I met Mary Ann in Renaissance Assisted Living a little over a year ago. She was new to the facility. She struck me as having a great attitude. She wasn't there by choice. She was grieving her home. Yet, she wasn't resisting her current fate. She told me, "I'll get used to it and this will feel like home soon enough."
I paid careful attention in part because at that time, my parents were also grieving their house and former independence. They were still resisting their new reality.
They did settle in eventually. I was touched by the sincere expressions of sadness people expressed over my Step Mom's passing. I was moved and heartened by the genuine caring I felt toward my father, both from staff and other residents. I also experienced an unexpected show of support toward me, from Mary Ann.
Mary Ann came in to the dining room, and shuffled over with her walker to my side of the table where I sat with Dad and Dave. She asked me, "How are you doing?" "I'm okay," I told her. "Well, if you need someone to talk with, call me," she told me. "Thanks! I appreciate that," I replied.
It was hard for me to explain that we were experiencing more joy and love than grief and loss. It was hard for me - and us - to convey to anyone who hadn't been through the whole journey together how much sweet tenderness and grace there was in this loss. It hadn't occurred to me that I might need support. It hadn't occurred to me that I might reach out to an assisted living resident to get support. I was surprised - and touched - by Mary Ann's offer. If I had felt the need to talk, or even just had more time free from my focus on Dad, I would have taken her up on it. I wanted Mary Ann to know how deeply her offer affected me.
When Dad and I got up to leave, I asked him to excuse me for just a moment. I went over to Mary Ann's table and touched my heart. I said, "Thank you. Your offer means the world to me."
One of Mary Ann's table mates said, "Mary Ann has a beautiful heart."
"I figured that out about her right away," I replied. And I had. I just hadn't realized how confidently and generously she would share it.
"The list keeps getting longer and you still haven't learned how to say no," Ron lamented.
Ron is one of Karen's managers. "At least he gets it that I'm overloaded," Karen told me. "Now, if only my other manager, Steve, would get it too," she added.
"You're the one who needs to get it," I told her. "It's up to you to manage your workload. You're not Steve's victim. You're his volunteer, by not setting boundaries."
Karen had hit a wall from too much to do. She actually got sick. But her 101 degree fever didn't stop her from fulfilling requests from Steve. It just postponed a few.
She likes to say yes. Many admins do. But without the ability to say no, yeses are a setup for failure and resentment.
As a recovering yes-sayer, I know. I also know that my "nos" put fences around my yeses. They protect what matters most. The ability to say no is a true success skill. If you can say it gracefully, you've really got something. The chapter in my PowerPhrases book on how to say no gives a lot of tips on how to make that happen.
In fact, it's the same skill Executive Admins use to really support their leaders. They see a need and fill it.
Emily did that. I always wondered how she knew what we all needed when we sometimes didn't know, and how she did so many other things to make Christmas so magical - while working full-time as an Executive Admin.
And then it dawned on me. The same skills and traits that made her the kind of Executive Admin executives would give their right arms for, made her the kind of matriarch who turned Christmas into a magical event that we were blessed to experience.
I'll never come close to doing it up like she did. But I will always feel blessed for having experienced what Christmas was like when Emily used her love and her talents to make things happen. She remains an inspiration for enlivening the magic of the season.
This picture is from before I knew her, as homecoming queen. When you've got it, you've got it! And when you've got it and you share it, you have people remembering you like we all remember her so many years later. Our hearts are grateful.
One of the best features of the admin training we completed yesterday was the sharing. Sometimes they shared how they applied things I gave them. Other times they shared things they've been doing for years. This image is a sharing from one of the participants that she received when she registered for my newsletter. She told me, "I just put this on my cabinet as inspiration!"
I spent the day yesterday with two wise friends. One is mature and articulate. The other is young and receptive. I heard my mature friend share her wisdom in ways I never have before. Her light was shining.
I also became aware of my young friend's remarkable ability to draw out other people's light. That gift is easier to miss than the articulate wisdom of my older guest. On the surface, the articulate woman was the powerful one. In the light of it all, both shared their power.
I like working with assistants because they work on a level that is often invisible. The old song about "The WInd Beneath My Wings" is a great metaphor for one aspect of assistant genius. It's a special kind of power, that, when made conscious, can be used deliberately and skillfully for an effective outcome. When made conscious, it also can be a chosen mode of operating rather than default. I loved observing the receptivity of my younger friend and also enjoyed our time alone where she shared more of her own wisdom directly.
And yet at the end of the training, this attendee was voted the best leader there.
True leadership is like that. It isn't about fanfare or recognition. It's about supporting what is needed for success and letting others be strong when it serves the mission.
This is something admins know well - at least the best ones do. Assistants support someone else's lead by definition, and yet they continually lead by drawing out the excellence in others and being key parts of the solution. We'll be polishing that skill at Executive Admin Virtual Training Camp next month.
I felt prepared and confident before presenting The 12 Admin Roadblocks and Remedies Webinar - but I also felt somewhat funky and my energy was low. That all changed in the first two minutes of the webinar. My assistant, Angela, had asked if she could introduce me. She said she had been eager to do that. She explained that some things had been bubbling up for her and she wanted to communicate them. I didn't ask her anything about what she might say.
I was stunned by what she said. Angela's words had the power of heart, clarity and authenticity. She spoke of how deeply impactful working with me has been. She spoke about how transformative being on a SpeakStrong Journey was for her. Even if she hadn't been speaking about me, I would have been deeply impressed and moved by her words. The fact that it was about me touched me deeply. Her authentic expression set the tone for the webinar.
Later, I told Angela that I think her words say more about her than about me. Obviously I must be doing something right to win that much respect, but I also know how flawed I am. Working with me can be challenging in many ways. Angela's words of praise may be deserved, but the fact that she doesn't let my limits overshadow her appreciation of me is a reflection on her.
