Why Do So Many Executives Work Without Assistants?

Sometimes, there shows a helping hand where you don\'t expect it - be grateful

Why do so many executives work without assistants?  Years ago, it was common for all executives to have a dedicated executive assistant to help them with scheduling, typing, travel arrangements and other tasks.  That enabled the executive to focus on the most important things, such as creating and executing company strategy.

During the economic downturn a few years ago, overhead cuts were made, and many administrative positions were eliminated.   Additionally, automation and computer literacy increased, with many executives doing much of their work from their phone or tablet.  As a result, fewer executives have assistants.

Now that the economy has improved, and business is on an upswing, why are people still not utilizing executive assistants?  When I ask that question, I am often told things such as, “It’s easier and faster to do everything myself.”  Or, “That is a luxury I can’t afford right now.”

Yet I see those same executives working very long hours and still not getting important things done.  They are not taking the time to think strategically because they are too busy doing all of the small stuff.  Their company likely will not be able to grow as efficiently and effectively because they have become the bottleneck for their business.  If they are already working long hours, they cannot take on any additional work.  Most importantly, they may be missing major market shifts that could either provide terrific opportunities or significant risks to their business.

My Vistage members who have hired executive assistants have been able to effectively train and delegate much of the busywork they were previously handling themselves.  Trained administrative personnel can often perform those same tasks in less time and with fewer mistakes.   They can create efficient systems and processes, streamlining operations, and reducing wasted time within the organization.  This increased efficiency often more than covers the cost of the added overhead.

Those executives now have time in their day to step back and evaluate market trends, and create and execute the appropriate strategies for their business.  Most importantly, they can scale their business and grow at a much more rapid pace than ever before, allowing the executive to achieve their dreams.


Imperfect action beats perfect inaction every time

Have you ever noticed that there are some tasks on your to-do list have been there for a while?  If you’re like most people, it’s easy to see an item on the list and put it off for another day.  Then when that day comes along, you’ll move the task out even further.  As time goes by, you may realize that you have carried it on your list for several weeks.  Sometimes it’s a difficult conversation that you are procrastinating.  Other times it is related to doing paperwork or getting organized or other non-rewarding tasks.

You may also notice that there are other things that you love to do that never get carried over the next day’s to-do list.  As a matter of fact, I suspect that sometimes you actually complete them earlier than necessary.  Why do we delay doing some things and tackle others immediately?

This often happens because we have a to-do list that reflects unrealistic expectations of what can get done in a normal day.  If we lived on a deserted island with no phone or email, we might be able to accomplish the list in a day.  But we live in a world of frequent interruptions, and should allow cushion in our schedule to accommodate those interruptions.  However even if we were able to get through everything on our list, there are some things we would choose to do last because they are difficult, stressful, or are just plain boring!

If you recognize that you are a procrastinator, what can you do?  Here are a number of suggestions that have worked for me over the years:

  1. Delegate those tasks to someone who works for me
  2. Outsource the tasks to a company or person who does it well
  3. Barter with someone to trade tasks we don’t like to do. For example, “I will set up your spreadsheet if you set up my filing system.”
  4. Create a reward system: “If I get this task done on time the first day, I will reward myself with a chai tea latte.”
  5. Do the undesirable first – before working on something I enjoy
  6. Schedule a regular time in my calendar in which to accomplish those tasks.

Years ago, I used to let my office get messy with piles of paperwork and work that was partially done.  I could not seem to get to the task of cleaning and organizing during the work day.  Even if I stayed late on most weeknights, others were working late and interrupted me.  I learned that everyone left at 5pm on Friday, and I had a nice, quiet environment in which to roll up my sleeves and get this done.  I also could go home over the weekend without the nagging feeling of piles and a messy desk awaiting me on Monday.  Then when I arrived at work on Monday, I could walk in and feel relaxed because I had a clean desk to start my week.  It really reduced stress in many other ways – I was more efficient and could find information more quickly during the week, so I could get things done more quickly.

At another company, I used to arrive 1.5 hours before everyone else, and shut my door, turn off the email sound and my phone, and tackle the most important priority for the day.  It was amazing how much I could get done in that 90 minutes of uninterrupted, focused time.  The same thing can occur if you work from home for a morning each week.

