EPISODE 51 — Jan Jones — The CEO’s Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness
As the executive assistant to titans like Tony Robbins, Jan Jones was bringing disruptive innovation to the role long before the term came into use. She championed the EA profession’s integrity with 20+ years of proven expertise and paved her way to success with her fearless writing, speaking, and consulting.
Now, renowned author of The CEO’s Secret Weapon, speaker, and President at Jan Jones Worldwide Speakers Bureau, Jan advocates for the key role a high performing executive assistant plays in the business world.
In this episode, she’ll share:
- How you can leverage an executive assistant to free up your time and operate at your highest level.
- The essential traits of a great executive assistant and the key to finding the best one for you.
- What it takes to empower your EA to overcome any barrier that stands in your way.
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4:28 – An executive assistant should be seen as a business partner. “When I say business partner, I don’t want to confuse that with the legal term business partner, but working in partnership. So we’re working in partnership with each other. We’re in this together and that’s what I’m referring to when I talk about a business partner. A lot of the executives that I interview talk about their assistant as being their business partner — but they actually call them their executive assistant, they don’t call them a business partner as their official title. This essentially means somebody who is working side-by-side with you, somebody who’s standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you, somebody who’s there to take away from you anything and everything that is not a good use of your time… These are people who are self starters. These are people who understand the big picture of the business, and they work toward that. They understand your goals, they understand their objectives, and everything that they do then is supporting you to fulfill that.”
6:07 – Anticipation is the most valuable trait. “When I was researching my book, when I was interviewing executives and assistants, I asked all of them, ‘What are some of the characteristics that you think are absolutely vital for the assistant role?’ and bar none, everybody came up with this anticipation as the number one thing. This is somebody who is able to look ahead, to see what’s coming, to head off disasters for you, somebody who makes certain that you are primed and well ahead of the game — whether it’s going on an international trip, whether it’s going into a meeting — that you have every single thing that you need.”
7:08 – Resourcefulness is required. “The thing that I think is equal first with anticipation is being resourceful. You can look ahead, you can see ahead all you want. But if you don’t know how to take action, if you don’t know what to do to avert a crisis, if you don’t know who to call on when you need help with something, there’s no point in being able to anticipate. So a resourceful assistant, to me, is worth their weight in gold, because they are going to be able to make all kinds of things happen for you that you don’t even know you need half the time.”
7:39 – They’ll always find a way. “I’ll give you an example; I never realized this about myself, actually, in terms of resourcefulness. I was studying Italian, and I went to class. I hadn’t been to class the previous day, and the next day when I went to class, the teacher was reviewing the homework. And I guess she’d forgotten I hadn’t been there the day before, so she asked me a question about the homework. I didn’t know the answer, but I answered her anyway. And she turned to the class and she said, ‘Very good. She didn’t have what she needed, so she used what she had.’ To me, that’s the ultimate explanation of somebody who’s resourceful. They don’t have what they need, so they use what they have. They know how to get it done, they know how to go about making things happen, they don’t throw up their hands and say, ‘I don’t know how to do it.’ They always, always find a way. That’s the kind of assistant you want — somebody who will always find a way for you to make things happen, get things done.”
9:34 – Maximizing your time. “My job is to give back time to my executive, so whatever I need to do to make that happen, is what I’m going to do. I have no labels on that, as far as menial, or this, or that. That’s nonsense. Because my role is to make certain that my executives are making the very best use of their time.”
13:30 – An Executive Assistant is the ultimate PR person. “Our Public Relations Officer used to tell me I was our company’s best foot forward. So this is somebody who is always making the executive look good. This is somebody who is reflecting your values. They’re service oriented, so when somebody is calling into the company, you take immaculate care of them. This is something I’ll say about Tony Robbins, as he was fanatical about making certain that we took very, very good care of people. No treating them shoddily, no making them feel like they’re a nuisance. You took your time with those people, you addressed their needs, you helped them out, you did your very, very best for them. These are the kinds of things that a PR person will do. And as I say, sometimes better than a PR person you’re actually paying to do the job. They are absolutely your face and your voice to the world. They are your right arm, they are, in my book, I said they are a seamless extension of you, no separation between the two.”
