The ABC’s of management in the 1980s

I continue to hear horror stories from administrative assistants about archaic management attitudes:

"They threat me like I'm just a secretary. I'm never asked for my opinion, even though I've been here longer than any of them."

"You wouldn't believe the poor quality of my boss' letters. I made a few grammatical changes so it wouldn't be so embarrassing for him, and he was insulted and irritated."

"If I had known he was having trouble with that project, I could have told him whom to call for the answer."

"Every time I ask for more responsibility or even the smallest chance to develop some new skills, my boss avoids the question. I'm starting to wonder if 'chance for advancement' in the want ad really meant 'fat chance.'"

Some managers still appear to be managing with the techniques of 20 years ago: "I'm the boss." Many of the complaints come from the manufacturing sector and small- to middle-sized companies. However, even some of the high-tech and service companies have their share of unenlightened managers.

Here are some ABCs (Appropriate Behavioral Changes) that will bring old-fashioned managing into the '80s.

Explain why.
Even if the task is simple and straightforward, don't forget to tell your assistant why he or she is doing it. 

For example, it's fine to ask: "Could you get some competitive price comparisons by Friday?" But several things could happen if you added an explanation, such as, "I hope to convince the committee that we need to lower our prices on the 10-98 model so that we can stay competitive." Your assistant will move the task higher on her priority list, she will know how to organize the data convincingly and she'll be alert to other information you could use in your presentation. Not a bad return on a little information.

Use your assistant as a resource.

If your assistant has been with the company for awhile, he or she is probably well-connected with a network to many areas of the company.  Your administrative assistant is in an excellent position to tell you whom to call to get your hands on information, the fastest way to get a memo distributed (and if it's clearly written), and how to design a new administrative procedure to get the job done faster and better.

Talk to him/her about career goals.

Some managers try to limit the visibility and development of their star assistants in an attempt to keep them - and use them. After all, once he has the taste of bigger and better things, won't he leave? Of course - eventually - but he will anyway. The average length of any employee on the job is two to five years.  

Find out what skills your assistant wants to develop, delegate parts of your work that include those skills and provide coaching.  Caged birds are too busy looking for an escape to sing sweetly. Help your assistant on his way up, and you'll both make beautiful music together.

What if my assistant wants my job?

The fist reaction of some managers is insecurity and defensiveness. If your performance is solid, you have nothing to fear.  At any given time, there are hundreds of people who want your job. How convenient if your assistant is one of them.

Eventually, you'll be able to give a great deal of your work to your willing assistant. This will free your time to pursue your job productively and develop yourself for your next job. Stealing credit and limiting the visibility of a rising star will make you appear insecure and weak. Your strategy will backfire and indeed, your assistant may get your job!

Don't tell them how, just articulate results.

Bosses who describe how to do a project take the fun and motivation out of work.  Most employees will tell you "challenging work" is one of their top five priorities. Don't strip the fun away by treating your assistant like a robot or go-fer.

Let your assistant analyze the project, plan an approach and execute the plan. There's nothing wrong with giving him a few ideas and tips on resources, but keep your fingers out of the pie.


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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