Disclaimer: Before you read this please remember that I love being a PA/EA and think that it truly is one of the most rewarding jobs you can have. It’s a bit ‘tongue in cheek’ at the perceptions of our role and the demands that we (definitely me) actually put on ourselves.
I don’t know if any of you watch Suits (on Dave here in the UK)? Apart from being a good TV show there is a PA called Donna, she’s not just amazing, she’s awesome! She knows what her boss is thinking before he does and she reschedules meetings because she just knew her boss would need to run across town at the last minute.
I want to be Donna, but I’m not and in fact I’m nowhere close. Is this a bad thing to say out loud? Possibly, but hear me out. With the PA/EA profession getting so much more attention now and articles popping up everywhere about our role, are we setting unrealistic targets for ourselves and the next generation of Assistants? I’ve written a couple of articles now and I try to keep any advice or tips that I give practical. Reading how communication and organisation is key to your role is great and we all get inspired by these articles (and by Donna) and think ‘that’s what I’m going to do from now on’ and then we get into the office the next day and don’t know how to put that into practice.
How do you approach your boss and say ‘I want to be Donna, so you need to communicate more with me and in fact open up your entire life (and brain) to me so that I can anticipate your every need’? Erm…you don’t. You sit down at your desk and catch up on emails, rearrange meetings, setting up events and organise that flight that you put off yesterday. Before you know it you’re back home and you didn’t become Donna.
There are two things we need to focus on here; the first is that Donna and her boss, Harvey, have worked together for years…and years. Because of this you do start to have that sixth sense about your boss and there are many assistants who can be their bosses ‘Donna’. However there are fewer and fewer jobs that are yours for life now, most of us have probably only worked for our current boss for a short period. The second thing…it’s a TV show which is very cleverly written but is, in the end, not real! She is the fantasy Assistant and oh, don’t get me started on her wardrobe!
What we need to do is read between the lines of these articles and do a bit of homework. So, communication is key but how do you communicate better with your boss, well that’s a whole different article but you need to sit back and look at your boss and the relationship you have with them. Are they open to a discussion about how you can communicate better? Do they even know it needs improving?
We need to step back and really assess the information we’re reading. Yes, the majority of it is inspirational, but we need practical guides that can be adapted to each of our boss/PA relationships, because they are all unique. For example, your new boss may only share one or two traits with your old boss so don’t try to run before you can walk. You need to slow down and work out how your skills can be adapted for your new boss and (shock, horror) maybe even change some aspects of what you do so that they work for your new boss. We need to adapt to them as it will “take time to train them in our ways”.
I’m not Donna, I’m Amanda and my boss isn’t Harvey and I don’t have a sassy script written for me by amazing writers. I’m a career PA/EA who wants to ensure my boss has everything they need, when they need it and before they even knew they needed it. The trust that is required for this type of relationship takes time. I’ll end up knowing more about my boss than some of their closest friends (and possibly even their partner) and that doesn’t happen overnight or in a matter of weeks or months, it takes time to build your crystal ball.
We are all individuals and although we all have a similar skill set, we all have different strengths and weaknesses and we definitely all have our own way of doing things. So remember the next time you’re inspired by an article or a speaker to take a step back and work on how you adapt that to your job and your boss because without the great script writers, we’re just not Donna!