14:40 – The obstacle for so many. “I think for executives who’ve never had an assistant, there’s something of a fear factor in terms of ‘How do I go about doing this even? How do I find this person? What am I looking for?’ If you have an HR department — even HR sometimes — they don’t really understand the very, very specific and particular nature of the executive assistant partnership. It’s quite daunting sometimes to be able to do this, so you need to get over that. You need to take a look and see you’re being buried with work, you’re exhausted. You don’t have time with your friends or family, you don’t have time for the things that you want to do that your business should be giving you more freedom to do — except you’re becoming a slave to your business.”
15:33 – Recognize that you need help. “When you realize that you’re doing it, doing it, doing it, at some point you’re gonna have to wake up and say, ‘Look, I really need somebody to help me here.’ Once you come to that realization that you need help, then you need to figure out: this is about you. ‘What do I need? What do I want?’ You start making a wish list. Dream as big as you possibly can — you can pare it down as reality starts to set in — but start off by making a list as big and as broad as you want. This is what I’m looking for, this is the kind of person I want by my side.”
17:13 – What is it that you really need? “Now, as far as the business priorities, you have to again be discerning about what it is that you truly need. What are the must-haves? What are the nice-to-haves? Start making those lists, and then take a look at the list and say, ‘Well, you know, I can live with that, or I can live without that, but no I really got to have this.’ Or if you’ve got somebody who you’ve been working with for a while, either an assistant or somebody in the organization who knows you very, very well ask them, ‘Hey, what kind of personality am I? Am I a real grouch first thing in the morning? Am I hard to get along with? Do I get irritated when I want something and it’s not there immediately?’ You want to see from somebody else’s outside perspective.”
18:16 – Set clear expectations from the start. “Be honest, be truthful, be open — so that, when you start working with this person, you both know the expectations. Expectations should be laid out in the interview. ‘This is what I’m expecting from you. This is what I want. This is the criteria. This is how I like to work.’ And then ask the assistant, ‘What about you? Are you a morning person? Are you detail-oriented? Are you big picture? Are you going to be okay with me asking you to pick up my daughter at three o’clock because I’m in a meeting, or you are you going to have a fit about that and run to HR and say ‘This is not my job?’”
18:51 – Getting it done. “I’ll tell you that for true professional executive assistants who are career assistants, there isn’t a whole lot that they would say ‘this is not my job.’ To me, I always say that, short of committing grand larceny or murder, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot that I wouldn’t do for my executive.”
22:13 – Ask the right question. “‘What is an example of how you anticipated, looked ahead, how you made certain that your executive was prepared for a certain eventuality?’ Or, ‘Tell me a time when you had to…’ or something like that. Whatever the trait that you’re looking for is, ask them to give you examples of that. And I’ll tell you something. If an executive assistant has done something, you can’t shut them up — they will tell you, and tell you, and tell you, and tell you, and it’ll take 20 minutes for them to answer a simple question.”
29:19 – Your job is to grow the business. “Your job is to be the revenue generator. Your job is to bring in the new customers, the new clients, to grow your business.”
30:21 – Work at your pay level. “It’s not worth your time to sit there if you’re going to take a trip and say, ‘I’m going to do my own travel planning’ or ‘I’m going to set up my own meetings and make my own appointments.’ This doesn’t make any sense. You need to be letting somebody who is closer to their pay level do these kinds of tasks. If you’re spending your time doing things that are worth $25, how are you going to do jobs that you should be doing that are billable at a much higher rate than that? You’re just wasting your time, and I’m sure your clients are not going to be happy knowing that they’re paying you all kinds of money for you to be doing $25/hour jobs.”
