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What are the main challenges an EA faces? Q&A with Dimitra Zographos – 2014 EA of the Year
Dimitra Zographos has spent 20 years in the field of executive support. In 2014, she was a worthy winner of Page Personnel’s Executive Assistant of the Year award. At the time, Dimitra was senior executive assistant to URS Australia’s Southern regional manager, while also supporting three directors and two senior managers. Now she is the EA to the vice president and regional director APAC, Middle East & India for Western Union Business Solutions, but Dimitra still manages to fit in the time to mentor junior EAs and deliver keynote speeches.
Here are Dimitra’s solutions to some of the main challenges an EA will face:
Challenge 1: Managing a big load/work-life balance
Managing the workload is one of the biggest challenges we face as an EA, particularly if we support more than one executive. Conflicting priorities among executives can make us feel fragmented, especially when last min-ute changes occur. We typically manage not only our own time, but the business schedules for those we support. Frequent interruptions are com-mon and we sometimes struggle with work-life balance. Many executives work long hours and some have the expectation we do the same. In addi-tion, we can struggle to find the time to communicate with our bosses dur-ing their busy schedules.
Ensuring clear, simple procedures are in place makes a world of difference.
Solution: Ensure clear simple, procedures are in place and a good communication strategy
Having a very good relationship with the people we support and excellent organisational skills are very important not only in managing a heavy work-load, but being appreciated that we also have a life outside work. Being able to communicate helps with prioritising work, meet deadlines with minimal stress and our work load not to be underestimated. Ensuring clear, simple procedures are in place makes a world of difference – i.e. being included in an email only when clearly you need to be aware of what is going on or you are expected to action. This is very helpful when you are looking after multiple calendars and diaries. Being given notice, where possible, with travel plans. Being diplomatic and creative with the limited time available, to connect at least once a day, either on the phone, email or in person. This ensures everyone is on the same page and reduces stress and time wasted unnecessarily.
Challenge 2: People Issues – dealing with difficult people
The EA is the person to whom managers, employees, vendors, clients, board members and visitors come to when they need something. In some cases, we have to deal with people who are difficult, have a bad attitude, or those who see us as a subordinate whom they can bully. We must be able to assess difficult situations, and then communicate assertively and clearly, while maintaining confidentiality and good working relationships.
Solution: Be humble, empathise and listen
The most important thing to remember when dealing with difficult people is to humble oneself, empathise and listen carefully. You are then making the other person feel comfortable and they are less likely to be defensive. It is useful to include an empathetic response by including ourselves in the picture. Putting ourselves in their shoes helps to build rapport, open the communication channels and work a way forward.
Challenge 3: Dealing with ambiguity
Management should be able to communicate, bring clarity to their team and make decisions on the best available information, however somehow this does not always happen and we often have to deal with ambiguity. Be-ing able to effectively deal with this ambiguity is very important in our roles to ensure things run as smoothly as possible on a daily basis. We effectively have to cope with change; wear different hats quickly and comfortably; de-cide and act without having the total picture and confidently handle risk and uncertainty.
Solution: Develop and maintain positive workplace relationships
Having a very good relationship and rapport, as much as possible with all stakeholders; your boss, chairman, board, your boss’s direct reports, other EAs and anyone else you can think of that is part of your professional world. This enables us to have access to a whole lot of information from various sources and given most of our roles are the anchor to most senior executives we are in a position to use the information effectively to minimise ambiguity, not only for ourselves, our bosses and the wider circle of people we work with.
Now you’ve read Dimitra’s advice on overcoming the three biggest challenges faced by an EA, do you have anything else to add? Let us know in the comments box below. If you’re looking for your next executive assistant role, browse our current jobs.
As an EA you will face many challenges in your career, keep Dimitra’s advice in mind when facing these three challenges:
- Managing a big load/work-life balance – Ensure clear simple, procedures are in place and a good communication strategy
- People issues, dealing with difficult people – Be humble, empathise and listen
- Dealing with ambiguity – Develop and maintain positive workplace relationships