On the surface, my bio may look pretty boring. For the last 25 years, I’ve worked at the same company, supported the same executive, been married to the same man, and lived in the same town.
However, if you dig a little deeper, you will see I love to stay challenged. While I have supported the same executive, I’m also a mother of four active kids, as well as a wife, athlete, writer, and team builder.
I’ve been asked how I measure success. My answer has always been the same. I ask myself this one question: Are you happy?
In my experience leading administrative teams, I’ve found that if an Executive Assistant follows these five guidelines to create their own happiness, I end up with a high-performing, happy EA that I tend to retain. I hope you find these guidelines helpful to you as well in creating happiness in your own life and career. Here we go!
- DISCOVER YOUR WHY
Why is this so important?
The Joplin 2017 marathon helped me understand the importance of my “why.” In my last two miles, I had to remember why I was out there – to honor the 161 lives lost in the 2011 Joplin Tornado. I was able to stay committed to my overall goal and give my all even through the pain. Similarly, when I train, I can only run between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. so I need a really good reason “why” I should get out of bed. Sometimes that “why” could be a friend I’m meeting to train with or the pursuit of my next personal record. Whatever the “why” is at the time, has to be important to me.
It’s the same concept for our careers. Why are we going to work? Is it just for the paycheck? Are we aligned with our company’s purpose? BCG’s purpose is unlocking the potential of those who advance the world. I can find my own purpose within theirs. Doing so will keep me committed to giving my best to BCG, our clients, my executive—even on days when I don’t feel like it.
How do you find it?
I encourage my teams to think about what energizes them outside of work and find that connection within their role. For example, I feel it’s important to spend our time on things that matter most to us. Life is too short. I apply this to my roles:
- For my Executive, I want to help them live their best life. Do they have time to exercise; sleep; think; invest in high-priority clients; spend time with family? I’m constantly driving priorities and thinking strategically in order to maximize their time.
- For my teams, I want to ensure BCG is a good fit for them. It’s fast-paced, has high expectations, and is client-driven. I help them discover what energizes them and where they want to be long term. We set goals and make plans to achieve them (whether with BCG or somewhere else). People do their very best work when we bring out the best in them.
Create your story: What are you passionate about? Within the EA role, you have to find joy in assisting others or this role is not sustainable. What else drives you and how can you apply that to your role? How does that align with your company’s purpose?
- SEEK OPPORTUNITIES TO CREATE IMPACT
Understand goals and feel empowered to speak up.
To make an impact, we have to understand the overall goal and discover ways we can help. Ask your Executive and their teams questions to fully understand the projects they are working on and the priority to all involved. Be the liaison between the team and your Executive to ensure time is being managed appropriately. Their job is to come up with the big ideas. Our job is to help them stay organized, manage the chaos, plan ahead, bring up things they may not be thinking about, and suggest best practices.
Be aware no matter how big or small.
We shouldn’t forget about all the ways we make an impact. The EA role is no longer viewed as “a gate keeper.” It’s more about how we make people feel as we are constantly reprioritizing. Even the smallest act of helping an employee feel at ease when they’re in a stressful situation can create a big impact.
Create your story: What you do matters! Be confident in your role, feel empowered to ask questions, and make suggestions. Take note of all the ways you create impact and know that you make a difference.
- UTILIZE YOUR FULL CAPABILITIES
Understand your preferences.
Some EAs enjoy working with the Executive who probably crammed the night before for their college exams and others prefer the one that planned out their studies well in advance. I personally thrive off of getting ahead and managing fires. However, another EA may not enjoy the stress that comes with working alongside that personality type. They may do it and manage it well, but don’t enjoy it. They prefer the planner whereas the planner would drive me crazy.
Understand your strengths.
I’m lucky that I can maximize my team’s strengths, so they feel fully utilized. Some Executives only utilize their EA to execute tasks. This is a great match for a new EA. As an EA grows, they crave more opportunities to utilize their evolving skill set. I provide suggestions to help Executives maximize their EA’s strengths; but if they prefer a task taker, I switch support and match that EA to an Executive who will utilize a strategic partnership by sharing broader context, allowing them to drive priorities, empowering decision making, providing feedback, and allowing room for failure in order for them to grow.
Create your story: What environment do you thrive in? Are you maximizing your strengths? Seek out the Executive personality that you enjoy the most. There are so many layers within the EA career track; match up with an Executive who is helping you grow within the skill set you have today.
- GROW YOUR CAPABILITIES
The awesome thing about an EA career track is the many areas where we can choose to grow. First though, you need an environment that supports growth.
When you have this supportive environment, it really helps propel your growth in the areas that motivate you. I love coaching, project management and relationship building, and you can see that within my career path.
You also should try new things throughout your career to decide if you like it. I thought I’d love event planning and I ended up hating it. Can I do it successfully? Yes. Do I enjoy it? No. I find people on my team that do enjoy it and pass those opportunities along to them.
Create your story: Take time to think about what areas you love and seek out those opportunities. Reach out to mentors to help set goals and create a plan to achieve them. After six months, look back and see everything you’ve accomplished and the new skills you’ve developed.
- FEEL APPRECIATED
Focus on good energy.
If you read my experience in the 2018 Boston Marathon, you will know that even in the worst conditions, I never once thought about quitting. That day, I discovered how powerful our thoughts are. This translates over to everything we do. Every person and organization has flaws. If you only focus on the negativity, you’re self-sabotaging. This mindset is contagious and will take everyone down with you. Focus on the positive and celebrate the wins and recognition along the way.
If you are not feeling appreciated in the role, feel empowered to have that conversation. I coached an EA who didn’t think her Executive appreciated her. I knew from talking to the Executive that he loved working with her. I encouraged the EA to have an honest conversation with him. They had a great discussion. He had no idea she felt that way and started to provide her the validation she was craving to keep her motivated.
We feel valued through titles and compensation. In the EA role, you’ll continue to build your skills and capabilities over time in many different areas. See what career opportunities are available and compare those with your skill set and experience. Keep in mind overall package, bonus, health care benefits, retirement, etc. Don’t be afraid to have that discussion with your line manager. Sometimes people and culture can outweigh any extra cash.
Create your story: Remember to focus on the positive. Don’t be afraid to have frank discussions with your executive so you have validation that what you do matters. Speak up and get credit for the new skills you’ve developed.
Remember, it’s not what your company can do for you, but what you can do for them! You are in control of your own happiness!
*This article was originally published on my LinkedIn page here.