31:25 – Focusing on the most profitable use of your time. “You handle email the same way you would handle hard copies and mail coming in through UPS, or FedEx, or whatever. If a FedEx envelope came in, I wouldn’t give it to my executive and say, ‘Here, open it up and do whatever it is you do.’ I would open up that envelope, I would take a look at it, see what’s in there. If I could action it, I would action it. If there were things my executive had to action, I would highlight them or put a note next to that action item for them to take charge with it. It’s the same way that I would handle email. I don’t know why people treat email like it’s some very, very private thing. If you’ve got private stuff coming over email, then have it go to a separate address — don’t have it going to your business address.”
34:28 – The essential question. “You don’t want to have an assistant who will say ‘I don’t know. I don’t know, he didn’t tell me.’ Assistants will say this. I remember my very first job. I was called a ‘Girl Friday’. I was 20 years old. I did every administrative thing in that company. I worked for two partners. It was in insurance brokerage. People would call in, I would take a message. One day, my boss said to me, ‘What did he want?’ And I said, ‘He didn’t say.’ He said, ‘Well, did you ask?’ And I went, ‘Ah, did I ask? No, I didn’t ask.’ But that was the last time I didn’t ask. I ask ‘What is the purpose of this call?’”
36:29 – The #1 problem is lack of communication. “Communication is absolutely vital and fundamental between the executive and the assistant. You’ve got to keep them in the loop, you’ve got to let them know what’s going on so that they can help you. Otherwise, they’re just going to be sitting there, and you’re going to be wasting money. It’s not going to be a good investment for you to hire an assistant who can’t do their job because you’re not handing over to them. You’ve got to give them the opportunity to show you what they can do so you can be focusing on the things that only you can do. That’s the best use of your time, that’s the best use of the assistant’s time.”
40:14 – Providing the most value. “It depends on whether what you’re asking to do is what the executive believes they need from you. For example, in the early days of when PowerPoint became a thing, all the assistants were going for PowerPoint training. I said to my CEO, ‘Look, they’re all going for PowerPoint training, how come I’m not going?’ And he pointed to my assistant and he said, ‘Let her go for PowerPoint training, I need you for this.’ And he pointed to his head. ‘I need you for the way you think. I don’t need you sitting in front of a computer making pretty PowerPoints. That’s not your highest and best value to me. So no, I’m not gonna send you off right now to go and spend the day learning PowerPoint, I don’t need it from you – let your assistant do it.’”
45:31 – If you don’t have an assistant, you are the assistant. “At some point, you’re going to have to scale the business and you’re not going to be able to continue to have your finger in every pie. You’re going to have to start delegating to somebody and find somebody who you feel comfortable delegating to… If you’re bringing in an assistant, then respect them and value them. Let them show you what they can do — you’ll be very, very pleasantly surprised a lot of the time. And once you start seeing what they can do, and once you start scaling your business, and once your time is freed up to do the kinds of things that only you can do in your business, particularly around revenue generation, you’re going to — at the next level — say, ‘You know what, I don’t know how I can do that without an assistant.’ And you’re going to start finding more and more things that you can turn over to them so they can free up your time — not only so you can work more, but so that you can have time with your family and you can take a vacation… Your assistant is going to give you more life. Take the opportunity.”
47:23 – What does being a game changer mean to you? “Being a game changer is performing in a role, or creating a product, or a service that takes it to a whole different unimaginable level…This is what game changing is; people can’t fathom how you did it. Or people say, ‘You’ve raised the bar to such an extent that the person who follows you, heaven help them… You come up with creative ways to make things happen. You think along lines that nobody could have imagined.’ Sometimes just a small shift in things — it takes things to a whole different level.”
EPISODE RESOURCES & REFERENCES
The E Myth
Michael E. Gerber
The CEO’s Secret Weapon
The Speakers Bureau
New York Times Best Sellers List
Wall Street Journal Best Sellers List