I have come to love the feeling of getting things done right away.  I have learned that it’s much easier to block out time in my calendar to get things done than to deal with the subtle stress of carrying things over on a to-do list.  I have created a follow up system to easily track the things I am waiting on from others.  And I now have much more realistic expectations of what I can accomplish in a day.  Now it’s time for that chai tea latte…

Stretch Goals


Miss Charley Leaping for Treats

What are your stretch goals for 2016? Make sure they are “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented, and Time-Specific. Then write them down, share them with others, and look at them daily or weekly.  If your goals can be broken down into milestones and you can establish target dates for those milestones, you have just increased your chance of success.

Along the way, if you are not achieving a particular goal, figure out why. Is it a limiting belief that is holding you back? If so, work on overcoming that limiting belief. Is it procrastination? Then make a point to tackle that goal first thing in the morning before doing anything else. Or establish mini-rewards for achieving milestones toward that goal. For example, once I have achieved “X” today, I’ll take a break and walk around the office, or get a latte, or go out to lunch today rather than eating at my desk.

If you are particularly challenged with a goal and you can’t figure out a strategy to overcome a roadblock, ask for help. Others might be able to brainstorm alternative approaches that would enable you to achieve that goal.

Lastly, sometimes outside forces make a goal no longer relevant or attainable. If you are a taxi company and your original goal was to continue to grow your business as you have done in the past, and now Uber has come into your area, your original strategy may not be working. Rather than focusing on your goal of doing more of what you did in the past, it’s likely you will need to revise your strategy to compete with Uber. If goals become impossible due to external factors, it’s fine to replace them with other goals that will help you to achieve your long-term vision.

Stay focused, and make 2016 a terrific year!

Gratitude Journaling

Wilson Lam {WLQ} / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

At Thanksgiving, we are reminded to give thanks for what we have. However the remaining weeks of the year are often a stressful time for people and it’s easy to feel like you are in a slump or down in the dumps. If you are truly depressed, please get professional help. If you are just going through normal ebbs and flows in life and find yourself down in the dumps for more than a couple of weeks, I’d suggest that you try gratitude journaling.

What is a gratitude journal? It’s a notebook, diary or journal where you can jot down thoughts of gratitude each day. When you are feeling great, it is simple to think of things for which you are grateful. However when you are in pain (mentally or physically), worried, angry, or fearful, you don’t naturally think of appreciation or gratitude. Instead, you focus on the negative, and that negativity feeds on itself. That cycle can be hard to break. One way to break it is by forcing yourself to find something to appreciate each day. You can start by writing down all of the things that normally come to mind, such as family, friends, housing, etc. Then you should try to think of something new to add to the list each and every day.

It’s ok to start small. I’ve had someone tell me that all they could identify was that their car did not break down as they drove to work that day. Everything else that happened that day was awful. So if that’s the only thing they could come up with that day, it’s a start. However, I would suggest changing the wording to be more positive. In that example, it would be better to write, “I am grateful my car got me safely to work today.” Focus on making the journal a place for positive, grateful thoughts.

What typically happens after a week or so of gratitude journaling is that you become motivated to find more things you can appreciate, and therefore you start to see things in a different light. You’ll find yourself feeling better and more positive about everything, gradually leaving those dumps behind!

Please be aware, that sometimes you will have a truly awful day. On that day, it may be difficult to come up with anything new to write in your journal. On those days, I suggest you read back through your previous gratitude postings, and you will be amazed how far you have come. You may even be able to identify something new to write for that bad day!

Happy journaling…

Trust and Connectedness

Story Blog man hugging tiger

I had the pleasure last week of training new Vistage Chairs through our 6 day “boot camp”. It’s always fun for me to bring a group of strangers together and, in just a few days, create a tight-knit, bonded group of people. We do that intentionally to show them how quickly they should be able to bond their new Vistage groups once they are established, since creating an environment of confidentiality and trust is critical to the success of a new Vistage group. When people are truly connected on an emotional, caring level, they are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to help one another.

Of course, Vistage is not the only environment where that works. Our military branches also do a great job of connecting people emotionally to one another, which is crucial when their lives are on the line. Survivors of trauma are often also connected on a deep level with one another. Even kids attending summer camp away from home also can create close friendships in a very short time. Perhaps you have experienced this type of connectedness with others. Isn’t it a terrific feeling?

What could that type of bonding and closeness do for your business? What if your employees truly cared for one another, and went above and beyond the call of duty to help one another succeed? What if you were able to create a culture of trust and camaraderie? Not only could your profits increase, you would also likely attract the best new employees. In this competitive marketplace, that would be a valuable differentiator. Why not give it a try?

