Treat your secretary like a partner

If you are one of those managers who only remembers to recognize your secretary on National Secretary's Day, shame on you. When it comes to making you look good, a good secretary can be more valuable than an MBA.

After the flowers and cards are long forgotten, do what really counts: treat your secretary like a business partner all year long.

The respect and consideration you show your secretary will be repaid hundreds of times throughout the year.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

·        Meet with your secretary once a week for a planning session, instead of expecting him or her to react every time you call. Your secretary will be a full partner who can increase your effectiveness, if you spend a few proactive minutes each week.

Schedule this meeting at a regular time, so it can't be forgotten. Follow an agenda to keep you both on track. This will discipline both of you to keep a running list of items all week, instead of constantly interrupting each other whenever you think of something.

·        Tell your secretary about the big picture instead of delegating small pieces of the puzzle. If your secretary knows why a task needs to be done and how it fits into the bigger project, he or she can anticipate problems and add features you never thought of.

·        Allow your secretary some authority to act. If your secretary must check with you before handling every task, you are wasting time and causing needless frustration. If you don't know what to give your secretary authority on, ask them what their frustrations are and if more authority would help.

·        Find some projects that your secretary has full control over. He or she will have more job satisfaction if a few projects are theirs alone, instead of always being dependant on you for daily tasks.

For instance, an upcoming meeting of regional managers would be a good opportunity to turn over all the coordination activities to your secretary. Don't just dump the job in her lap, however. The first time through, you will need to work closely together, so all the details are thoroughly understood and documented. The next time, he or she will be able to do it alone. You will be able to keep track of how it's coming at your weekly update meeting.

·        Talk politics. If you have hired the right person, your secretary can be a tremendous political ally. Most secretaries are plugged into the office grapevine and will be able to provide you with information such as how new policies are accepted, the state of morale in the work group and information that affects your projects that you can't afford to miss.

·        Ask your secretary for his or her opinion. Don't implement an administrative change until you have asked your secretary for the pros and cons. They know the ramifications of a change to themselves and others and they could help you avoid disaster.

If your secretary is perceptive about people matters, ask him or her for input on managerial matters, too.

·        Explain how you want them to handle incoming phone calls. Don't make them seem inefficient to outsiders because they don't know where you are or when you'll be back. If there are important callers, whose names they should recognize, give your secretary the information in advance.

If you want your secretary to screen incoming calls, help them with the appropriate language to use. And if your secretary tells someone you will call them back, don't put your secretary in the uncomfortable position of explaining why you haven't returned their calls.

·        Expect your secretary to document important procedures and show you where things are kept. You should also show your secretary where you keep project files on which you are working. You never know when either one of you will be out unexpectedly and you don't want your work to come to a standstill.

Your secretary is one of the most important assets you have. A little forethought will make both of your jobs more satisfying and a whole lot more fun.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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