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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Truth 2. Inheriting an Assistant Requires Reeducation

If you inherit an assistant from your predecessor, you have to tread carefully in establishing this important relationship.

It is a mistake to underestimate your assistant or secretary's loyalty to the previous incumbent in your job—and to what he or she believes the company is or should be—as compared to his or her initial loyalty to you. You might think you "butter your assistant's bread," but you are the newcomer. In a sense, you are part of a "hostile takeover," since your assistant probably did not have a say in your taking over the role. If you don't concentrate on the relationship early on, you will be in trouble.

But if you get your assistant on your side, he or she will be your biggest support in a crunch. Your assistant can run interference for you and be in the "end zone" when needed. So, deal with your assistant first and in a different way from how you deal with the rest of your team.

How you deal with your assistant will vary depending on your style, his or her style, and which scenario you're faced with when starting the job. Here are three scenarios that the new relationship may present to you:

  1. When you come into the job, your assistant is already on your side and supports you completely, since "the boss is the boss." Convincing is not the problem; rewarding is the way you need to think. If you don't notice and thank your assistant, he or she may not stay on your side for long. If you don't offer rewards like a bonus, flowers, lunch, working to get rid of jobs the person doesn't want, the relationship is one-sided and thus unstable.
  2. Your assistant is suspicious of you and waits to see who you are and how you treat people. You're being tested. You'll recognize this situation when your assistant's behavior seems inconsistent. Sometimes you'll think your assistant is on your side, and other times you'll wonder why you were left out to dry instead of being given a heads-up on something. You need to reward your assistant when he or she is there for you and especially for giving you warnings and guidance. When your assistant fails to meet your expectations, express your disappoint-ment and ask for a different set of behaviors in the future. The key is that once you have asked for the new behavior, you need to move on and not dwell on it so that you re-educate rather than reject as you keep the air clear.
  3. You find yourself with someone who has a limited view of the job, its relationship to you, the role that he or she has in giving you fair warnings, and the loyalty required in the way you are talked about. In this case, you need to take more serious action. If you have repeatedly asked your assistant to leave 20 minutes between appointments so that you can regroup and prepare, but he or she consistently does not do so, several things may be happening. It might be better if he receives your instructions in writing. She may be pressured from the outside to schedule your time to meet other people's needs. He may only do things the way he's always done them and can only stay in a groove. She may be undermining you. For the last two, you have to deal with facts, not feelings. How frequently and to what degree does your assistant not follow directions? In an objective and unemotional way, you need to lay out the facts as you see them, along with your expectations and requirements. And you need to do this as a time-out rather than in ongoing coaching.

It's vital that you understand what your assistant is doing. Don't just get angry because he or she is not doing things the way you want. The key is to be objective, since most people fluctuate in their skills and commitment. If you find yourself with someone who believes there are areas that are "not my job," you need hard facts about what happened to ensure your objectivity.

The relationship with your assistant is important. Paying attention to that relationship early on increases the effectiveness and efficiency of your working together. If you find that it's not working because you have someone stuck in a groove who can't adjust, you should think about getting someone in the job who can work with you.

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