Are We There Yet?

Entering Hyperspace
Are We There Yet?Éole / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

“Are we there yet?” How many times have you heard those words in a car or on a plane? Of course, the most common response to that question is, “Not yet!” For little kids who have no concept of time, that’s probably an appropriate response. For older kids, it may be better to provide more information and give them perspective on how much time has passed, and how much longer you expect to be on the road so they can begin to better understand the concept of time. Hopefully, as a result, they will be more comfortable and feel the need to ask, “Are we there yet?” a little less frequently.

What about your business? Are your employees effectively asking you (or thinking), “Are we there yet?” Do they have a clue where you are in the process of achieving your goals and your vision for the future? Are they just along for the ride, impatiently wondering if you are ever going to reach the destination or even if you are on the right road? Or have you effectively and clearly communicated your vision and goals, and kept them informed on your progress? Consider how sharing more information with all levels of your organization might enable your employees to be more comfortable and better able to help you achieve your vision.

By the way, your goals and vision may change along the way. Enjoy the journey and do not hesitate to add onto the trip and pick the next destination and vision for the future. Share it with your employees to help them enjoy the ride!

April Checklist for Leaders

April Checklist
cathyse97 / Foter / CC BY-ND

In our personal lives, April is often the month to check a number of items off of our to-do lists. Common things people do in April include: Filing personal tax returns and doing a financial plan for the rest of the year, spring cleaning, registering for summer camps for the kids, and planning family vacations. While not all of those are fun (e.g., taxes and spring cleaning), we generally feel good once they are checked off our list.

Good leaders have lists in their business. April is a great time to look at your goals and strategic plan. Did you achieve your first quarter goals? Are you making good progress toward your strategic plan? Or you a bit off track, necessitating some adjustments? Taking action in April can get you back on the path to success for the rest of the year.

Good leaders also schedule time for spring cleaning. Spring cleaning in business might mean evaluating personnel. Are people meeting or exceeding your expectations? If not, have you given them feedback and shared clear expectations and time frames for improvement? If you have outlined performance expectations and measurements and someone still has not achieved them, it may be time to “release them to industry” and find someone who can get the job done for you.

Another form of business spring cleaning is purging files, shredding, scanning, and perhaps reorganizing work flows. Could your business be more efficient? April is a great time to evaluate processes and procedures and make changes that will help save time and money the rest of the year.

How about planning a fun summer outing for your team? Why not put together a committee, give them a budget, and have them present you with some options for fun group activities. Starting in April will give them time to come up with some great ideas before summer arrives. Perhaps you could take the team to a ballgame, play miniature golf, act out a murder mystery game, conduct a scavenger hunt, have a potluck picnic in the park, or head to the beach for friendly beach competitions and silly games. Finding activities everyone on your team can do will enhance bonding and increase morale. It’s also never too early to start planning the year-end holiday party, so you may want to add that to your April list.

What about building teamwork and camaraderie in a different way? Perhaps you could allow employees time off to serve a local charity. Some ideas include: Preparing and serving meals to the homeless, building a house for Habitat for Humanity, putting food in carts at the local food bank, bathing dogs at the local animal shelter, picking up trash along waterways, providing clothing and toiletries to a domestic violence shelter, or collecting toys and books for a local orphanage or safe house for kids. These activities are often very rewarding for employees as well as for the local charity.

Be creative and get started on that April checklist – you’ll be glad you did!

The Key to Prosperity

3D Key To Success
The Key to ProsperityStockMonkeys.com / Foter / CC BY

Vistage Speaker Steven Snyder flew in from Hawaii this month to speak to my 3 Vistage groups. One of his messages was the difference between prosperity consciousness, break-even consciousness, and poverty consciousness. According to Steven, most people live in break-even consciousness. Prosperity has nothing to do with income. You can have a very small income and still feel prosperous. And you can have a very large income and not feel prosperous.

Poverty consciousness is where there is never enough money, and the bills are always overdue. If you give someone with poverty consciousness a large amount of money, they will soon end up with nothing to show for it and may even end up deeply in debt. We often hear about lottery winners who blow the entire amount. Saving and investing are unknown concepts to them. I suspect we all know people with this mindset. Perhaps some of your employees exhibit this behavior.

Prosperity consciousness is where money is handed effectively and there is always some to invest or save. If you take away everything from a person with the prosperity consciousness, they will likely rebuild their resources and return to prosperity. They know how to save and invest their money, no matter how little they have.

