You have a deadline looming. You have a million things to get done. Your “to do” list is longer than your arm, and there’s no way you can get it done in time. What do you do? You dish out work to the underlings (and sometimes not underlings). Hopefully you work with competent people who can get any job done for you. So you hand them a project, give a little explanation, and walk away.
In a perfect world, you get to stop thinking about that project, trust your staff, and get back to other things. In an imperfect world, the job doesn’t get done correctly, or at all. In the real world, your assistant is probably going to have more follow-up questions (unless he can read your mind).
In a real crunch, I recommend you do this: tell your assistant what you want. If you need a document/spreadsheet/PowerPoint to look a certain way, if you can see it in your head, and nothing else will do, then just tell him.
Any good assistant will understand that you trust their ability to make decisions and do a good job, but in those moments where you need something to be a certain way, tell them. It’s not offensive. In fact, we appreciate it. There’s nothing worse than turning in work product that doesn’t meet your expectations or isn’t the way you actually wanted it.
There have been times in my career where I’ve had to look an attorney in the eye and simply say the words “tell me what you want.” Even under the best of circumstances, I cannot always read minds. My job is to make their lives easier, and sometimes that involves them just flat-out telling me what they want done, how they want it done, and when they want it by.
This is not to say that we want to be micro-managed in our day-to-day activities. Believe me. But when it comes down to the line and there’s no room for error, give us some direction and instructions.