I read a lot of articles about what skills a good EA should have, and honestly, they are all right! There are so many skills that an EA should have in their toolbox that it can be overwhelming at times for anyone who is either new to the field, trying to break into the industry and even veterans looking to up their game.
Unfortunately, most of these skills cannot be learned until you are right in the middle of a major task thrown your way with a ridiculous deadline given to you by your executive. In all my years of doing EA/PA/Legal Secretary work there has been one skill that has saved me time and time again and that is being confident even in the face of the unknown.
It sounds strange and pretty lame at first, I'm sure you expected some magic formula to perfection, but in reality it is the quickest and fastest way to get ahead of a project you are either under qualified for or completely in the dark about where to start.
The first trick is to never ask the executives for more detail or questions in general. 99% of executives have zero clue about what a particular task actually takes to execute anyways, they only care that the outcome is what they think it should be. It is our job to execute, it is their job to delegate.
So who do you turn to for help? The professionals of course!
I come from a background of startups, new and small/medium business (with only 1 mega firm in my resume) and as most people know, their isn't a massive budget with smaller businesses, there isn't always a dedicated staff for a particular task so as an EA you are expected to wear a lot of hats, some bigger than others. Knowing how to think critically and how to get the best outcome means not being afraid to think outside the box and ask the pros for help.
As soon as I encounter a task or project with a part that has me stumped, I immediately turn to Google. The internet is your best friend as an EA and the unlimited resources it has available will more likely than not have the exact answer or process you need. If you can't find it via an article or how-to video my next piece of advice is to reach out to a live person.
For example, I had been given a project to find the best option for a startup to invest in the market in case of a recession. I know absolutely nothing about stock or trading or investing. So I did some digging online, found some really great articles from reputable sources and then called several massive online trading platforms as well as local financial management professionals.
I asked them all the same series of questions and when I was done with my research I compiled a compressed and to the point summary of all their input to decide the best option to answer the question. I presented all my sources as well, (I always like to give credit where it is due) and the end product knocked the socks off of the CEO. He could not believe the sources I provided and how in depth my research was but also how little time it took to execute. He was over the moon about my capabilities and in that moment it established a bond of trust better than any I have ever had before.
I was very honest with my executive from the beginning. I promised him I could handle the task and execute with professional precision and I did just that. Just because you have no prior experience on a certain task in the beginning doesn't mean you are unable to learn or to execute. As EA's it is literally our job to learn and grow so always take on every project or task with an open and ready mind. Do not doubt your capabilities to research and learn. That will be your biggest downfall.
Many EA's believe they have to be the end all be all of business know how, but the reality is we just cannot possibly know everything. That is why there are professionals in those fields and that is why we are professionals in our field, we are executors, we make the impossible possible, and we are people of action.
The only thing you need to worry about is execution and to do that you need to be comfortable taking on tasks despite not knowing the ins and outs and being able to seek out external sources while maintaining your confidence.
As EA's we are supposed to be lifetime learners and the best ones never stop.