By Gene Griessman, Ph.D. Adapted from The Achievement Digest
The best gatekeeper I ever worked with was Ted Turner’s long-time executive secretary, Dee Woods. During the years that I produced and hosted TV specials for TBS, the network created by Ted Turner, I had many opportunities to observe a communication icon and his gatekeeper at close range.
Dee Woods controlled access to Turner, screened his phone calls, managed his calendar, decided what should be delegated to lieutenants or ignored, and fended off entire squadrons of would-be intruders. She kept Turner on track and, generally, out of trouble.
During those same years I interviewed Norman Vincent Peale, author of the inspirational classic The Power of Positive Thinking. Like most high achievers, Peale was very time conscious, but he admitted that he was not very good at time management. His wife and his secretary—his gatekeepers–helped keep him on track, Peale explained.
I have known other executives and celebrities, many of them intelligent and talented, who failed at this. Unfortunately, they stirred up frustration, anger, and resentment because they were always off schedule, behind deadlines, and wasted time with the wrong people. Some of them actually had gatekeepers, but their gatekeepers dealt with people in a ham-fisted manner, creating additional problems.
Do you need a gatekeeper? If you’re doing unimportant tasks, seeing the wrong people, and creating resentment, the answer probably is Yes. Obviously you need to have reached a point in your career that you can afford one. (It’s better not to have a gatekeeper than to hire one on the cheap..) If you’re ready to move forward, use this checklist as a guide.
*1. Your gatekeeper must be well-organized. Scatterbrains and “trophy” assistants should not even be considered. Gatekeepers shouldn’t be hired just because they’re cute, handsome, or because they’ll convey the image that you’re successful. A gatekeeper must know where your important papers are, who’s meeting you when, and how soon you have to leave for your out-of-office appointment.
*2. Your gatekeeper must be utterly dependable. If he or she is frequently absent or tardy–no matter how good the reason–don’t consider that person for a gatekeeper. Also, you must be able to have complete confidence that delegated tasks will get done. If a gatekeeper says that he/she will do something, you need to have confidence that it will be checked on until it’s done, and done right.
*3. Your gatekeeper must be unfailingly courteous. I have known some gatekeepers who were sweet as pie in the presence of their bosses, but haughty and nasty when the boss wasn’t around. Such gatekeeper create enemies and lose clients.
*4. Your gatekeeper must be utterly loyal and discreet. As for loyalty, a gatekeeper sees the boss at close range. One thing you simply can’t afford in the front office is a backstabber. As for discretion, a gatekeeper is in a position to know privileged information. You must be able to trust your gatekeeper with your secrets and with your good name.
*5. Your gatekeeper should celebrate you. It can be lonely being a leader. When you choose someone who interacts with you on a regular basis, look for someone who admires you and helps you feel good about yourself. A friend of mine puts it this way, “Find someone who celebrates you, doesn’t just tolerate you.” (This is good advice to follow with all your relationships, not just gatekeepers.)
*6. Continuing education is required after the selection. Your gatekeeper must be a direct report, and like all your direct reports, should get uninterrupted one-on-one time with you regularly. Be sure that your gatekeeper understands and is committed to what you consider important. Otherwise you may never get to see vital information or meet the people you want to see..
A gatekeeper won’t solve all your problems, not by any means. But a good gatekeeper can help you get the most out of every day and keep problems to a minimum.