Executive Assistants Unite!

melburne-ea-groupA few months ago, Carmel Bond, founder of the Melbourne EA Group (MEAG) reached out to me after seeing my blog. Turns out we both work for real estate companies, just on opposite sides of the world! This is what is so cool about my career – EAs/PAs/Executive Secretaries/Chiefs of Staff/Coordinators of Chaos are so willing to connect and share, are so passionate about teaching other how to be successful in this role, and most importantly, so quick to support each other in this exciting, challenging, and often crazy world we’ve chosen to live and work in.

This week I had the privilege of being the featured guest on the Melbourne EA Group blog. Check it out and while you’re there take a look at the amazing work Carmel and her team are doing to support, teach, and inspire their fellow Executive Assistants.

behind-every-leaderHere’s another example of the power of the Executive Assistant network around the world. About three years ago I attend an amazing conference in NYC – Behind Every Leader. I felt like I had finally found my people and was in total awe of the presenters – all either current or former EAs to the greats like Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt, Mark Zuckerberg, JFK Jr, Nate Berkus, and Magic Johnson. I remember emailing my Exec, Adam, after the first day and telling him how amazing it was and how much I loved my career as an Executive Assistant. And he told me that one day I would be on that stage. Little did I know one day would come so soon!

Fast forward to sometime last year when Victoria Rabin, CEO and Founder of Executive Assistants Organization, which hosts Behind Every Leader, saw Adam’s blog about strategic partnerships and connected with us about speaking at Behind Every Leader this year in Washington DC and NYC. Circle complete. Victoria is a consummate badass and a huge advocate for the EA/Exec strategic partnership. I am honored to be a part of anything she’s doing and I hope I can inspire just one EA like those amazing individuals did for me several years ago.

Want to learn more about Behind Every Leader? Check out my interview with Victoria and Adam as we gear up for Behind Every Leader in DC in April. 

Your turn! Share where you are from, one of your recent successes, and one of your current challenges in the comments. Together, we can all elevate our careers and master the art of leading and assisting.

 

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3 Things to Start Doing in 2017 and One Thing to Stop

blank-notebookOne of my very favorite things is a blank notebook. (Another favorite thing is the Pilot Precise V5 Rolling Ball Extra Fine black pen. Executive Assistants and their office supplies, am I right?) Back to the notebook… Empty pages to fill with ideas and plans for the future. And lists. Lots of lists. When the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, it’s as if the collective world population opens a fresh notebook. White blank pages. A fresh start. A new beginning.

What will you write in the pages? If the idea of a blank notebook is daunting, then here are 3 ideas to get you started for the new year:

1.  Put your health first. For the past six years I’ve been completely focused on building my career (in between buying a house, getting married, acquiring a dog) and during that time I’ve gained over 50 pounds and lost a lot of confidence. I am a project manager by nature. Put a task or mission in front of me and I will get. shit. done. The project I have failed to work on for the past several years is me. But doing so will have the most impact on the rest of my life.

Executive Assistants are some of the hardest working and most selfless individuals I know – which means they often put themselves on the bottom of their to-do lists. Family, friends, their Executive, and the company all come first. I want you all to turn that to-do list upside down. YOU must come first. Your health is everything. You can not achieve what you want or give to those around you at the level you want to if your health is not in check. I’m talking directly to myself here too! Your energy, mental clarity, and mood are all effected when you are not fueling your body with proper nutrition and exercising regularly.

If I accomplish nothing else this year, but this one thing, I will have succeeded. If you are struggling to get into a fitness routine or looking for some accountability, let’s connect and support each other.  I have started a private Facebook group where we can work together to put ourselves first, while still crushing the rest of our goals at work and at home.

2.  Create more than you consume. How many times have you gotten lost in the black hole of Instagram? We have become a society that just consumes, whether that’s binge-watching The Walking Dead, stock-piling toiletries from Costco, ordering take-out, or skipping from Instagram to Facebook to LinkedIn to Snapchat to Twitter and back again looking for another hit. I am just as guilty as the next person, perhaps more so.

But I challenge you to create! Journal, paint, build a bookshelf, plan a charity walk, start writing your novel, get certified to teach yoga, host a dinner part and cook!, make your own holiday cards, plant a garden, hell, build a chicken coop and get some chickens! Just create. We all have such unique gifts to offer. That doesn’t mean I don’t want you to share them on Instagram, but perhaps during your scheduled social media time (remember, time blocking is key!).

