Lead Yourself First. Get Uncomfortable. Be Indispensable.

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A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of being on Liz Van Vliet’s podcast, Being Indispensable. Liz is as passionate about the Executive Assistant career as I am and has created content through her website and podcast to help EAs not just survive, but thrive. Liz empowers EAs to first shift their mindset to become true partners with their Executive, and then teaches them how to take action.

When Liz first asked me to be on her podcast several months ago, I had a very quick, “Hell, yes!” moment, followed closely by panic, anxiety, and feelings of self-doubt. Why was she interested in me? What did I know? I’m not a public speaker. Who is going to listen? I’m going to sound like an idiot. I like being behind the scenes, not in front. Negative self talk spiral ensued… so, naturally I emailed back and said, “Yes, I would love to!”

Why? Because despite my fear of public speaking/sharing my story/blogging/recording a video/doing a webinar/etc. (basically anything in the put yourself out there and wait to be judged category) the opportunity for career growth (i.e. results) outweighed any fear. I believe in coaching and have a deep desire to help others develop their careers and achieve their goals. The only way to do that is by speaking up and speaking out (even if it’s into a microphone huddled in the corner of my bedroom). Coaching and leading others, starts with coaching and leading yourself. How can I possibly help others grow and succeed, if I am not challenging myself, getting outside of my comfort zone, and growing? So I asked for it. I put it out in the universe that I wanted to coach and teach and grow. And the universe answered in the form of Liz. Thank you Liz (and universe)!

being indispensableClick here to hear my inaugural podcast with Liz on Being Indispensable. 

Podcast done. What’s next?

Something even further outside of my comfort zone. Being in front of the camera. Recorded for posterity. But comfort zone be damned. I’m stepping out of that small, limited little circle and finding that magic!

On Thursday, November 2, I am launching my first webinar series, Lead & Assist. Lead and Assist is a six-week online training program designed to redefine the Executive Assistant role and help you take your career to the next level.

As you know, I believe that an Executive Assistant position is not just a stepping-stone to another position but a dynamic career all on its own. Executive Assistants are the ultimate force multipliers and project managers. Your project just happens to be your Executive.

For more information about my upcoming webinar series, feel free to email me at hallie@adamhergenrother.com. You can also listen to my Intro to Lead & Assist recording here to learn a bit more about what we will be covering during the class. I hope to see many of you on the call and I look forward to masterminding with EAs from around the world!

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Now, let me ask you this, when was the last time you stepped outside of your comfort zone? Share your stories in the comments! 

 

 

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Lead & Assist Survey Results: Long Hours, Longer Lists, and Loving What They Do

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Almost 100 people responded to my Lead & Assist Giveaway Survey and as I reviewed all of the data over the past week, a few things became very clear: Executive Assistants (and any of the other 28 titles they go by) work very long hours, struggle to find work/life balance, are constantly managing multiple competing priorities, and yet, still love what they do.

First, let’s look at the hard data. I asked this group of pro EAs the following questions:

  1. What is your title?
  2. What are the top three responsibilities in your role?
  3. What is your work schedule? Do you work 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday? Do you have a flexible schedule? Do you work weekends? Or something in between?
  4. What is the biggest challenge you are experiencing at home or at the office due to your role as an Executive Assistant?

Here’s what they said:

  1. What is your title? // The overwhelming title that EAs go by, is (surprise!), Executive Assistant. Just over half of the respondents went by Executive Assistant. The rest of the survey participants who identified as an Executive Assistant, went by the following titles:
  • Senior Executive Assistant
  • Office Manager
  • Executive Administrative Assistant
  • Chief of Staff
  • Operations Manager
  • Administrative Assistant
  • Executive Administrative Assistant
  • Senior Assistant
  • Executive Personal Assistant
  • Senior Administrative Assistant
  • Senior Executive Administrative Assistant
  • Personal Assistant
  • Executive Business Admin
  • Executive Administrative Specialist
  • Lead Executive Assistant
  • Administrative Coordinator
  • Office Manager & Executive Assistant
  • Administrative Business Partner
  • Team Administrator
  • Executive Assistant II
  • Executive Secretary
  • Lead Executive Administrator
  • Business Support Supervisor
  • Director of Operations
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Closing Coordinator
  • Transaction Coordinator

My personal favorite was Director of Getting Shit Done. So, what’s in a name? Some say it’s simply semantics, others believe a proper title clarifies the role and dispels confusion, especially in a large organization, and still others want clear titles because many have worked very hard to get promotions and yes, the title that comes along with those increased responsibilities and seniority.

