Do Donald Trump’s assistants make him a great leader? I was asked this question because I interviewed Donald Trump for my book “The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness”. Mr. Trump’s comments about working with his assistants gave a clear indication of his work style. My recommendation to languorous Washington is get ready to pick up the pace – dramatically.
I asked Mr. Trump why an executive should invest in a good assistant. He said, “Assistants save time and time is money. That’s as clear as it can get.” I love this comment from him and placed it on the cover of my book. It succinctly captures the reason why every executive, if they intend to achieve their goals, should consider hiring an exceptional executive assistant.
An executive assistant liberates you from nonessential work. Their raison d’etre is to make their executive’s life easier. An effective assistant gives back time to the executive by removing all the unnecessary distractions that clutter up their day, thereby allowing them to focus on the strategic activities required to run the company. An effective assistant acts as a buffer, shielding their executive from unnecessary interruptions and superfluous tasks.
I’m sure no executive’s job description includes comparing airfares online, wading through inconsequential emails, or sending out meeting invitations. Your assistant must constantly ask the question “should I be doing this task instead of my boss?” The executive, in turn, must hire correctly. Make sure you have an assistant who excels at their job, knows what is expected and is clued into the business sufficiently to make decisions for you. Then hand over responsibility and get out of the way. One reason why many executives do mundane tasks is because they don’t have the trust level that their assistant is up to the job, so they find themselves wasting time on minutiae. As Trump told me, “I’m too busy to get in my assistants’ way and executives who do should find a better use of their time.”
Trump is not a micromanager. He picks highly capable people and lets them do their job. My experience working with his assistants is that he trusts their instincts and their ability. He knows they know what he wants, so he leaves them to get on with it. In our interview he said, “I like people who can work independently. I have found that people do better work when they feel they are fully responsible for it. I would emphasize to executives the importance of this independence in order to have the most effective and productive team possible.”
Remember the fallout from the interview former Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave to Fox News’ Brett Baier? Secretary Gates said the micromanagement from the White House on the Pentagon drove him nuts, with inexperienced White House staffers constantly second-guessing commanders in the field. I doubt this will be the case in a Trump White House.
Secretary Gates said President Obama allowed himself to be swayed and goaded by people around him. My experience working with Trump’s assistant is that she was always aware of when and how to approach him. I doubt Trump can be goaded into anything. I remember how detailed and specific his assistant Norma was about getting the facts right before she presented my project to Mr. Trump. She told me “I only get one shot at this.” Because she only had one shot at it, I only had one shot at it. My briefing had to be thorough and every possible question anticipated and answered.
Trump is self-aware. He knows what he wants and he chooses people who know how to give it to him. I asked him how he came to select his former assistant, Norma Foerderer, who was with him almost 30 years. He said, “I needed someone strong because I work quickly and am demanding because of that. I also needed a straight shooter—someone who will tell it like it is. I’m that way and I can’t have someone who isn’t. Every boss appreciates someone who is honest with them, even if it means disagreements.”
Knowing this, I chuckle when I hear news reports that there is dissention in the Trump camp. He is secure enough to tolerate dissention in the ranks. It also points to why he has nominated cabinet ministers who are strong, capable individuals, confident in their opinions and who won’t hesitate to share their opinions with the president. It says a lot about Trump that he doesn’t surround himself with sycophants. We’ve all witnessed executives who put yes-men in place with disastrous consequences. It also places an immense burden on the executive assistant whose role is to be the “eyes and ears” of the executive and keep them informed, whether the news is good or bad. The executive must encourage openness with their team so they don’t experience repercussions for telling it like it is. Top executives usually live in a world shielded from the day-to-day goings on of their employees. They must have trusted sources on whose counsel they can rely. A trustworthy assistant with good instincts plays a vital role in these situations. Trump stated that his assistants have good instincts, are not easily fooled and are prepared for anything.
Most striking for me in dealing with Mr. Trump’s assistants and other members of the Trump Organization is the exceptional level of professionalism. Everyone I’ve dealt with is skilled at their job, congenial, accommodating and cooperative. His son, Donald Trump, Jr., in particular, is a remarkably polished professional. My company has sent him to speak at events all over the world. He is an outright favorite with many of our clients, who invite him back again and again. He arrives prepared, informed and ready to get down to work. Don was taught the value of hard work and respectful behavior at a young age and it shows in the way he comports himself in business. This caliber of executive attracts a high-level executive assistant with top-notch skills. When the executive and the assistant are in sync with each other, the business runs like a well-oiled machine. As Trump remarked about his assistants, “you need to know someone is on your wavelength – and it also saves time.”
I asked Mr. Trump about some young executives who have been promoted, but want to remain with their colleagues “in the trenches”. Trump said, “There’s a lot to be said for “in the trenches” but remaining there is another story. As they advance, executives will find that an assistant can be truly valuable.” Truly valuable in providing the kind of support that doesn’t need to involve the executive until it is decision-making time and their signature is required, or their “yes” or “no” is needed. Valuable in knowing that much can be decided by a high-functioning assistant who doesn’t need to run to the boss every time a minor decision is needed. Trump told me his assistants are experts are “reading” situations and knowing how to respond. This frees him up to concentrate on doing what only he can do in the company. He’s not spending time doing things others can do. He understands the value of his time and his assistants respect his time.
Executives, take your cue from Donald Trump and let your assistant make you a great leader.
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