I have been privileged to meet many executive administrative professionals over the years. Every time I speak with someone who is exceptionally competent in their job and has an unwavering positive attitude toward their career, several themes invariably arise.
Three exceptional individuals shared with me the following truths that guide their actions, help them add value to their organizations and advance their careers:
1 Earn your job every day. Rhonda Strong, a Senior Executive Assistant for Eastman Chemical Company, has quickly progressed to positions of high responsibility in several companies. One key factor in Rhonda’s progress is her dedication to seeking ways to go the extra mile and do more than what’s expected. She always asks herself, “How can I help make this better, or do this job better?” By asking this question first, rather than, “Is this in my job description?” or “Do I really feel like doing that?” Rhonda focuses on what’s important, which enhances her success and her reputation.
Rhonda believes that every day she comes to work, she needs to earn her job. She says, “We all have days when we don’t want to be there. We wouldn’t be human otherwise. But what we do on those days to ensure that the quality of our work remains highly consistent is crucial in determining how quickly and how far we will advance.”
By embracing an entrepreneurial mindset that helps her focus on how she earns her job every day, Rhonda feels the peace of mind that comes from a job well done, and the self-pride and confidence that make her career financially and emotionally rewarding.
2 “How would I…?” Linda Peevey, former Office Manager for MarCares, LLC, a credit correction company, related her father’s advice: “Whatever you do, do it 200%. Whether you like it or not, always do your best.” This advice always leads her to ask herself an important question: “How would I…? How would I want things done if this were my company? How would I want to be treated if I were the customer… or as an employee?”
This focus has fostered many admirable traits in Linda, including loyalty. While many of us are tempted to buy into the belief that, “Many companies don’t demonstrate loyalty, so why should I,” we must remember that the reverse is also true. If good companies don’t see loyalty in employees, they may simply give up and say, “Why should we be loyal when no one is loyal to their company?”
My personal advice for anyone who wants to create a WOWplace is to go first! We must demonstrate loyalty (and other admirable qualities) by going first and proving that good people are still out there. So, what happens if you go first and discover the other party isn’t worthy of your trust? It’s simple: demonstrate your values anyway; don’t allow the attitudes and behaviors of others to lower your own. Although others occasionally take advantage of Linda’s giving nature due to this, she says, “I’d rather be this way than the other way around. Besides, those instances are few, and they teach you how to deal with those situations differently in the future.”
3 Connect with your core. Karin Bartz CPS/CAP, a Sr Executive Assistant at Medtronic, shared her insights from 24+ years of experience, having begun her administrative career working in an office after school at age 16.
Karin credits her philosophy of “always coming from your core” as the overriding factor in her success. “You have core values that drive you to succeed and do your best every day,” says Karin. “When you use your strengths to connect with those values, take charge of your career and become more confident, you won’t be intimidated when higher opportunities arise.”
One example of this occurred when Karen was promoted to the position of Executive Assistant to the President & COO at Medtronic. She has consistently focused on increasing her skills, knowledge and confidence. Approaching burn-out after being in one position for five years, she told her manager that she wanted to do something different. Her supportive manager encouraged her to explore other opportunities within the company.
As Karin prepared for her first interview, an opportunity arose to assist a VP providing human resources support to the COO. Shortly, she was asked to perform a short-term assignment for the COO. Three months later, Karin accepted the position on a full-time basis. This opportunity came “out of the blue” and Karin believes that had she not been preparing for it throughout her career, she never would have had the confidence to accept the unexpected offer of a “move to Corporate” when it arose.
The following crucial habits and mindsets have also helped the best of the best move from success to significance in their careers:
1 Maintain your professionalism and work ethic at all times. It’s not about what other assistants are not doing… it’s about what you are doing. It takes an incredible amount of time and effort to worry about what everyone else is (or isn’t) doing, what they get paid, and whether their workload is equal to yours. It’s easy to get wrapped up in this, but if we just focus on what we do, our work ethic will shine through… in sharp contrast to those who don’t do this.
2 Never judge the task. No matter how menial a task may seem on the surface, how that task is performed is of utmost importance. Whether it’s as inconsequential as getting a cup of coffee or as weighty as advising a leader who is traveling internationally, never think about the “value” of the task itself, but how well you want it done. This is true in every profession. (I’m reminded of a Sr Vice President at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, US, who began his career as a tram operator. Did he rise to SVP by viewing “tram operator” as a menial task? Doubtful. I’m also reminded of a woman who started as American TV talk show host Montel Williams’ EA and became President of one of his divisions.) Always remember that people rarely notice what you do as much as how you do it.
3 Add value to your position. At the start of every position, you must learn what is expected. But once that learning period is over, seek ways to improve the position and add more value than management has yet to envision. Be proactive; don’t wait for anyone to ask you to do more, or be more efficient. Analyze what is done, how it’s done, and how to deliver more, before they know it’s necessary, or even possible. If a position is overburdened or inefficient, try to improve existing processes and efficiency, cut costs or add income. Even small improvements have the potential to add up to big value. In fact, by taking unnecessary work out of several processes, Rhonda helped her company save over $1 million between 2004 and 2005!
4 Focus on where you want to be, rather than where you are now. Whether related to performance of a task, attitude or participation in a dress code policy, always be one step above. For example, the dress code in Rhonda’s office is “business relaxed”. However, the executive administrative professionals wear suits… a big hint for all admins who desire a position at that level.
Here’s one final valuable mindset that has guided many successful people:
5 Give before. My philosophy is to seek opportunities to give first, rather than waiting to give back. While we should never give only in anticipation of receiving something in return, there’s something exceptional about giving in the true spirit of helping others. Call it the Law of Attraction, or “what goes around comes around,” but I have usually found it to be true that when I give first, I get more back than I could ever hope to receive. So, in addition to seeking support and guidance, look for opportunities to help others. Be a mentor, serve in professional organizations and attend educational events. Not only will this increase your knowledge, reduce your learning curve and add immense value to your organization, but it will also help advance the dignity and value of the administrative profession.
The best of the best continually provide added value to their employers, demonstrating that they are not only worth what they are being paid, but a whole lot more. When we go above and beyond in our jobs, often surprising our superiors with unexpected actions and attitudes, we make others feel valued.
And when others feel valued by us, they see more value in us. Standing out in this manner puts us in a great position to be noticed, remembered and selected for new opportunities that abound all around us… if we have well prepared ourselves to take advantage of them when they come our way.