As companies “lighten” headcount, one of the first areas that get cut are the support and clerical personnel. While one can argue that there is too much support staff and that most managers can perform the support functions “just as easy” as having the additional headcount, this approach discounts the value of productive administrative support. There is a fine balance between fluff and true need, and managers or leaders who discount administrative support often do not know how to recognize or deploy talented administrative support.
Churchill recognized the need, and quickly defined the talent, the mission and the purpose of his personal administrative staff. He demonstrated a loyalty and cared for them, which they returned in kind. In recent times leaders have not defined a clear mission and purpose for the administrative support, and when challenged to produce “proof of value” have failed to defend their staffs. Once the administrative staff is lightened, leaders may recognize a loss of their own productivity, but more often they fail to see the loss of productivity for the rest of the team that also depended on that administrative support to help interface with the leader.
E-mail, voice mail, “crack-berries’” and mobile phones introduce the Paradox of Too Much Information, where a leader can be inundated with unfiltered information. Successful leaders in any industry depend on “gate keepers” to help filter out and maintain peace for a leader. The artificial sense of urgency created by the “electronic assistants” diminishes a leader’s capability. Electronic tools can not translate a grunt or gesture into a series of actions like a human can. And while some leaders can be effective with a remote assistant, there is a loss of unspoken communication, and a loss of verbal “short hand” that is created by a live and loyal support staff. There is truly something to be said for “being there”; it is called “presence”.