I used to fall into the semantics camp – does it really matter what your title is? In the grand scheme of things, no. If you are providing value at a high level and leading up, down, and sideways, then a title is irrelevant to the internal team. However, as I have grown in my career and worked very hard to get where I am, I understand this whole title thing a bit more.

Earlier this year, when I was speaking at the Behind Every Leader conference one Senior EA brought up this topic. She was proud of her accomplishments and had earned the right to the Senior Executive Assistant position; she was no longer an Executive Assistant and she was adamant that the roles and titles be clearly defined. I tend to agree. It doesn’t mean that the Senior EA is better than the EA, simply that their roles and responsibilities are different. They are both providing high value to their Execs (one may simply be supporting the Chairman and overseeing a team of other Admins, while the other is supporting two VPs). But I guarantee both have worked their asses off to get where they are. I believe in clearly defined roles, coupled with clear titles. I think it is particularly important because the EA role is still largely misunderstood and the more clarity we can provide to the public, the better, especially when interviewing for a new position.

2. What are the top three responsibilities in your role? // The three most prevalent job responsibilities for EAs are scheduling/calendar management, travel planning and management, and event/meeting planning, preparation, and execution.

In other words, managing the Execs life (personally and professional as there is usually a lot of overlap, especially as you start working with more senior level Execs or company owners). Being an incredible planner and project manager with the ability to anticipate needs, create contingency plans, and above all, be incredibly resourceful, while maintaining the utmost confidentiality are all critical to being a top EA. Sounds easy, right?

3.  What is your work schedule? Do you work 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday? Do you have a flexible schedule? Do you work weekends? Or something in between? // As for work schedules, the majority of respondents worked 8-9 hours a day (usually from 8am/9am to 5pm), but that was just in-office. Most Executive Assistants said they check emails and work from home at night and on the weekends, and several EAs are on-call 24/7.

4.  What is the biggest challenge you are experiencing at home or at the office due to your role as an Executive Assistant? // The overwhelming response was work/life balance and boundaries, followed closely by not having enough hours in the day to handle all of the shifting priorities.

Let’s dive into questions 3 and 4 here. Long, often undefined hours, coupled with multiple competing priorities is tough. I’ve been there and I get it. But here is my (probably) very unpopular opinion: That’s the job. That is what an EA does. And it’s not for everyone. But that’s why we need an Executive Assistant community – so we can talk through the challenges, vent on those tough days, and strategize about ways to control the chaos and increase efficiency and effectiveness. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think people should work all of the time. You need other hobbies, you need to spend time with friends and family, to take care of your mind, body, and spirit. It’s not easy for anyone to manage all of life’s obligations, and particularly difficult for EAs, but it is not impossible.

Ultimately, I think that EAs should make sure they are very clear about what they are getting into (with the caveat that no two EA roles are the same). Some positions may require being available at all times, some may ask that you simply stay connected via email, some require extensive travel, and others are simply 9 to 5, with no requirements outside of those hours. However, I would be skeptical about any position that is simply 9 to 5 (particularly at an Executive level). EAs make the life of an Exec flawless and what Exec do you know who only works between the hours of 9am and 5pm? Be aware of what the position entails before signing on.

Now, many of the survey participants also mentioned that they have flexible schedules. Again, they might be in the office from 9am to 5pm, but can run out to their kid’s soccer game, a dentist appointment, or meet a friend for lunch at their discretion. It works both ways. EAs may be up at 2am waiting for their Exec to land in Europe, but they may also leave early on a Friday for a pedicure.

So, why are so many EAs searching for that work/life balance if, in fact, most of the respondents said they love their careers in spite of the hours? I think it has a lot less to do with balance, and much more to do with not feeling in control of their schedules and their time. Very few positions are as demanding and dependent on the direction of someone else – someone else’s priorities, projects, needs, and deadlines. I believe that with the help of some clear expectations and extreme time management, inner balance can be restored, even if it still looks out of balance on the outside.

