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Handling an Executive’s Unexpected Request with Strategy and Diplomacy

How many times has your executive thrown a last-minute spanner in the works, ranging from mildly annoying to a real threat to the success of your endeavour? Handling these last-minute changes requires a balance of compliance, strategic presentation, and occasionally, firm pushback. This is one of the key responsibilities of an effective executive assistant.


Imagine you are managing a major product launch event, a high-stakes endeavour where you’ve meticulously planned every detail to ensure its success. As an executive assistant, you know how crucial it is to secure top-tier elements, such as a renowned subject matter expert as your keynote speaker. The team has worked tirelessly to bring this expert on board, and their excitement about meeting this industry leader is palpable.


However, just days before the event, the executive insists on inviting and accommodating their preferred high-profile keynote speaker, a well-known motivational speaker rather than a subject matter expert. This last-minute change demands significant logistical adjustments and risks dampening the team’s morale, given their anticipation of the original speaker.


Tactfully Addressing Executive Requests

When the executive makes such a request, the instinctive reaction might be to comply immediately. However, this situation requires a more nuanced approach. While it’s normal to follow the executive’s directives, there are strategic ways to handle this that can mitigate potential negative impacts on the team and the event’s success.


1.     Adopt and Sell the Idea as Your Own


One effective strategy is to adopt the executive’s idea as if it were your own and present it to the team in a positive light. Highlight the potential benefits of having a high-profile motivational speaker and frame it as an enhancement to the event’s overall impact. By doing this, you can:


  • Maintain team morale by focusing on the new speaker’s potential to inspire and energise the audience.

  • Ensure the team feels that the change is a considered decision rather than a last-minute imposition.

This approach allows you to test the quality of the idea. If you find you cannot convincingly present the benefits to your team, it might indicate that the request needs to be reconsidered.


2.      Disagree and Commit: A Strategic Option


The philosophy of “disagree and commit,” popularised by Jeff Bezos at Amazon, offers another strategy. This principle involves open debate and passionate discussion about the direction to take. Once a decision is made, everyone commits to its success, regardless of initial disagreements:


  • Encourage an open discussion with your team about the new keynote speaker.

  • Allow them to express their concerns and provide a space for honest feedback.

  • Once the discussion is complete, ensure the team commits fully to making the new plan a success.


This method ensures that all viewpoints are considered, fostering a sense of involvement and commitment.


3.      When to Push Back


There are times when it is appropriate to push back against an executive’s request. This can be challenging but necessary to prevent potential long-term issues. Consider pushing back if:


  • The new request significantly undermines the event’s goals or the team’s efforts.

  • There are substantial logistical challenges that cannot be resolved in the given timeframe.

  • The morale and engagement of the team are at serious risk.

In such cases, provide clear, constructive feedback to the executive, outlining the potential impacts and suggesting alternative solutions or compromises. Your role includes critically assessing decisions and communicating concerns effectively.



By adopting the idea as your own, utilising the “disagree and commit” philosophy, and knowing when to push back, you can navigate these challenges while maintaining team morale and ensuring the success of the event. Your ability to manage these situations effectively showcases your leadership and critical thinking skills, vital attributes for any executive assistant.


About the Author: Richard Arnott, BA, FInatAM, FIToL, is a Director of BMTG (UK) Ltd, and the author and lead presenter of the groundbreaking, globally recognised Advanced Certificate for the Executive Assistant: ACEA® program. Richard also sits on the editorial board of Lucy Brazier OBE’s Executive Support Magazine.

Please connect with Richard on Linkedin and please also join our LinkedIn group, "The Advanced Certificate for the Executive Assistant: ACEA®," to connect with a community of forward-thinking executive assistants committed to career growth and development

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08 июн.
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Well written & clearly communicates the options. I’ve had this happen on a smaller scale, but this advice is still applicable!

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