What was your first experience in an administrative support role, and why did you choose to take that opportunity?
I prepared to be a high-level assistant by attending college for their certificated Legal Secretarial Specialist program. It was a tough program. To graduate, you had to complete assessments for typing 60+ wpm and shorthand at 100+ wpm, along with legal, computers, accounting, English, writing, and speaking & presentation courses. I was young, married, and two little babies and determined to attain the Dean’s and Honor’s list every quarter. I wanted to do great work for great leaders. What better than legal?
Through a serendipitous meeting with the office manager of the city attorney’s office, I was invited to interview for the position as the assistant to the partner of the law firm, assistant city attorney, and premier eminent domain attorney in Minnesota (all one person). It was the one attorney in the law firm that none of the assistants wanted to work under. I was up for the challenge.
When did you first decide you wanted more out of your administrative career, and what did you decide to do about it? How did this lead you to where you are today?
Events in my life have taken me to move all over the country: Minnesota, Pennsylvania, California, Texas, Georgia, and Ohio that being an assistant has allowed me the ability to take my skills wherever I go and in demand. I started the change in the trajectory of my career when I accepted positions other than legal. Legal assistants would tell me that was risky, but I don’t like to be put in a box. I chose to expand my skill set and horizons. This provided me opportunities to work in legal, engineering, real estate, telecommunications, technology, government, medical, and education. I blew the box UP!
So here is where I have seen the two biggest obstacles in an assistant’s position. One is in supporting leadership also means that when they make a change, you are an extension of that leadership and the company has to figure out what to do with you. The second is company transitions: buyouts, mergers, acquisitions, and just plain going out of business. All of these constitute downsizing and assistants can be viewed as a luxury during a restructure.
I grew and grew up in the work that I love, I also embraced learning all the different aspects and industries an assistant serves. I was the first in my family (of my parents and the youngest of five children) to graduate from high school, attend college with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and Business Administration, and my mother was a small business owner (a gas and service station) when most agencies and businesses wouldn’t work with a woman-owned business.
Ultimately, I wanted to be independent – an entrepreneur. As I met and overcame my challenges, I wanted to be able to encourage and inspire other women to achieve their greatness and dreams.
My path, challenges, dreams, aspirations, people I have met in my journey, and God have brought me to where I am today. I am grateful for the people, challenges, and lessons learned along the way. It all has made me a strong and resilient woman.
In pursuing this new endeavor, what was your greatest setback, face-palm or challenge, and how did you overcome it?
I was married for ten years. It was great having a partner to make decisions with. He had his talents and I had mine. It was a nice mesh. But, after the divorce, I felt that I had to do everything on my own.
My biggest challenge would be that feeling all women have, that we are expected to do it all and we are supposed to be great at everything, which isn’t possible. Nevertheless, the face-palm is that you realize that you have access to a wide group of talented people through networking, social media, and just getting out and meeting people – developing relationships.
Because I feel this way, you will find others do too… if they can help, they will. There are a lot of people who root for the underdog.
Another face-palm is realizing, “You got this.” But this happens all the time when we face our fears.
What mentors did you have and how did they help you to get where you are?
I believe we have mentors throughout our careers and lives. Many informal, some more formal. My mother and my older sister (10 years older) were some of my early mentors. Others later in life have been teachers, instructors, direct reports or bosses.
Men are trained, guided, and nurtured to develop leadership and advancement skills to their underlings. What has been impressed upon women to advance is to “hold their cards close to their vest,” so to speak, for fear of another usurping their position. Which creates a hostile environment for women to encourage one another.
When we come from a position of lack (such as there is not enough room for more women in leadership positions), we stunt the evolution of women taking their rightful positions at the leadership table. When we share knowledge and nurture one another, we grow and expand our influence.
I mentor every chance I get. As the Millennials take over where we leave off, it’s important to provide the knowledge of our experience so they can take our collective fight to the next level. The fight that we are ALL “created equal.” Our refrain does a disservice to our daughters, sisters, and mothers.
What’s the funniest story you experience on your path to success?
While working for the City Attorney’s office, during the OJ Simpson trial, it was one of the rare moments when all staff and attorneys would collect in the conference room to watch. The fascination of a high profile case on tv with legal minds – it was entertaining! Another instance when the law firm put together an event and paid for everyone to see “The Firm” with Tom Cruise. When working for the engineering firm, whenever someone bought a house, everyone was invited to the housewarming. This probably happened once a year. Other than the the traditional Company Christmas (or holiday) party, it’s a great opportunity for everyone to mingle and interesting conversation.
What advice would you give to other admins considering following this path for career advancement?
As administrative professionals, our job is unique in that we work with a great deal of technology and various levels of professionals. It is important to conduct yourself in the highest degree of professionalism – in conduct and appearance. SOFT SKILLS – work diligently on soft skills (soft skills is a term often associated with a person’s “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, interpersonal skills, managing people, leadership, etc. that characterize relationships with other people.). HARD SKILLS – It’s so easy today to be continually learning and expanding skills with access to Lynda, Udemy, etc, and reading. Technology changes fast with constant developments and upgrades. NETWORKING – Put yourself out there and develop relationships through local networking events (Meetup), as well as online (LinkedIn). Get engaged with conversations and participate. A big part of networking is giving and sharing. These three things will take you far.
