The One Thing Your Assistant Craves, But Isn’t Getting

The One Thing Your Assistant Craves, but isn’t getting

Have you ever thought, “My assistant would be perfect if they could just read my mind!”

I can’t teach them to read your mind, but I can help you get closer to that perfect assistant without replacing them. The secret is: there is one critical thing your assistant is craving, but often gets overlooked. This one thing not only helps them, but also helps you get what you need from them. Clarity. 

You’ve probably heard this before, but I’ll break it down into three areas where providing clarity will give you the best bang for your buck. If you can give your assistant clarity in three areas, or if you seek them for yourself, you will gain massive traction in your organization’s administrative progress. 

Why They Need Clarity 

I was conducting an Adminnovate workshop with a group of project assistants last year. Imagine standing in a one-room house with windows on each side. In a perfect model, information comes in through these windows in the form of processes or workflows. As I taught the concept of information coming into their Adminnovate Model House through the windows, one admin commented, half-jokingly, “I don’t have windows, I have full sliding doors.” Another chimed in, “I don’t even have walls! My house is more like a pavilion. Information is constantly coming in from every direction.”

I realized this was a common problem. Managers were dumping tons of miscellaneous tasks onto the assistant’s plate. Yes, the assistant is there to, well, assist.  However, in order for the assistant to be effective, they must have clarity around three areas: purpose, major workflows, and parameters of authority. These three areas help your assistant understand your goals, their responsibilities and how they can best help you.

Clarity Around Purpose

Her job is to manage me is a bullshit purpose statement.

Yes, I said it. 

You’re an adult. Your job is to manage yourself. The assistant’s job might be to manage your calendar, but their purpose is to ensure that everyone who needs a piece of your day is scheduled accordingly while protecting your priorities. In this way, the assistant is serving your customers (or vendors, employees, service providers, etc.) not you. 

When you shift this focus to a meaningful purpose, it provides clarity to your assistant. Compare the two examples:

Their job is to manage me.


The purpose of their job is to protect my time while making sure anyone who needs a piece of my day is scheduled accordingly.

Having the level of clarity in the second statement can be a game changer. In this situation, the assistant understands that miscellaneous tasks may fall in their lap, but they will consistently focus on making sure you’re meeting with the right people at the right times.

Clarity Around Major Workflows

If you were to ask an admin how many workflows they participate in, I guarantee the number would be in the double or triple digits. However, it’s important to gain clarity on tasks versus workflows. Any one of us can participate in dozens of tasks every day, many of them only occurring once or twice. A workflow is a collection of tasks around a specific output or responsibility and typically part of a larger company process.

Your assistant should have up to six primary workflows. While there may be several steps or tasks within a workflow, you can generally categorize them into six areas. While the categorization does not decrease the amount of work they do, it provides clarity on their primary functions.

For example, your assistant may go through many steps to prepare for a stakeholder meeting including preparing the IT, formatting the presentation, coordinating food, sending invitations, and briefing you before the meeting, but Meeting Preparation is a primary workflow. 

Other workflows may be related to your schedule but require very different steps. Other workflows for our theoretical assistant may include managing your personal appointments, event coordination, booking travel and tracking employee milestones. Each workflow is related to meeting with the right people at the right time. By limiting the number to six, it keeps you and your assistant focused on what matters most. You can read more about the six critical workflows in my blog post here.

Clarity Around Parameters of Authority

There is nothing more frustrating for an assistant than completing an assigned task only to be told they did it incorrectly because the instructions weren’t clear. Imagine you’ve asked your assistant to book your travel for a 2-day meeting. Your assistant proudly presents an itinerary, which is indeed a 2-day travel detail with flights, hotel, rental car, and a reserved meeting space. You look it over and realize the flight leaves only 30 minutes after your doctor’s appointment, your frequent flier miles won’t work with the booked airline, the rental car is economy when you’d prefer to chauffeur your colleagues in an SUV, and the meeting space is 45 minutes from your colleagues’ hotel. Sigh.

While many bosses think they delegate effectively to their team, they neglect to understand two important actions in delegation: empowerment and parameters. Delegation is not simply telling someone what to do. True delegation includes empowering someone to act on your behalf within parameters. If you delegate the travel schedule to your assistant, but neglect to give them access to your calendar, define the budget, inform them of your preferred airline, or give them authority to call others to obtain pertinent information, they will either bug you with countless questions, or require adjustments after-the-fact. Both of these situations result in frustration.

Next time you delegate a task or give your assistant authority to make decisions, define the parameters to ensure the end-product matches your intention.

So While They Can’t Read Your Mind…

While your assistant still can’t read your mind, we can get them closer to it. Eliminate confusion, frustration, and wasted effort by focusing on clarity around purpose, primary workflows, and parameters of authority. Clarity is critical to forming a strong, trusting, and productive relationship between you and your assistant.


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