I saw firsthand recently how efficient the Microsoft machine was recently at WPC in Denver. I had the pleasure of either working with or being on a panel with some of Microsoft's top female brass. They are smart, classy and above all extremely personable. But what I noticed was that they were not alone. In a demanding position such as theirs it would make sense that they are sought after all the time for a myriad of issues both menial and extremely critical. This does not even touch on the extensive travel, speaking engagements and other meetings many of these key people do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Given the deluge of email that must build up hourly it simply would not make sense to expect them to handle this all on their own and be effective leaders. So what was once just the bastion of male executives has become the standard for female executives at Microsoft, an executive assistant. These women and men (yes I received a call from him so I can vouch for this) are even more important today than in any other time. In one way its ironic because the IT revolution was supposed to make life easier to manage. It has except it also has given people more ways to reach you, perhaps a little too easily and therefore the other edge of the sword is that everyone and his brother can ping you to their heart's content. So to balance this all out the EA's have become as integral to these women as having a PDA.
The end result? They are able to be effective and people do get listened to and issues are dealt with because someone can filter the important from the less so and ensure what really needs their attention that particular day gets it. I also think that allows them to remain very focused on business issues that affect us all. That doesn't mean there is an iron curtain in the way. And by the way I have received emails back from these people directly and very promptly because I treat their time with the utmost respect and only contacted them on something I knew was of relative interest to them and that they believed in. Okay confession time: One time I did get angry with a "stupid" run around issue that was inexcusable to me and lo and behold I fired off an email: issue was corrected in two hours (after 3 weeks of pleading and begging).
Lesson: As women we often are so used to multitasking that we forget that to be as effective as leaders we should take a tip for our male counterparts and from Microsoft's women leaders and work at "layering" our accessibility. If we work in a smaller environment that can be hard but I actually found that by using tools like Microsoft Groove, the people and projects that are critical to me are positioned so that I am alerted the minute anything comes up and needs my attention and I then check my email when I see fit. This is the quickest and most inexpensive but extremely effective tool I use. Sharepoint Server is the next tool I would put into the mix for firms with a larger office and tasks that need controlling but more on that another time. What else do I do. I have and am still learning to use outside services for certain functions that are just eating up my productivity. I have taken shirts (mine)to the cleaner for pressing cleaning and to closing my computer in the evening for a few hours (okay that's going to take a long time to learn). I also keep my pocket pc with me and that allows me to be anywhere and still be in touch without lugging around a laptop. I see many women with them but not nearly enough. It's an investment you will never regret. I don't rush back to the office after lunch or a meeting. I can reposition meetings and update appts. and documents but more importantly I can be mobile the entire day and never be out of range to deal with the people who are dependent on me.
If you happen to be in a larger environment, sit down with your boss and start looking at what you do, how you do it and how much of your time is deal with interruptions that would be best filtered out of your day. If making certain goals and deadlines is critical to your job then this makes even more sense to review. When you can dissect your day and find another 15-25% of your time that can be gained by using other human resources for certain tasks then you also stand a better chance of becoming the leader you always aspired to.