The CEO’s New Status Symbol: An Exec Assistant With Leadership Skills

Not every important meeting requires the CEO to run the show.

Not every important meeting requires the CEO to run the show.

If you’re in meetings all day, how will you get any work done?

The greatest myth that exists about meetings is that they are inherently bad. Most workers accept that meetings are unavoidably painful and unproductive, just one of the necessary evils of organizational life. But the fact is, bad meetings are a reflection of bad leaders. Worse yet, they take a more devastating toll on a company’s success than we realize.
For many CEOs it’s intuitive to delegate detail-oriented tasks, but not so much with meetings. This gap in delegation is because the CEO’s job is actually tricky to define, which makes delegating often more difficult.
A CEO’s job isn’t one that’s easy to categorize. It doesn’t fit neatly into a square peg job description like analyst, finance or sales. Moreover, Andrea Prat, a professor of economics at Columbia Business School, points out that 80 percent of a CEO’s time is spent in meetings.

‘It used to be that executive assistants got coffee. Today, if youve hired the right executive assistant, the employees will see the CEO’s assistant as a representative for the boss.’—Melissa Sconyers, a recruiter for executive assistants


For many types of work, the more meetings you go to, the less effective you are in your job. Tech startups are are renown for conference rooms with no chairs, and walking meetings. In both cases, these are tactics to keep people from getting comfortable and staying too long. But Mr. Prat says the more time a CEO spends in meetings with their employees, the better the company does. “You can measure firm performance as productivity,” he says. “You can measure it as return on capital employed, or you can measure it as growth over time. This strong correlation exists even when we control for everything we observe about the firm—the industry, the location, the size, the capital employed.”
If CEOs steer the ship from inside the company, then meetings are the way to do it. But all meetings are not equal. The meetings where the CEO is a key participant, for example, require his or her presence. But meetings to keep key teams on track don’t necessarily need the CEO, however the CEO does need a sense of what’s on track. This is a good time for an assistant to attend, and perhaps run, the meeting.
“It used to be that executive assistants got coffee and managed calendars,” says Melissa Sconyers, a recruiter specializing in executive assistants. “Today, if you’ve hired the right executive assistant, the employees will see the CEO’s assistant as a representative for the boss.”
Additionally, there’s a myriad of work that is not meetings but the flurry around meetings and the new tasks resulting from them. This is work that must be done but is low-return for the CEO’s time; it’s perfect work for the assistant to get off the CEO’s plate by either managing herself or delegating.
At his or her best, an assistant does not do the work that is below the boss. That’s an old-school approach. Rather, an assistant creates space on the CEO’s plate by expanding it. The assistant is a teammate that allows the boss to be both in a meeting and somewhere else—getting two workdays of work done every day of the week. The CEO is a leader; it makes sense that the executive assistant would be a leader as well.
Penelope Trunk, praised by Inc. Magazine as “the world’s most influential career coach,” has founded four startups, most recently Quistic.
The CEO’s New Status Symbol: An Exec Assistant With Leadership Skills