship.

Larry: Suzie, top tip, and then we’ll go back and forth. This will be the battle of the tips.

Suzie: Tricia, you know I love you, but I could probably top your top tip, if I could say that. I would actually say my top tip would be get an EA, first and foremost, people. Okay? You have to start there. Stop sitting around wondering if you should or how you’re going to make this happen. First, get an executive assistant, and then, yes, over-communicate, like Tricia said. That’s so important.

Then I would say, empower your executive assistant with information from the very beginning. They need access to your email. They need access to your calendar. They need to know what foods you’re allergic to so they can order you lunch and anticipate needs. Just give them the information, even if you think it’s overload. Use that template we provide in the book. Get the book. Use that template, and just give them as much information as possible in the beginning so you don’t get bogged down in trying to orchestrate all of that.

Larry: So, top tip #1 from Tricia: over-communicate. From Suzie: get an EA, and another tip from Suzie: empower your EA with information from the very beginning. Tricia, back to you.

Tricia: Set clear expectations and goals for your assistant. Whether it’s deliverables, due dates, deadlines, the way with which you’re communicating information, make sure you’re thorough and they have everything they need to be armed to be successful in their role.

Larry: Awesome. Suzie?

Suzie: This kind of goes with over-communicate, but I think it’s more specific than that. Be highly responsive to your executive assistant. Don’t worry about the rest of the people in your inbox. Your EA will help you with that and tell you which ones you need to actually answer and solve that overwhelm, but you have to answer them. So, make space to meet with them, answer their text messages, answer their Slack messages, answer their phone calls, and just make sure you respond to their questions so they can get their work done.

Larry: Let’s summarize these again, and we’ll add to it: over-communicate, get an EA, empower with information from the very start, set clear expectations and goals, and be highly responsive. By the way, if you’re driving, please don’t try to make notes of these. We’ll put the list of top tips in the show notes for the episode. Tricia, any more top tips?

Tricia: Yes. I would say, fill the gap with trust. Nobody is perfect. People make mistakes. I made a couple of really doozy mistakes when I was Mike’s VA, and he was humble and understanding and very gracious. So I say, as any leader working with an assistant, fill the gaps with trust. Be humble. Know that people aren’t perfect and there will be mistakes that are made, and that’s okay.

Larry: Nice. Fill the gaps with trust. I like it. Suzie, more top tips?

Suzie: This is so fun, by the way. I would say, listen to your executive assistant, especially when they challenge you on something. As leaders, that is the time to be quiet and to hear what they have to say and to really take their feedback into account. When an executive assistant is coming to the table with their leadership and their expertise, and they’re saying, “Hey, you cannot take on any more meetings for the next two weeks or you are going to burn out,” you have to listen to them.

When they say, “Hey, we’re protecting this time for a vacation; you need it,” you have to listen to them. Just make sure when they say, “I can take that job and that project off your plate. I can handle it. Give it to me,” listen to them, and trust them when they say they can do something or when they say that you need to do something.

Larry: Okay. Top tip #7, then, is listen when your EA challenges you. Tricia, more to add?

Tricia: Yes. Get to know your EA. So, know their goals. Know their hobbies. Know their family. Know what drives them, what incentivizes them. Know how they like to be encouraged. Know their love language. Know their Enneagram personality, whatever that may be for you and your organization, but I would say, know your EA, know what drives and incentivizes them, and have a relationship with them.

Larry: So, top tip #8 is get to know your EA. Suzie, do you have a #9 tip for us?

Suzie: Larry, of course I do. I’m here all day, guys. I’m going to tag on to what Tricia said for the eighth tip about getting to know them. I think showing appreciation is really important. Being a good leader to your team means showing appreciation. Your executive assistant can help you remember everybody else’s birthdays, but you should remember your executive assistant’s birthday, for example.

When they’ve put in extra hours or really crushed it on a project and they’re doing all this stuff to so humbly serve and help you reach your goals, it’s important to say thank you. It’s important to send them a Starbucks gift card. It doesn’t have to be a lot or extravagant. Sometimes it could. Like, a gift card for a massage goes a long way, guys. I’m just saying, show appreciation. Be grateful, just like you would for other members of your team. You want to be a good leader and just say thank you when someone is doing a great job for you.

Larry: So, show appreciation is our tip #9. Let’s go back to Tricia for our tenth tip.

Tricia: Okay. Tenth tip. I know we touched on this a little bit. I’m going to say, give ownership. Let them run with certain parts of your life and your responsibilities that you know they can handle. Let them run a meeting. Let them own a project. Let them own an event planning meeting. Give them the keys they need to own things for you.

Suzie: Yes. Amen, Tricia. I’m not going to sing, because I value our listeners and their ears and I don’t want to hurt their ears, but there is a song in the Frozen movie, if you’ve never heard it, guys, called “Let It Go,” so when you’re hesitating…

Larry: Suzie, everybody has heard that song.

Suzie: If you can’t give control of your calendar away… “How can I really get rid of my email?” Listen. I’ve been there. I was an EA for years, and I was like, “Why do people have such a hard time delegating stuff?” Then when I had an EA, I was like, “Can I really give away my email?” Yes. Let it go, and give ownership. Yeah, that song is very motivating if you think about it in that context.

Tricia: Yes. I could not agree more. We find that is really a struggle. I’m a recovering control freak as well. Even as a leader, with my first assistant many years ago, I had a really hard time letting some stuff go. I still have to practice it today. I could not agree more. Let it go.

Larry: Well, let’s recap our list of tips. Again, we’ll put these in the show notes for you. I’m going to reorder them, because I do think our #2 tip comes first.

  1. Get an EA.
  2. Overcommunicate.
  3. Empower with information from the very start.
  4. Set clear expectations and goals.
  5. Be highly responsive.
  6. Fill the gap with trust.
  7. Listen when your EA challenges you.
  8. Get to know your EA.
  9. Show appreciation.
  10. Give ownership.

Well, thanks so much for that really helpful list and for, I hope, giving our listeners what they need to get over that really scary decision to make the most important hire they’ll ever make, which is an executive assistant. Suzie, Tricia, final thoughts for our listeners today?

Suzie: I would just say, it’s okay if you are kind of skeptical about this, but push through that skepticism and jump in and get an executive assistant if you are a leader. It is going to change the game in your business, and it’s going to let you do more of what you love. You’re going to make more money. You’re going to have more time. You’re going to get closer to achieving that double win of succeeding at life and at work. So, yeah, get an executive assistant. Talk to BELAY. They’re a great place to start. And if you haven’t gotten it yet, grab Michael’s new book, Your World-Class Assistant, and learn all about how to do this right from the start.

Larry: Tricia, final thoughts?

Tricia: I would completely agree with Suzie. I think that getting an assistant is a critical hire. Michael’s book is a great guide on how to get started. BELAY is here to help you get started if you need us. Your assistant will truly give you the capacity to focus on the things you should be focusing on, which is not email, calendar, and administrative tasks.

Larry: Suzie Barbour and Tricia Sciortino, thank you for being with us today here on this bonus episode of Lead to Win.

Suzie: Thank you, Larry, for inviting us. This was so much fun.

Tricia: Thank you, Michael Hyatt & Company, for having me as a guest. I really enjoyed this time today.

Larry: And thank you all for joining us as listeners. Be sure to check out the show notes for the list of resources that were mentioned today. That’s at Join us right back here next week when Michael and Megan will have a brand-new episode. Until then, lead to win.