I was having a conversation very recently with a former – and highly successful – PA to the CEO of a high-profile FTSE100 firm, and we got on to talking about why she had been promoted to the role of the CEO’s PA, amongst many other highly competent Assistants.
‘I asked my boss,’ she said, ‘many months after I got the job, why he had appointed me.’ In her view, there were many other PAs who could have done the job; some she felt were perhaps more worthy of the promotion than she. But that, in my view, was her lack of self-belief, for I knew she was the right person for the job – she is one of the most professional and efficient PAs I have ever had the pleasure of working with.
I continued the conversation. ‘So, what did he say? Why did he appoint you?’ I was dying to know the answer. Interestingly, the response her new boss gave her wasn’t around skills, competencies or length of experience, but it was about a personal quality that we often forget about. It was something that could be deemed as old-fashioned, but a trait I think is key in the PA role, and certainly, something that sets one PA apart from another.
‘Humility,’ she said, ‘My new boss he could tell from my interview that I demonstrated humility, and he liked that.’
I thought for a moment and then reflected on how she had been appointed to work for the incoming CEO, who as younger, trendier, less stuffy and more approachable than the ‘traditional’ CEOs of the blue-chips gone by, and it made perfect sense why he, the new CEO, would want a PA who showed humility.
You see, humility is about not getting too big for your own boots, or getting too cocky in the job. Something, I am afraid to say, I’ve seen many PAs fall foul of when they rise through the ranks and become a ‘top’ PA. It used to be an unwritten rule, that when you got to be the PA to the top person, you started to believe in your own self-publicity and started to act as though you were more important than you actually were. Very dangerous ground – and something I can clearly say I never bought into at any stage of my PA career.
Humility! What an excellent term and a word many PAs should think about. For no one likes a PA with even a tinge of arrogance or a PA who lords it about. These traits were certainly the norm when I joined corporate life in my early 20s, though I’m pleased to say I think there are fewer PAs today who demonstrate these sorts of behaviours.
My mind went back to when I was a newly appointed PA in a global financial services firm. When I moved to the Executive Corridor, one of the other PAs gave me a good piece of advice. She said: ‘Adam, just remember one thing; you are not the boss!’ I recall thinking that her statement was a bit strong, but I took on board that bit of advice and it certainly stood me well, as I always remembered it. The advice was really about humility.
Not every PA is given such candid advice; let’s face it, not every PA would want to hear it. But those that do, and consider the word humility, are doing themselves a huge service for they appreciate that their behaviours and the perception of them is often more important than their skills or what they actually do. You see, you can teach someone ‘skills’, but if they are lacking humility, then that’s a harder nut to crack. But those PAs are often the ones that take offence at every bit of constructive criticism, and take articles such as this one personally, rather than as a tool for self-improvement and reflection on where PAs sometimes go wrong with their bad behaviours.
It doesn’t matter whether you work for the Queen of England, the CEO of a private equity firm, or for a local authority chief, every PA needs to demonstrate humility. For the quality of humility breeds respect from others, wins friends and influences people! (I think there is a book in there!)
I thanked my friend for sharing her story with me and reminding me of that simple word, often forgotten in the business world today, but that means so much. A word, in my opinion, every PA should write down and reflect on regularly and ask themselves: ‘Am I showing humility?’ Now, there’s a stretching question!
Adam Fidler, Europe’s top EA Trainer, is the Principal and Founder of the Adam Fidler Academy in the UK. Having worked as a C-Suite business support professional in the public and private sector, Adam now specialises in training and developing Executive Support. Adam will be returning to Johannesburg on 8-9 April 2019, with his dynamic and intensive 2-day “The Indispensable Executive Assistant” course. Click here to book your place or contact CBM Training on (011) 454 5505 for more information.