Break-even consciousness is the place where most people live. Whatever comes in is what goes out. If someone with this mindset makes a little extra money, they spend a little extra. Their bills always seem to get paid, but they have nothing left to save or invest. They can never quite get ahead.

How do you attain prosperity consciousness or teach it to others? Steven suggests paying yourself first. For every dollar that comes in the door, decide how much you are going to save and invest, and how much you are going to give to charity. Strive to save or invest at least 10% of every dollar that comes in the door. Put it into a savings account or other type of investment. Then take a portion of that money and give it to charity. You will soon realize that you are able to save and invest more than you ever anticipated. You can save for emergencies as well as college or retirement.

And giving to charity not only benefits the charitable cause, it makes you feel good about yourself. Even if you can only save $1 and give pennies to charity, it’s a good start. Once you get into this habit, it becomes easier to increase the amounts. Pretty soon, you’ll be living a more prosperous and philanthropic life.

As a leader, you can share these concepts with your employees to help them learn how to be prosperous. Employees who worry less about money often perform better at work. So your company will benefit as well!

Core Values and Performance

Core Valuescontemplativechristian / Foter / CC BY-SA

We had our annual Vistage CEO Summits this week, and the speakers emphasized an important point about evaluating the people on your team. Both Alex Freytag and Tom Bouwer of Profit Works emphasized the importance of alignment with core values. Most leaders do a pretty good job of evaluating people for performance. If you have an employee who is consistently not performing, it’s usually a pretty easy decision to let them go.

It can be a harder decision when the performance is good, but the person’s core values do not align with the company’s core values. Let’s say that one of your core values is Integrity, and the behavior expected with that core value is to do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. Let’s also say that one of your best sales people never does what they say they are going to do. They make commitments that they never keep. Their performance (measured in sales results) is good, but there is no alignment with one of your key core values. What do you do?

If you truly believe in the importance of core values, you must address the issue with the sales person. If you do not address their behavior, you have just sent a message to the organization that your core values are not important. You have effectively given everyone permission to violate all of your core values, because they apparently do not matter. Does that message create the culture you want?

What if instead, you address the behavior with the sales person and try to work with them to behave in the manner you expect? Sometimes, that’s all that is needed to motivate change. If not, then you may need to part ways with the person. If the rest of the organization understands how serious you are about your core values, good things will happen. Those who are not comfortable being held accountable to those behaviors will often leave their own. Those who exemplify those core values will thrive and be even more excited about working for your company.

Please consider clearly defining your core values and associated behaviors, and then evaluating your employees on alignment with those core values as well as performance.

Leadership: What’s Love Got to do with it?

Doily Heart
What\'s Love Got to do with Leadership?Suzanne Schroeter / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Valentine’s Day gets everyone thinking about love. While we mostly think of family and significant others at this time of year, I’d like to suggest that you also consider your leadership. What’s love got to do with leadership? A lot, it turns out. (No, I’m not talking about romantic love at work – your HR department likely has rules about that!)

Rather, I’d like to talk about a different type of love. When you close your eyes and think about work, do you get a warm and happy feeling? Or do you feel unhappy and realize you are frowning? If you are a leader who doesn’t love what you do, ask yourself how that may be impacting the rest of your organization. As a leader, you are watched all of the time, whether you like it or not. And if you truly dislike your job, that will become obvious to your employees over time. When they realize their boss hates their job, they might start thinking about reasons to hate their own job. Negativity spreads quickly throughout an organization and can cause significant performance issues such as declining sales, turnover, and more. If you truly dislike your job, you owe it to your organization to figure out how to change it so you actually enjoy what you do.

If you love your job, then how do you feel about your employees? Do you care for them as individuals? Do you show interest in their needs? Is yours a positive culture of support and encouragement? If you have a caring heart, it will show through in your daily interactions with your team. That doesn’t mean you won’t get frustrated with their behavior at times. Just like with family, sometimes we become disappointed with our team. However, if you genuinely care for them, those occasional disappointments will not become significant obstacles to success.

On the other hand, if you really don’t care for your employees, they will sense that, too. Do you think you can possibly get someone’s best effort if they know you really don’t like them? It’s very unlikely. If you truly dislike some of your team, then you can either change your perspective, or replace the people with others who are a better fit for your organization. Neither option is easy, but both are critical to your long-term success.

On this Valentine’s weekend, consider how loving your job and your people can be a key indicator of leadership success.