I'm an Executive Assistant, but I'm not perfect..
“Do you ever make mistakes?” This is something I’ve been asked numerous times recently by friends and colleagues while talking about work, and it got me thinking about why I keep getting asked this question. Why do people think that just because I’m an executive assistant that I don’t f@#k up like the rest of them? I laugh when they ask me this because of course I bloody do! I may be super-efficient, organised and a multi-tasking queen (like most assistants are), but I’m not perfect!
I think it’s because as an assistant, our job is to ensure things go smoothly for our bosses, and we are efficient, organised planners who ensure things are done well in advance and have everything under control (most of the time). So there is this perception that we have our shit together all day, every day, and we never make mistakes. But this is just not true.
I read an interview recently with Kim Kardashian-West’s EA, Stephanie Shepherd, who had some good points on how to be a great assistant and I loved her honesty about making mistakes, because it even happens to the best of us.
“I’ve f@#ked up a lot. I’m only human. I get a lot of young girls asking me how to be a great assistant. I tell them three things. One is if you mess up, take responsibility and own it. I've f@#ked up, I'm human. But I will just say, 'I am so sorry, and I will fix this.' Second, I say be resourceful. If your boss wants or needs something, you gotta do whatever it takes to make it happen. Don’t ask questions, just make it happen.. Lastly, I say take notes. Write. Shit. Down. Even if you think you’re gonna remember it in your head, you're not.. Every time I see an intern not taking notes when they're getting instructions, I’m like, you’re gonna f@#k this up! Just write it down — it's not that hard!"
As a ‘new-age’ career EA I am more of a business partner to my boss than a secretary who answers the phone, opens the mail and makes coffee, which means I have a multitude of tasks and responsibilities that range from administration, to events, human resources, finance and project management. So I juggle a lot of different things in a fast paced environment where things can change quickly and you have to think fast and reprioritise to get things done, which means that sometimes there is room for error.
Like I’m sure most of you do, I make minor mistakes all the time, which are usually inconsequential and easily fixable, nothing detrimental enough to tell my boss about. But I’m not gonna lie, there have been probably two really good f@#k ups I’ve made in my career that stick to memory. The worst was the time I sent a sensitive email about someone’s redundancy to them before they’d been informed – I pressed ‘send’ instead of ‘save’! Yes, I nearly died in that moment. The instant I clicked that button I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.. but I didn’t.. I quickly recalled the email and turned to my boss to tell her what I’d done while holding back my tears. I told her I recalled it and suggested she call the person immediately to have a conversation sooner rather than later – I tried my best to mitigate the damages I had caused.
I think how I handled that situation says a lot about who I am as a person and the type of assistant I am. I made a mistake, I did my best to fix it immediately, and most importantly I took accountability. I was fully prepared to receive the wrath I deserved from my boss, and was ready to hand in my resignation, but thankfully it didn’t come to that and my boss was calm, cool & collected and we remedied the situation without any major consequences. That’s not to say she wasn’t disappointed and a little annoyed at me, but I think at the very least she respected me for how I handled it.
I felt guilty for at least a week after that, and tried to keep my head down and not do anything else career-limiting that week or month. Honestly though, I think I was harder on myself for it than my boss was – the guilt and disappointment I had in myself was punishment enough! But I can tell you what – any mistake I’ve ever made has been a lesson learnt and I’ve never made the same mistake twice!
There are four things I believe you should do when you f@#k up:
One - Find a solution and do your best to fix it. When you tell your boss you’ve made a mistake it doesn’t seem as bad if you give them a solution at the same time. You are being proactive at fixing it.
Two – Stay calm & collected. You may have made a mistake, but you’re only human. Your professionalism in how you handle the situation will be remembered.
Three - Take responsibility and own it. Don’t try to blame it on someone else or point fingers – you will gain more respect for taking accountability for the mistake you made.
Four – Learn from your mistake. Every mistake is a lesson learnt, and if you’re anything like me, I guarantee you’ll never do it again.
Try to remember this next time you make a mistake - it’s not the end of the world, we aren’t heart surgeons and nobody is going to die! We’re not perfect and everyone makes mistakes – we’re only human.
Nis & Sarah