3.  Leverage all non-essential tasks. There are only 24 hours in the day. Focus on what only you can do better than anyone else and what you actually enjoy doing, and leverage the rest. At the end of the year, I started my NOT to do list. Those items can either become another individual’s job description OR perhaps areas where you can simply outsource or ask for help. For example, at the office I was able to leverage all social media and marketing by making a key hire. This applies to your personal life as well. Perhaps you hire a housekeeper, or the neighborhood kid to mow your lawn, or a college student to do personal errands for you once a week. I would much rather spend time with my husband, working on a project, or traveling to visit my niece and nephew, then cleaning the house or running errands. Life is too short to do the dishes. I mean, someone has to do them, it just doesn’t have to be me. This year, it is particularly crucial for me to leverage as many tasks as possible so that I can accomplish #1 – putting my health first. Every time you begin a task, stop and ask yourself if someone else could do it, then go find that person! I might mean asking your mother for help, but sometimes we’ve just got to do what we’ve go to do.

And here’s one thing to stop doing in 2017 – in fact, stop right now!

comparisonStop comparing yourself to others. There is a great quote that goes something like, “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” We are all flawed. Embracing those flaws is the first step in living a fulfilling life. We are all on our own journeys and you don’t know where someone else is on theirs. Everybody is better than you at something. The trick is to accept yourself and accept where you are on YOUR journey. It’s very easy to get stuck in our heads and think we’ll never be as good as whoever we’re comparing ourselves to. But there is no benefit in the comparison. In fact, it can actually paralyze you and derail you from your own goals. You stop yourself before you even get started because you don’t think you can ever be as fit as Jennifer Lopez (#bodygoals), as fearless as Indra Nooyi (#leadershipgoals), or as fun as Marie Forleo (#lifegoals). But we all must start somewhere. And if we don’t start, we’ll never be able to share our story and and inspire someone else along the way. Don’t get stuck in the comparison trap and just get started.

So what have you decided to tackle in 2017?  Are your goals big enough? If your goals don’t scare you, then you are not pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and you’re not growing! None of my goals scared me, so I had to challenge myself to go back to the drawing board and think bigger. I’m still working through my my Future Self (a 3 year goal/visualization document) and making sure my goals scare the shit out of me. I hope you do the same.

Here’s to your best year yet! Cheers!

 

 

 

Treat Every Week Like You’re Going on Vacation

 

I don’t know about you, but I kicked ass even more than usual leading up to the long Christmas weekend. Why is it that most of us are so much more productive and efficient leading up to a holiday or vacation? And how can we harness that productivity power throughout the rest of the year? Simple. Take control of your time. That’s why we’re so purposeful before vacations. We prioritize like a boss. We only do what is most important and we schedule our day down to the minute. I bet in the last day before a recent vacation you worked out, meditated, worked on your novel, put in a 9 hour day at the office (3 interviews, finished 2 projects, took the team out to lunch), went shopping for 3 new outfits, met your partner and some friends for dinner, spent another hour checking in with your Exec and answering emails, and read 2 chapters of The Surrender Experiment. Why isn’t every day this purposeful and productive?!

I thought about this concept a lot over the weekend and realized that the most successful people follow a schedule. Everything is time-blocked – from workouts to meetings to date nights to interviews to planning time. If it is not in your calendar and on your schedule it doesn’t exist.

This idea of extreme time management is even more critical and a hell of a lot more complex for Executive Assistants. We not only have to manage and maximize our Execs time, we must still make enough time in the day to work on other key projects to help move the company forward. I live in Adam’s calendar – it dictates the flow of his day, and therefore mine. But in addition to prepping for and attending many of the meetings Adam is at, I also have several meetings of my own that need to happen, as well as projects that need my time and attention. I know we can all create a damn good schedule. The issue often lies in execution. How do you manage your time when your time is not your own?

Let’s take a look at your calendar. Right now, take a minute, open it up and see what you’ve got planned for the week. I bet your Executive’s calendar is flawlessly organized – every hour of his/her personal and professional time accounted for. Can you say the same about your schedule? Are you making time for what’s most important?

