Adam Fidler shows us how to grow our career
Have you ever thought, ‘I could do that’ or ‘I don’t agree; I would do it this way’, or even ‘I’d like to have a go’ and then never done anything about it? I’m sure we’ve all been there, and there are certainly many examples of this in my 20-year career as an Executive PA.
I watched managers and executives from afar, was often privy to their conversations and thoughts about their staff, their goals and aspirations, and even their struggles and lack of knowledge in certain areas. And, after a while, I realised that even top managers or leaders don’t know everything – in fact, they don’t always know as much as they make out. You don’t need to be a master of all trades to be a top leader, or CEO, but you certainly need one thing which I lacked early in my career. That one thing was self-belief and self-confidence.
You see a self-confident leader, be it a PA, CEO, Chairman or Entrepreneur, will put themselves forward and unhesitatingly they think ‘I can do that’ or ‘I want to know more about that’ so they put their hand up and get involved, even if it identifies their shortcomings or lack of experience. They know that the only way you learn something new is by having a go, and getting stuck in. The fear of failure, or the thought that ‘I can’t do that’ will often put you off taking that brave step to get involved. However, a confident person will ignore those feelings of self-doubt and throw themselves in, or put their hand up and volunteer to learn new things, or better still put their hand up and speak confidently about their goals and aspirations.
Standing still in any job, whether you’re the PA or the Executive, means becoming bored and demotivated. Any job, when it’s been done for a few years, can become monotonous and routine. In order to stay motivated, we need to continually self-develop, push our own boundaries, step out of our comfort zones and promote ourselves in terms of goals, next steps and self-development.
Here, then, are my top suggestions for personal growth and career advancement:
1. Set personal and work-related goals – but always put timescales or deadlines on them
One of my biggest goals was that ‘I would be the PA to a CEO by the time I was 30 – and if wasn’t a PA to a CEO of a medium- to large-sized organisation by then, I would leave the PA profession altogether!’ Sounds strict, but it’s true – that was a real goal of mine. Knowing I had until I was 30 to achieve this goal gave me a deadline in the back of my mind, to ensure that I kept on track and worked towards it. Having a deadline or timeframe in mind does seem to focus you more towards achieving your goals, than if your goals just drift on and on aimlessly into the future. (And yes, I achieved the goal; I was appointed EA to a CEO by the time I was 30!)
2. Speak to your boss, the HR Department and colleagues about what else you can do or learn at work to prepare you better for your ‘next job’
Never think that you are just learning for your current role – always think that you are preparing yourself now, as much as you can, for the next job. That stretches your goal setting and thinking, and helps you reach for the next promotion. If you are currently a middle-PA, what do you need to learn or develop to become a senior-PA? Think that way as you then get yourself job-ready for your next career move.
3. Volunteer for additional duties, ask to be involved, or just get involved
In my career there were always managers and even other PAs, who would take pleasure in reminding me: ‘That’s not your job’ or ‘Why are you doing that?’ and at times I am sure that I trod on a few toes of people when I got involved in their work, or asked questions, or took the lead or asked to be involved. But I realised one key thing: if I continually wait for permission to be involved or for someone else, such as my boss, to say ‘Adam I’d like you to sit in on that meeting’ then I would be waiting a long time! I had to actively push myself, inform my boss about what I felt I could contribute towards, and sit around that meeting table. When you wait for permission, you put yourself in passive mode, and that takes away your individual power.
4. Continually push the boundaries – not just to show others what you can do, but more crucially, to show yourself what you can achieve!
It’s remarkable what knowledge you have, what you can do that you’ve never done before, and how you can change perceptions of yourself, when you deliberately act, or get involved, in ways, that your colleagues don’t expect you to. The world is full of expectations, certainly around office professionals. So, each day at the back of my mind was ‘How can I push the boundaries of this role?’ and ‘How can I show others that I may be called ‘the EA’, but I have a huge contribution to make?’ Again, if you are waiting for others to give you permission to be more managerial, or be a project leader, or take charge of reception, for example, then you will wait a long time. Inform and discuss with your boss the things you want to do, and you may find your boss is more supportive than you think.
Taking charge of your own self-development is so rewarding. Some bosses are supportive, some not – so do it for yourself as no one else will. Before you know it, the boss will know you are no pushover and will see that you are serious about your career and development, just as anyone should be.
I never made any excuses of my ambition within my roles, as I understood, through trial and error, that no one but me would take charge of my career path. Bosses may support, or not(!) but ultimately I learnt I was responsible for myself.
From recognising that responsibility, I then developed self-confidence and self-belief. From that comes ‘choices’ about where you choose to realise your potential and talent, and that may not be in the firm you are currently employed in.
The moment you change your view of yourself and your role is the moment you change the perception of you. And that, my fellow PAs, can only lead to greater opportunities. Good luck!