Reading all of the survey responses really bolstered my belief that being an Executive Assistant is an incredibly rewarding career choice. Despite some of the frustrations I read, I didn’t see anything that couldn’t be overcome with some personal development, fierce conversations, and time management. In fact, I think the frustrations only spoke to the passion and desire that all of these assistants have to be the best versions of themselves. They all wanted to learn, to improve, and take their careers and leadership to another level. No one was willing to settle for mediocrity, and that is both admirable and rare.

It is certainly an exiting time to be an Executive Assistant and I can’t wait to explore many of the above topics more in depth on my blog, during my Lead & Assist webinar series, and with my EA community.


 

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5 Ways Executive Assistants Can Add Value to Their Company

Last week at a networking event I was called an “office girl” and a “very powerful person” within about 10 minutes by two different people. Yes, I am female. And yes, I work in an office. But that’s about the extent of my identification with the label “office girl.” I mean, what is an office girl, anyway? While that devaluation of my chosen profession always gets to me a little, I’ve been called worse. However, it did get me thinking about why that one individual called me a “very powerful person” in the first place. Did I really live up to that moniker? And how do career Executive Assistants continue to grow in their role and earn that title?

Here’s what I know: Great Executive Assistants are leaders, invaluable resources, and influencers (aka powerful people). But to be seen as such, we must provide exceptional value, not just to our Executive, but to the organization at large. We must go above and beyond the traditional EA responsibilities and think outside the box.

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Below are five ways Executive Assistants can add value to their company:

  1. Keep information, the right information, flowing. Executive Assistants are in a unique position where they have the privilege of learning from and interacting daily with the top Executives in the organization. A large part of an Executive Assistant’s role is to act as a gatekeeper. Yet, gatekeepers are not meant to keep people out; rather they should let the right people in at the right time. Control the flow of information, do not stop it. You can either hoard information and use your position of power as a crutch, or you can share what you learn with your co-workers and be seen as a leader, a resource, and an influencer at all levels of your organization. Information should flow up, down, and sideways throughout the company – and it often hinges on the successful communication skills of the EA. That does not mean you should be an open book. Your first priority is to maintain confidentiality and the confidences of your Executive. But understanding what information can and should be shared with which team members is an important part of our roles.
  2. Volunteer to lead special projects. This may already be a key part of your role (as it is mine), but if not, step-up! Companies today are doing more with less and that often means with less people. But I imagine your Exec and organization are not slowing down. Often there are new projects or initiatives that the organization wants to work on, but they don’t fall into any particular category or department. That’s where you come in. Executive Assistants are problem solvers and fixers. Executive Assistants are detail-oriented, organized, perfectionistic, and the ultimate project managers. Executive Assistants do whatever it takes to get the job done. You are uniquely equipped to handle projects that are important to the CEO, but may not require a full-time hire (yet).
  3. Tell stories. Are you great at writing or marketing? Perhaps you could create a company newsletter, take over your Executive’s social media accounts, start a company blog, write feature articles for local publications, or pitch stories to national media outlets. Content marketing and public relations are king. If your company doesn’t have a PR or marketing department and you are great at telling stories – then that’s your niche! Positive, free media mentions for your organization will definitely set you apart.
  4. Create or join a committee. Are you passionate about wellness or company culture? Then create or join a committee that focuses on those issues and share your insights. Better yet, listen. As an influential person in the organization, you may be looked to for all the answers. Instead, ask questions and get other’s to share their ideas. The most powerful person in the room is not the one who talks the most, but the one who can take all opinions and information and make a decision that best serves the company.
  5. Draw on your strengths and share your knowledge throughout the organization. What can you do better than anyone else? The ultimate mark of a leader and an influencer is to teach. Find opportunities to share your knowledge with your co-workers. Could you hold a seminar about event planning with the other administrative staff in your company? Perhaps you could train department managers on a new software the company is rolling out. Start and lead a monthly book club. Or hold a class about managing up for Executive Assistants.

 

Executive Assistants are powerful people. But that title is not just given. It is earned by providing extensive value not just to your Exec, but to the whole organization. Above are just a few examples of how one can add value – there are hundreds more. But it is the rockstar EA, the very powerful EA, that actually does them.

How do you go above and beyond in your role and add value to your company? Share in the comments below!