Every minute of my day is not scheduled like Adam’s is (you can see his daily schedule here), but I have all company meetings and reoccurring tasks in my calendar, as well as designated time to answer emails. I have also set aside large blocks of time for writing (blog posts, media pitches, etc.), prep time, and projects, and the open blocks in my calendar are where I know I can schedule interviews, do follow-up work from meetings, and be ready for any changes in the week that need to be handled. I also have personal appointments blocked off in my calendar.

hallies_schedule

Your time is valuable. If you are just moving from one request to the next or just getting lost in your emails all day, you are likely not making any meaningful progress on special projects or spending any time thinking or planning for growth – key components of being a strategic partner. To move from reactive to proactive, you must manage your time.

The first step is committing to time blocking. Put all events, meetings, projects, and priorities in your calendar and stick to it. I know, I know. It’s not always possible. One of the main reasons I love being an Executive Assistant/Chief of Staff is because each day is different. Sure, there are flows to my week – standing meetings, weekly deliverables, but what was important at 8am on Monday, may not be by noon. Flexibility is critical for an Executive Assistant to survive and thrive. If you do have to miss a meeting with yourself (say, working on a new HR manual), then make sure you replace that block of time in your calendar later in the week.

The external demands and frequent fires are never going to stop. I get requests and questions all day – either via email or by people stopping by the office or stopping me in the hall. There is far too much to remember. If it is a question I can handle in 60 seconds or less, I answer right away. If it is going to require research, sending documents, or bringing other people into the discussion, I request that person send me an email with what they need and I will take care of it by the end of the day/within 24 hours/by the end of the week (time frame dependent on request). And, you guessed it, I answer during my email time block. The more you work on streamlining your time and controlling what you can, the less time you’ll spend worrying about a deadline when a VP stops you in the hall and wants to talk about the status of another project. You will know what you can move and how to reorganize your schedule quickly to continue moving forward that week.

Another critical aspect of time management is saying no. I was very much guilty of saying yes and handling any request that came my way for many years; but I have learned that this is actually a disservice to myself, to Adam, and to the growth of the company. There is probably someone else on your team or on staff that can handle the request or project better than you can (I know, it’s hard to believe, right!?). Your job is simply to communicate the request to the appropriate person and follow-up (or better yet ask that they follow-up with you) so you know it was handled. Done. Move on to the priorities and projects that only YOU can handle.

calendarAnd finally, lead by example. Respect your time. If someone is stopping by your office asking lengthy questions or wants to discuss something specific, but you are currently in the middle of your time block for weekly prep, ask them if you can schedule a 30 minute meeting later in the week so you can give the conversation your full attention. The more you value and respect your time, the more others will too.

We all have 24 hours in a day (and we don’t want to spend it all at the office, no matter how much we love our job). Why can some people accomplish more in one day than most accomplish in a week? Because they are committed to living a structured life and managing their time. And the paradox is, that by doing so, you ultimately have more time and freedom.

 

 

 

 

Are You Working With the Right Leader?

I get a lot of questions from Executive Assistants all over the world about how to form a better relationship and strategic partnership with their Executive (a topic we’ll continue to explore). It really starts with a fundamental question: Are you working with the right leader?

gn_niunjyji-nick-karvounis

If you are feeling unfulfilled at work, are struggling to get excited about supporting and working with your Exec, or if you are dreading going to the office in the morning, no matter how much you love being an Executive Assistant and no matter how great your company is; your Exec may not be the right fit for you. I’ve seen amazing EAs struggle and eventually leave because they want more growth and opportunity, while their Executive is content with the status quo. Conversely, I’ve seen great EAs falter because their Exec is a hard driver and is constantly changing priorities and the EA would be better served in a more methodical and structured environment. Neither is right or wrong, better or worse – it’s just not the right fit for either party.

If any of the above scenarios sound like you, it’s time to take a good hard look at yourself and your Exec. First, get clear on your own personality, behavior, working style, and career goals. I recommend the following (free or inexpensive) personality and behavior assessments to learn more about your strengths, areas for improvement, ideal work environment, etc.

Some Executive Assistants want a strong, direct, fast-paced Executive. Others, thrive in a a more structured and copacetic environment. While still others will prefer working for a creative, spontaneous Executive. Do you like to keep it strictly business or do you want to attend weekly dinners with your Exec and her family? Do you like a controlled and organized environment or do you thrive on bringing order to chaos? Do you like to take the lead on all projects or do you prefer to wait for detailed instructions before tackling a task? Take all of that into consideration as you are evaluating who you are and whether or not your Exec is the right fit for you.