ABOUT LAYNE TINSLEY
Layne Tinsley is an entrepreneur helping businesses with processes & procedures, increasing productivity, while focusing on alleviating and solving administrative struggles, and challenges. Layne’s career has comprised of administration, human resources, and office management with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management & Administration and has worked in legal, real estate, higher education, technology, coaching, and government. Layne’s mission is to inspire, teach, coach, and empower women to grow, lead, and embrace their unique talents. She lives in Georgia with her daughter and their two dogs, Honey and Lucy.
Email Layne: http://Layne.Tinsley@mykta.com/
Sparkle Website: http://www.mykta.com/
Layne on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laynetinsley
Admin Trailblazers is a series about serious administrative professionals who have excelled in their role and gone on to the top of the profession, management roles or entrepreneurial endeavors.
Admin Trailblazers is published on the fourth Wednesday of every month at www.mentorsandmasterminds.com.
As I explored in Where Do Mentors Come From? Part 1, if I am to keep my promise to serve the growing community of administrative professionals at Mentors & Masterminds, I must answer this question. I have been forced to dig deep to find the Mentor within me, to reshape and polish what bits of value I find there, and to courageously share these treasures (so they seem to me), so that perhaps I may help others conquer their own challenges.
Whenever I do this kind of deep personal inquiry[i], I am drawn back to the work of Joseph Campbell, and his articulation of the world monomyth, or as it is more commonly known, the Hero’s Journey. in fact, “Meeting With the Mentor” is a pivotal moment in the Hero’s Journey. In The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler’s classic writer’s guide to the Hero’s Journey, the Mentor is introduced as follows:
An archetype found frequently in dreams, myths and stories is the Mentor, usually a positive figure who aids or trains the hero. Campbell’s name for this force is the Wise Old Man or Wise Old Woman. This archetype is expressed in all those characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts. Whether it’s God walking with Adam in the Garden of Eden, Merlin guiding King Arthur, the Fairy Godmother helping Cinderella, or a veteran sergeant giving advice to a rookie cop, the relationship between the hero and Mentor is one of the richest sources of entertainment in literature and film. [ii]
By reviewing my life in the light of this framework, I have indeed reclaimed many “elixirs” of truth that have helped me to navigate my own path, and to be of support to others. Now, I discover therein the germ of an answer to my core question, “where do mentors come from?”:
Mentors are wisdom-givers who have completed their own Hero’s Journeys.
The Star Wars movie series is often cited as the textbook example of this Hero’s Journey, and repeatedly demonstrates this truth. Heroes of the Clone War movies – Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi – become Luke’s Skywalker’s mentors in the rebellion movies A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In Disney’s 2015 reboot of the series, The Force Awakens, Luke himself is introduced as the probable mentor of Rey, the heroine for a new generation.
The gifts which Vogler references are also a product of the mentor’s Hero’s Journey. Whether they take the form of physical objects, wisdom stories or prophecy, these gifts always come from the Mentor’s personal treasure store, imbued with a sense of history and great value. They are direct bequests to the Hero of the treasures won by the mentor own their Hero’s Journey.
Taken from this perspective, then, we are all mentors – or can be, if we are willing to do the deep work to unearth the treasures of our personal Hero’s Journeys. In this series “Beyond the Hero’s Journey”, I will explore the Hero’s Journey as way to reclaim the power our professional “stories” for personal growth, and to bring the “elixir” of our triumphs to benefit others by moving beyond the Hero archetype to become mentors in our own right. Each article will include a question for your personal inquiry, and a co-mentoring challenge designed to help you and your co-mentoring partner transform your stories into a gift that you can share with the world. I hope you will choose to make this journey with me.
QUESTION: What mentors have you had in your life, and how did their own experiences (as far as you knew them) equip them to become a mentor to you?
CO-MENTORING CHALLENGE: Pick one professional challenge you have overcome and, as simply as possible, share that story with your co-mentor at your next monthly meeting. Discuss your lessons learned, and ask your co-mentor what insights they gained from the story.
Beyond the Hero’s Journey is a series that explores elements of Joseph Campbell’s classic Hero’s Journey as way to reclaim the power our professional “stories” for personal growth, and to bring the “Elixir” of our triumphs to benefit others by moving beyond the Hero archetype to become mentors in our own right.
Beyond the Hero’s Journey is published on the 3rd Wednesday of every month at www.mentorsandmasterminds.com.
[i] Here I would like to acknowledge the influence of my teacher, artist Shiloh Sophia (http://shilohsophia.com/), and her process of Intentional Creativity. To learn more about intentional creativity and the Color of Woman Method, go to http://www.intentionalcreativityfoundation.org/.
