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Beware the Gatekeeper

Is she an asset or a hidden liability?
Is she an asset or a hidden liability?
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The Gatekeeper, otherwise known as Executive Assistant, Receptionist, Secretary, Admin, Office Manager and so on, is supposed to protect you. But are they?

From my experience as both an executive and recruiter I have found that Gatekeepers can be an asset when they help me to get my work done. Let’s be honest there are times when preventing a pesky salesperson from getting me on the phone is greatly appreciated. Even when I was recruiting and they were screening for their boss, I found they could be an asset to me simply by informing me when their boss would be available or who I should speak with instead.

I also found that a good Admin who could manage my schedule, keep me on point and prevent my own employees from bothering me at inopportune times was a major benefit. As they learned my habits and my schedule they could ensure that I was able to get my work done and get out of the office on time for an important event outside of the office.

In a sense they became an extension of me.

Perhaps that is why Admins are always on an organization chart below the boss, yet seemingly above his direct reports. They aren’t paid as well or held in the same regard as the direct reports, yet they have their own fiefdom and wield their own power, provided they are acting on behalf of their boss.

Smart employees realize that they need to be nice and respectful to the boss’s Admin. Particularly since the Admin has the ear of the boss and controls his schedule. Failure to show respect can result in people never getting onto the schedule to see the boss, projects not going well or disappearing and a myriad of problems that could have been avoided by simply respecting the office and power of the Admin.

On the other hand, what happens when the Admin thinks she (or he) is more important than the Boss does? Meaning she is wielding his power in ways unintended. For example, she is being overbearing to other Admins or clerks, or outside customers or vendors or even the Boss’ direct reports. Perhaps she has a vendetta against someone and is making their life miserable.

At this point the Gatekeeper is not an asset, she is an extreme liability. She is making the Boss look bad and the Boss is not even aware of it most times. But others are. Perhaps even the Boss’s Boss’ Admin is, or others who are equally important.

So how should this type of Admin and corresponding problem be handled? Or even identified? This is not as simple as it seems and depends on how long it has been a problem and who is at risk. Remember, the Boss probably likes his Admin and is generally attached to her. Here are some thoughts:

· If you are a direct report to the Boss and his admin is treating you or your admin badly you must gather evidence that is clearly tied to the Gatekeeper and what its impact is on the company or the Boss. Avoid making it personal even if it is.

· If you are an outside vendor or in another department, try and go around her by calling before or after she is in the office. Do not rock the boat and attack the admin unless she is so awful you are doing the Boss a favor. If you can’t achieve success directly contacting the Boss, then contact one of his direct reports. You most likely won’t be the only one having problems.

But what if you are the Boss? How do you find out about the problems when no one is telling you? At least once or twice a year, you have to speak with other employees, vendors or Admins to see how yours is performing. Be clear that you want to ensure your Admin is an asset to them and the company (it goes without saying she should be an asset to you). Find out if your Admin is helpful and respectful. Listen with an open ear and maintain that Open Door Policy all bosses should have.

Your Gatekeeper is supposed to shield you and make your life easier. She is not supposed to be the one inadvertently stabbing you in the back by hindering the performance of others you work with both in and outside of the office.

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