If you have access to your Executive’s behavior or personality profiles, compare your results with his. (In fact, I would encourage you to have your Executive take one of these assessments. It is a great way to start a conversation about how to work better together.) Where are the assessments in alignment? And where is there a mismatch? You definitely don’t want to have the same strengths as your Exec – or else you wouldn’t need each other! But there are some key places you will want to align. For example, Adam is a DI personality, which means he is direct, fast-paced, gregarious, a driver and an influencer. I am a DC, which means I also work very quickly, am direct (and can handle his direct style), but also have the organizational, detail-oriented, perfectionistic qualities he lacks. And, in fact, if Adam was not a High D personality, I would not have lasted six plus years working with him (I would simply have been too bored!).

If you don’t have a behavior assessment to review, then take a few minutes to complete a quick comparison sheet. Your sheet will be different than mine based on your behavior profile. Really dive deep into what you need in a leader. You may need an analytical and methodical leader and someone else may need a creative and visionary leader to feel fulfilled. Take a look at mine below and then create your own (email me for a template).

are-you-working-with-the-right-leader

Is your leader the right fit or the wrong fit for YOU? Ideally, you would determine this before accepting a position, but that doesn’t always happen. You could have been assigned to an Exec or be supporting your Execs replacement. Even more common, you or your Executive have grown (or not) or have had some big life events that change the working dynamic. Time to reassess whether or not you are working for the right leader.

I know I am working for the right leader because I am constantly growing, I am challenged daily, I take steps (okay, sometimes I’m pushed) outside of my comfort zone so that I can grow (hello! this blog!), I get up every day excited to go to work and help Adam grow our companies, I have freedom and flexibility with my work, and I am supported personally and professionally. Most importantly, I know I am working with the right leader because I don’t have a “boss”, but a business partner.

The EA/Executive relationship is arguably the most important one in the organization and if it doesn’t work, the rest of the organization feels it. It behooves you to ensure that you are working for the right leader for the sake of your sanity and for the success of the organization. The first step to a successful EA/Exec partnership is making sure the time you will invest in your Exec will be time well spent. If you are not the right match, regardless of the strategies you implement, you will fail to build a fulfilling strategic partnership.

 

 

 

What Does an Executive Assistant Do? Whatever It Takes.

The Executive Assistant role is one of the least understood positions, in part because it encompasses so many different responsibilities and can differ greatly depending on the industry or Executive. My husband doesn’t even fully understand what I do (and I talk about my work a lot).

In the past five years or so, I have seen significant improvements in both the perception of the position and the training resources available for this career. Yes, executive support and administration is a career. One, I was happy to discover, which was actually very fulfilling and lucrative, because it was made for me (a Type-A, overachieving, organized, detail-oriented, intrapreneurial leader). I have made it my mission to dispel the myths surrounding this career and find as many resources as possible (or create my own) to support Executive Assistants in their career development.

So, what do I do? What do Executive Assistants do? Whatever it takes.

executives

Executive Assistants are the ultimate force multipliers and project managers. Our project just happens to be our Executive. From purchasing unique gifts for a business associate, to managing internal and external communication, to preparing speeches, to reorganizing staff roles, to creating business plans, and everything in between, we’ve got it covered. Executive Assistants are problem solvers and fixers. They are some of the most resourceful and connected individuals in your organization. If you have a challenge, bring it to your nearest EA, and I guarantee they will have a solution for you by the end of the day. Executive Assistants are leaders and seeing them as anything else is a complete underestimation of their ability and a disservice to you.

I am fascinated by the Executive Assistant position because I find it varies so significantly depending on what industry you work in, how established the organization is, and the personality and behavior of your Executive.

