When the CEO's Assistant is
Indistinguishable from the Evil Witch
By Francie Dalton
guise of loyalty to the president, they function as an impenetrable,
inflexible gatekeeper. They
only grant access to the CEO when it suits their personal agenda,
won't work you into the CEO's calendar when you really need it, and
actively withhold contact information when the CEO is traveling. Far
from sharing tips that would help you be more successful with the CEO,
they provide you as little information as possible, ignore or claim
not to have received your e-mails, and "forget" to pass on
your messages to the CEO.
snubbing those they don't like, they’re verbally abrupt with them,
and thrive on worsening already inflammatory situations, creating
opportunities to later claim martyrdom or victimization.
express their personal opinions as being those of the CEO, and preface
every refusal to help with the phrase: "Sorry but the CEO has me
doing something urgent." Invoking
the name of the CEO inflates urgencies, controls others, and justifies
the inappropriate delegation of their own work to others
briefing the CEO, they misrepresents what you say, and inflate the
details of slightly strained interactions between the two of you till
they're analogous to WW III. Using
artful innuendo, they reveal your every mis-step to the CEO, and
manage to convey negative information about any others who have earned
his or her disfavor.
familiar? If so, you can
legitimately claim to be suffering from a truly infuriating but all
too common malady. And while you may get lots of sympathy from your
equally frustrated colleagues, don't expect any sympathy from the CEO.
After all, just imagine yourself having a highly organized assistant - a master scheduler who can
choreograph complex projects/processes/events, who ensures all facets
of your travel are flawless, who is adroit at anticipating and
handling your every mood and preference, and who somehow manages to
make even your tiniest inconvenience disappear.
Imagine an assistant who is available to work evenings and
weekends, willing to bring work to your home, always deferential yet
adept at engaging in sophisticated, good natured banter. Think of how
wonderful it would be to have an assistant who is aggressive about
protecting you; attentive to your every move; who is able to elicit
from you a high level of trust, who is good at establishing a close
relationship with your spouse and is flawlessly charming with your key
probably a pretty accurate description of the quality of service your
CEO is now receiving from this grumpy, grouchy, bilious bane of your
it's true that you aren't likely to be successful in unseating the
shrew, you aren't helpless. You do have options - it's just that
spending time sputtering your outrage to your colleagues isn't one of
them. Depending upon your
current situation, below are seven choices for coping more effectively
with the evil witch in your office.
You're new - but you've been there long enough to know the score:
In this case, stay
clean; don't do anything to get on their bad side!
You've screwed up and you're in the dog house: Grovel.
It'll be worth it in the long run. Demonstrate contrition by
eliciting his or her feedback on what you can do to be a better
Your relationship with them is beginning to erode, but you're not sure
what you've done to offend: Engage
- don't avoid! Schedule some time to talk things through.
Don't make the conversation threatening; just have an honest
discussion about what you're sensing. Be curious and interested.
You're clearly and irrevocably on their hit list:
Interact by e-mail only, ensuring your messages are
indisputably professional. This
will reduce the likelihood of inflammatory encounters, and will ensure
you have documentation of every single communiqué.
You're so aggravated that you've been retaliating:
Sinking to their level are you?
Stop it! You'll
make yourself even more vulnerable. One of the luxuries you have to
give-up as a professional is the luxury of behaving the way you feel.
So get a grip and behave in a way that you can be proud of when you
look back on it.
You're a seasoned executive who isn't about to put up with this crap,
but you don’t yet want to complain to the CEO:
Suggest a broadly focused, all-employee survey to reveal
satisfaction levels on a variety
of topics and to diagnose potential organizational
vulnerabilities. Well-crafted assessment mechanisms always include a
narrative section where, if hosted by a third party, your comments can
be made with the assurance of anonymity. In several client
organizations, such surveys revealed numerous complaints from many
respondents about the CEO's assistant, resulting in a variety of types
of remedial interventions.
You and your colleagues have reached the point where you're about to
Confront the assistant as a group on a day when the CEO is
out. Make it clear that no
one has yet gone to the CEO, but that your complaints have been
documented, and that you're all prepared to go to the CEO as a group
if certain identified changes aren't made immediately and sustained on
an on-going basis.
stomach was churning with resentment as you read some of these options
because they weren't punitive enough, or if you just won't be
satisfied by anything other than the termination of the evil witch, we
all can empathize. But
empathy, just like your resentment, won't get you anywhere. In
situations like this, it's not about what's right or wrong - it's
about what will actually be effective in the real world. If you can't
subordinate your anger to the achievement of an effective solution,
then you've become part of
the problem, and have lost your right to complain.
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about Francie Dalton.
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