How Do Exceptional Assistants Become That Way?

February 3, 2021


Even the most accomplished assistants will tell you that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

Think, for just a few seconds, of two or three of the best assistants you know. What is it you admire and respect about such people?

Is it a sense of calm professionalism amidst a storm, consistent application of good judgement, or ability to shift gears and adroitly maneuver even the most delicate of situations?

Anticipation, communications, creativity, discretion, flexibility, initiative

Perhaps these assistants demonstrate grace and integrity under pressure, capacity to speak truth to power, or commitment to the team and the greater good of the organisation.

Do these assistants seem to somehow always be a step ahead of most of the crowd, having anticipated what’s needed and then acted upon such insights before others are even aware of such needs? They may be thoughtful, or generous with their knowledge? Are such people  particularly literate technologically, or do you admire their capacity to say “no” as appropriate?

Integrity, judgement, loyalty, organisation

While it may appear that some counterparts were simply born this way, and you either have integrity or you don’t, many characteristics or competencies can be developed through time and effort. Even a backbone may be strengthened, and the best executives value an assistant who will diplomatically speak truth to power. So, how to develop or enhance those attributes you admire in the best around you?

Professionalism, teamwork, technological literacy, time management, work ethic

Earlier today, reading the thoughts of Maryellen Weimer, PhD on characteristics of good learners, it occurred to me that such characteristics could be applied to assistants. While I’ll come back, in the weeks ahead, to competencies honed by the best assistants, you may be interested in a look at Weimer’s Seven Characteristics of Good Learners.  This is a quick read, and those who know this writer may be unsurprised to learn that I found particular resonance in the sixth characteristic.

About the Author: Shelagh Donnelly educates and inspire assistants on topics ranging from meetings and minutes to business acumen, cybersecurity and working with boards. She helps assistants nurture their adaptability, productivity and resilience in order to enjoy the career and continue to add value even as roles evolve. An international speaker, Shelagh worked with C-level executives for more than 25 years and is recognized for her governance expertise. Shelagh founded her globally read Exceptional EA website in 2013, and is the author of the upcoming book, The Resilient Assistant.   

This article first appeared in Exceptional EA, a globally respected professional development resource for administrative professionals. Visit to find out more and tell her we sent you


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