I have been an Executive Assistant/Chief of Staff for over six years with the same Executive, yet my responsibilities have significantly evolved over the years. Here’s a little bit about what I do as a Chief of Staff at Hergenrother Enterprises (which encompasses six companies):

  • Manage and plan Executive’s time and priorities (including all meeting prep, briefing, taking meetings on Exec’s behalf that aren’t the best use of his time)
  • Act as an extension of Executive and help lead the organization
  • Review current operations and make recommendations to support overall company objectives (then lead implementation of changes)
  • Lead all special projects and track initiatives to ensure successful completion
  • Handle all communication on behalf of Executive (calls, email, social media, media requests, staff questions, meeting follow-up, etc.)
  • Recruit and hire for key positions
  • Key relationship management
  • Schedule, calendar, travel, event management
  • Whatever it takes so Executive is only focused on leading, training, coaching, and spreading the vision of the organization

As the Chief of Staff to a serial entrepreneur I have done everything from setting up new entities, to refining systems that allowed us to launch teams in new states, to planning, organizing, and selling tickets for a non-profit speaker event, to reviewing budgets and strategic plans, to training other Executive Assistants, to recruiting and hiring staff, to helping write course content, to scheduling meetings and travel, to holding other staff members accountable, to preparing presentations, to conducting meetings on behalf of my Exec.

Regardless of the exact responsibilities Executive Assistants have, I haven’t met individuals who work harder to accomplish a mission. When Adam travels without me, I don’t go to bed unless I know he has arrived. I’ve emailed with him at 2am before he went off the grid to hike Kilimanjaro. I’ve come into the office on more than one weekend to work on a project, prepare for an event, or move offices. I’ve gotten out of bed more than once to rearrange travel and get him booked on a new flight after delays or cancellations. It needed to be handled. I handled it. I’m sure this is sounding pretty familiar to my fellow EAs.

For people who don’t quite understand our unique roles, they think our Exec is expecting too much or that these requests are unacceptable or intrusive. But what they don’t know is that very rarely does the Exec actually have to request that these things happen – they just get done of our own volition. I knew what I was signing up for, in fact, I thrive on this. I work for an incredibly interesting and dynamic entrepreneur and I am helping him build multiple organizations; occasionally work doesn’t happen between 9am and 5pm, Monday through Friday. The trade-off? I get to work for an incredibly interesting and dynamic entrepreneur and help him build multiple organizations – the work is challenging, rewarding, and it doesn’t hurt that I have complete flexibility with my schedule and unlimited vacation and time off.

What about you? What does your day look like? I want to hear from you! What is your title and what are your top five responsibilities? Share in the comments below and let’s keep the conversation going!

 

 

 

 

The Girl Next to the Corner Office

Did I have dreams of being in the corner office? Not really. Did I have aspirations of being in the Oval office? Yes – I dreamed of being either an FBI profiler, a fashion magazine editor, or President. In high school I did my senior capstone project on serial killers, but wasn’t ready to commit to a life of crime. After I started college as a Journalism major and realized that a core part of the position would be talking to strangers on the daily, I quickly switched to a more appropriate course of study – English with a Writing Concentration. The only strangers I met were in the pages of Chaucer, Marquez, and Camus. As for being President? It hasn’t completely lost it’s allure (despite the current state of politics). But let’s be honest, I’m much more of an Olivia Pope, than a Fitzgerald Grant.

So, here I am now, almost 10 years out of college, next to the corner office. And it feels like home.

Being an Executive Assistant (Chief of Staff, Executive Secretary, Coordinator of Chaos, Executive Administrative Assistant, etc.) is not just a stepping stone to another career (as it may have been in the past) it is a dynamic and fulfilling career all on its own. I hope to empower Executive Assistants to own (but never abuse) their power, develop their leadership skills, and continue to learn and grow and make themselves an invaluable strategic asset to their CEO and their organization. I also hope to help Executives understand what a valuable asset they have or can have if they hire, train, and invest into their EA the way their EA invests into them. The best EA/CEO relationships are not hierarchies, but partnerships.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s 2014 data, there are approximately 2.5 Million top executives (CEOs, COOs, government officials, education leaders) and 3.9 Million assistants (executive assistants, medical assistants, paralegals, administrative assistants). That is about 1.5 assistants for every executive. My point is, we need each other to survive. And in order to thrive, Executive Assistants can and should both lead and assist.

Let’s get started.


 

next to the oval office

Fun Fact: Next to the Oval Office is the President’s second dining room; throughout the years it has been used as a private dining room, private study, or secretary’s office. The photo above was taken in 1946 during Harry S. Truman’s presidency when the dining room was used as the office of the “President’s secretary” (a position now know as the White House Chief of Staff). Below, the dining room in 1974, as the office of Richard Nixon’s personal secretary, Rosemary Woods.

nixon's secretary