What Ministry Assistants Want (by Melissa Anderson)

Last week Jim blogged about what to look for in a ministry assistant, and I was honored when he said he thought I was the best one. Of course that made me want to prove him right this week by trying to live up to his compliment (which may have been his intention), so let’s see if I can return the favor… Seriously, he asked me to write this post to help leaders understand what kind of boss an assistant appreciates—because if you are that kind of boss, you will both enable your assistant to do a better job for you and you will inspire him or her to want to. So…

An ideal boss…

1. Gives clear direction. Assistants aren’t mind readers. Despite Jim’s assertion that good ministry assistants know how their bosses think, we don’t come into our jobs knowing. It is something we learn along the way, and it’s your job as the boss to teach us. Clear directions help. We cannot do what you want unless you are clear about what that is. We don’t need pages of instructions, but we need to know what is most important to you in a given situation. And if you prefer something done in a specific way, please tell us. As we get to know you, you will have to do less and less of this. In fact, pretty soon we may seem like mind readers, but in reality, we’ve just learned what you have taught us about yourself.

2. Empowers. Some bosses simply dump tasks on assistants and walk away; others look over shoulders and micromanage. The kind of boss assistants want is neither of these. We need you to give us the tools and instructions necessary to do the job, then step back and let us do it. As we feel trusted and empowered, we develop the self-confidence Jim wrote about in his post, and we begin to feel that our own reputation is attached to yours and to how we represent you. The job becomes our own, not something we do for you. That kind of ownership improves performance.

3. Offers helpful feedback. Assistants want to know what bosses like and what they don’t like, especially as you empower us to act on your behalf. As you allow us to make decisions and represent you, we need to know when we meet your expectations, when we exceed them, and when we miss the mark. This will help us along the path of learning to read your mind (see #1 above).

4. Knows assistants are people. We know it’s all about you, but we like to feel as though we are part of your team, not just your lackey. Lackeys do just enough to get by. Respected team members want to contribute. When you occasionally ask our opinion on something, you inspire us to see our job as more than just a job, and if we feel we are part of a ministry team, we will be more inclined to work odd hours and go on errands not in our job descriptions. Also, if you occasionally call to say, “I’m going through Starbuck’s, do you want anything?” we’ll be less likely to complain if you periodically ask us to get your coffee—even though getting your coffee is not in our job description. In fact, we’ll begin to think as we are writing the blog post you asked us to write that maybe we ought to get your Starbuck’s more often to help you save face since you always order girly drinks…but I digress…

5. Has integrity (and humility is a plus). Assistants don’t enjoy taking orders from bosses they don’t respect. I’ve been there. One of my first “real” jobs was office manager at a school that was part of a special GED program for young mothers—a program which coordinated social workers, teachers, and day care providers. As a result, I was often preparing and submitting documents containing progress reports and studies of success rates in similar programs. One day my boss gave me a big job—many hours of typing and compiling research—ostensibly for the program. Then, well into the project, I discovered it was for his master’s thesis. I never trusted the man again, and I was much more reluctant to go out of my way to help him. Assistants want bosses whose integrity they can admire, and a measure of humility is a plus. If we believe in you, we’ll want to make you look good, and if we know we can trust you, we’ll want to be trustworthy in return.

6. Genuinely cares. We can tell if you’re just being nice to make sure things are done your way. After all, if we’re good enough to begin reading your mind, we’re going to be able to tell when you aren’t being genuine. (There’s a negative for every positive.) If you take a real interest in our lives and our faith journeys, we’ll feel cared about, and we’ll do our best to relate well with you and your family. In addition, your interest in our spiritual life will benefit you indirectly because if we’re growing in our faith, then we’re more likely to be truly invested in your ministry.

7. Shows appreciation. When you recognize our strengths and point them out, we want to develop those strengths even further and use them to contribute to your ministry, and when you have enough humility to acknowledge that our strengths complement your weaknesses, we feel valued and needed. Inevitably, we will want to prove that you have not expressed your appreciation in vain…especially if you blog about us…

Looking carefully at these seven traits of an ideal boss, you will notice that they have a reciprocal relationship with Jim’s seven traits of a good ministry assistant. The right kind of boss can inspire a ministry assistant to excel, which just goes to show that behind every great assistant is a great boss. So, if I’m the best ministry assistant in the world, what does that say about Jim? Shhhh…don’t tell him. It might go to his head, and that would ruin a perfectly good boss…