Being selected as an Executive Officer (commonly referred to as an Exec) is one of the highest honors an officer can receive. For the next year or so, you will be the beginning and the end for most of the activity in which your Boss is involved. As the term “Executive Officer” implies, you are the executive assistant to your Boss, and your effectiveness as the Exec will help determine your Boss’ effectiveness. You will be the Boss’ confidant on many issues, and he/she will depend on you to be the expert on the organization. You’ll have to know who is doing what, when, where, why, and how. Exec duty is a big, important, and tough job. However, the rewards are great—you have an opportunity to witness firsthand how senior leadership functions at the upper levels.
It is vitally important that you begin this new adventure with your eyes fully open. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the amount of time and effort you must expend to be successful in your role. Your days will be long and intensive—some will be longer and more intense than others. However, don’t fall into the trap of becoming overwhelmed by the scope and importance of your job. Applying some basic organizational skills and common sense will enable you to focus on the right issues at the right time.
Obviously, the relationship between the Boss and the Exec is a crucial one, and this relationship will be determined by the Boss’ leadership style. Regardless of your Boss’ leadership style, you’ll have to satisfy some very basic needs for him/her to be effective. They need the right information at the right time, they need to be at the right place at the right time, and they need to be prepared for whatever event is before them. But, most importantly, they need time to think. After all, your Boss, as the leader of the organization, is responsible for establishing the unit’s vision and maintaining the unit’s pace. If he/she is so inundated with the routines of the day, the Boss will have very little time to focus on the bigger picture.
That’s where you come in. In a nutshell, your job is two-fold: to remove obstacles from your Boss’ path so that he/she can be as effective as possible; and, to stay ahead of your Boss so there are no surprises. To do so, you must establish and control the routine workload into and out of the Boss’ office. Things like managing the schedule, managing the paperwork flow, ensuring incoming and outgoing correspondence is correct BEFORE the Boss sees it, and ensuring the Boss is at the right place at the right time and is prepared for all events are just a few of the issues you must focus on every day.
There are two primary keys to your success as an Exec. The first is to know your Boss, and the second is to build routine processes for managing the Boss’ time and your time. This document is intended to help you establish and manage such an environment. It’s important for you to keep in mind that each Boss is different and has his/her own expectations of the Exec. In fact, you should sit down with your Boss immediately upon taking the job and briefly discuss each section where his/her inputs are necessary. Your Boss may like or dislike some of the management concepts here, or he/she may have different ideas on how they’d like you to approach an issue. Flexibility is important—learn your Boss early, adapt the guidelines presented here to his/her personality and leadership styles, then put the routine processes in place to make your command section a first class operation. Be prepared to modify your processes as you get to know your Boss better—you can’t know everything the first day.
This guide would not be complete without mentioning that your success is determined not only by the direct interaction with your Boss, but also your relationship with key members of the staff. At times you will feel as though you have many Bosses—in fact, it will help if you assume this to be true. You will often interface directly with senior officers or civilians who will need and appreciate guidance from you regarding your Boss’ wishes. Establishing a close, informal working relationship with these key team members is essential to your unit’s, your Boss’, and your success.
As a final introductory note, you may have help with many areas
discussed in this Guide, i.e., your Boss may have another Exec, an Aide, a
secretary, a Director of Staff, a Vice or Deputy, a Protocol Officer, a Public
Affairs Officer, or any combination. Building a positive and well-defined
relationship with these individuals is key to your effectiveness and enhancing
the teamwork atmosphere necessary in this job. However, make no mistake, the
Exec is the beginning and the end—all things enter to the Boss through you, and
all things exit from the Boss through you. Therefore, use the help you are
given, but don’t let your guard down.