I wondered how many of the admins who attended the webinar could speak of the people they support in the same way. I would hope it would be true for all of them. Everyone needs an Angela.
When I present, I never know what the highlight will be for me. In this case, it was the introduction. If you work in support of someone, what would your version of Angela's introduction sound like? Would you be able to say something that catalyzes the excellence in your manager as she did for me? Think about that as you enjoy the replay.
Barbara 's clients often will call her to tell her how good they feel after receiving acupuncture sessions. She records what they say, and asks permission to use their words in her marketing. Why is that a great way to collect testimonials? Because the comments are about them and how they benefit rather than being about her as a practitioner. Barb's potential clients don't care as much about her as they care about what she can do for them. They relate to the client experience.
Client experiences convince way more than even rave reviews about a provider, or in my case, a seminar leader.
Several months ago, an Executive Admin wanted information that would help her convince her CEO that by attending the Executive Admin Training Camp, she would be better able to support him. I asked a couple of former attendees to write up their experience with that in mind, and got the most powerful testimonial imaginable. Here's what she wrote.
"As you know, our duties do not ever end after the work day is through. My executive also had the same feelings of hesitancy for me to be out of the office and the "unavailability" of the conference being in another state. After much negotiation and compromise (and much to my surprise) he allowed me to reserve the ticket.
My CEO requested an action plan of items to implement that would benefit our department upon my return. After hearing from those in similar positions at the conference and using the material Meryl provided, together with my co-workers (who also attended the conference) we were able to come up with an action plan. Since the December 2011 conference, many things from the action plan have come to life. Communication and feedback with multiple executives have improved, and together we developed a partnership model. I have worked very hard to "Say what you mean, mean what you say and not be mean when you say it" (one of Meryl's quotes I have posted on my computer screen), and I have also begun to "share what I know" with others. We also implemented a "pack rat" day once a quarter for the entire department, applying lean methodologies.
I have been to many conferences at which I learned nothing. This administrative conference is well worth the investment. If your CEO believes in personal growth and giving his employees opportunities for improvement, this is the conference to attend. I believe the tools and tips Meryl provided and the discussion with others in our position really provided me with the necessary "take-aways" to develop my career and make work a much happier place to be."
Holly B. Executive Assistant Van Wert County Hospital
The power of this testimonial is that it's not about me, it's about Holly, and what she was able to do after returning.
When you're collecting testimonials, pick up on messages that weren't ever intended to be testimonials. And when asking for testimonials, ask that they be about the client, customer, attendee etc. more than about you. You could even ask someone to write it an a "Dear Potential Client" format. Thanks, Holly. Your email was just what the Executive Admins' CEO needed to approve the training.
I dreamed the other night that I was supporting an Executive Admin at a conference and helping her get the most out of the multi-faceted event. At one point I addressed a large group that was studying to pose the question,
Who decides what success is for you?
They replied in unison, "We do!" We all cheered, and I went on my way back to the woman I was supporting.
We've all heard it before—and yet the news gradually sinks in at a deeper and deeper level. So does the awareness of ways we kowtow to other people's definitions. You may not live—or aspire to live—everyone else's dream. The question that matters is: do you live, and aspire to live your own? Are you striving toward a vision of your own design?
Of course it helps to know how others define success—especially if they employ us. But sometimes my proudest moments have been times when I failed in the eyes of others. That's when being free to decide what success is matters most.
She wanted to attend the upcoming Executive Admin training and needed more information to convince her CEO that it was worth the investment and two days away. So she called me to ask for specific information about how former attendees put the information into practice.
I had a very full schedule, so researching her questions was a challenge. But I wanted to help her get approval, so I contacted two of the more articulate attendees from the last Admin training I provided.
Their responses blew me away. I was thrilled to discover how useful they found the training and how they applied the information. I felt warm and fuzzy about it all day.
I'll post a letter one of the former attendees wrote tomorrow. Tonight I just want to note what a blessing the "imposition" of the request turned out to be. I am grateful. Her request was a gift to me.
I was in Phoenix last week, leading The Ultimate Admin, where we talked about how important it is to create your own job opportunities by seeing the needs in the workplace and filling them. The comic Luann illustrated this well. When TJ's new boss hands him a list of tasks, he responds by defining his job for himself.
Okay, if you take this too literally, it could get you fired. You might not want to start out with what you won't do. But TJ does illustrate the concept of upshifting your job by adding value. And once you're doing work that uses your very best skills, you have a strong case for moving away from the work that doesn't.
What an awesome group of professionals we had in Phoenix! Several had done just that - seen a need and filled it, making their jobs more interesting, productive and fun.
Luna Lovegood, the dreamy Hogwarts student in the Harry Potter series, had a SpeakStrong moment that changed the course of events in the final episode of the Harry Potter series. It's a SpeakStrong moment that illustrates well that sometimes support staff needs to be outspoken with the people they support.
Harry was in search of an item with little idea of where it might be. When Luna tried to get his attention, Harry dismissed her by saying he didn't have time to listen to her. Luna replied,
Harry Potter, you WILL listen to me.
That got his attention. From there, she explained her thinking about who might know the best place to look for the item. Harry heeded her advice and got the clue he needed. And the rest is Hogwarts history.
Luna didn't assume to be the leader in the quest. She knew this was Harry's mission, and she also knew that she needed to SpeakStrong to get him to listen to her. Like that, people in support roles need to get their exec, manager or director's attention to consider their ideas clearly. That's best done simply, but at times needs to be done with more assertiveness.
That was one of the points of discussion in the webinar Admin PowerPhrases. You can watch the replay and download the slides to get the rest.