[ii] Vogler, Christopher, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (2nd Edition), Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA, 1998. (page 47)
Today’s Member Spotlight features Joan Hassler, an administrative support professional with 25 years of experience in finance and other business sectors. She currently works for Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina. Joan Hassler holds a M.S. in Banking from Mercy College and B.S. in Business from the College of Staten Island.
Two interests I share with Joan are membership in Toastmasters International and planning administrative training events.
Joan Hassler, PMP, Senior Administrative Professional, Charlotte, NC
Experience: 11+ Years in Administrative Support
Greatest Professional Strength: Includer. Wanting to make others happy and providing what I can to make their job easier, also being involved and sharing.
Current Professional Priority: Organizing a training conference for admins in the Charlotte, NC area.
Interested In: Co-Mentoring.
Meeting Preferences: No preference.
Location: Charlotte, NC, United States of America
Where I’m From
I began my career at Blue Cross Blue Shield. Other companies I worked at were Federated Investors, Airborne Express and J.C. Penney. Prior to joining the Wells Fargo organization, I worked for the Boy Scouts of America Supply Group. I also worked for TIAA in their Charlotte location for the Finance Actuarial Team, and for their New York-based Asset Management Team.
Where I’m At
My goal is to continue my educational journey via networking and attending professional events. My hope is to share my knowledge with others and, at the same time, continue learning from them.
I’ve met so many people by networking and I have found that the information shared can be valuable. I had a few people in my life that were inspiring to me, never had a go to person (mentor), yet I was able to tap onto the inspiration/knowledge that has allowed me to always want more and share more.
Where I’m Headed
I am at a plateau, coming up to retirement in 3 years. However that doesn’t mean I want to stop learning. It means I want to start helping others and continue learning from others as well. I invest in myself every year by going to a conference, taking free or low cost training when available, attending Toastmasters Meetings, and now I’m attending Project Management Institute local meetings since I received my PMP. Sometimes things do get in the way, however I never stop looking for that next networking or learning opportunity.
What I’m Most Passionate About
I started college late and found the importance of enhancing my knowledge. To this end, I have been an active VIP client/participant in Office Dynamics International training programs and conferences since 2010. I am also an active member of Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organization focused on helping its members develop communication and leadership skills.
For fun, I love to travel, scuba dive, take photos, dance, and watch football. I make sure not to mix scuba and fishing, though: the fish should have a fighting chance! I also love just sitting reading a book – mostly romance or mystery – for hours at a time.
Each year I participate in an annual Alzheimer’s’ walk in support of those who have the disease. You see, my mom has Alzheimer’s. She is at the point of not knowing who her children are, yet she is happy. The chances of getting the disease have increased for members of our family, and I hope to at least make a difference towards the cure.
I have lived in Charlotte with my husband Ray since 2013. We are both from New York City, and have been together for 36 years.
If you enjoyed learning about Joan from this article, be sure to drop by her profile page HERE and leave her a message. (If you are a current or former administrative professional and would like to join our community and connect with Joan and our other members, click HERE to register!)
Member Spotlight is a series of articles featuring the talents and accomplishments of our members at MentorsandMasterminds.com. Member Spotlight is published here on our blog on the second Wednesday of every month.
- To be considered for a future Member Spotlight feature, members must complete their full member profile using the profile edit page. Members will be contacted for approval prior to being featured in Member Spotlight, and members with incomplete profiles will not be considered for this feature.
- Members who prefer not to be featured can also select the “Please do NOT feature me in Member Spotlight” in the “MEMBER SPOTLIGHT” section at the bottom of the profile edit page. To access your profile edit page, cursor over your profile name at the upper right corner of any page on the site, then select “Profile” and “Edit” from the dropdown menus that appear. Be sure to save changes before closing out.
When I launched Mentors and Masterminds, my goal was to answer to a common question among administrative professionals: “Where can I find a mentor?” I imagined myself as the behind-the-scenes administrator of an organically thriving community where current and former administrative professionals hooked up for mentoring “dates” and ultimately found “true love” in the form of long-term mentoring relationships: a career-oriented Match.com, if you will. I hoped, too, that community members – particularly those more knowledgeable than I – might be inspired to share their own stories, thereby creating a self-sustaining learning community. Like the Field of Dreams, I believed that if I built it, the community would come.
When I was first planning the site, I consulted my Toastmasters colleague, website builder and marketing guru Heather Turner, DTM for suggestions on how to build the site. I got my first whiff of trouble when she described her own experience as a member of a similar site for small business startups: “The problem I’ve noticed,” she said, “is that everyone wants to have a mentor, but no one wants to be a mentor. When I was a mentor on the site, I was deluged with requests, because there were on average 1 mentor for every 150 mentees who wanted help.”
To answer the question “Where can I find a mentor?”, I would have to answer another question first: “Where do mentors come from? “That should be easy enough to solve,” I thought, “I’ll just create a category called ‘co-mentoring’ and encourage everyone to participate, giving us roughly equal numbers of mentors and mentees.”
After the launch in October 2016, it quickly became clear that, if I wanted my new site to mature into the community I had envisioned, there was a need to do more: to not only encourage members to step up as mentors to each other, but also to show them how. This kind of thought leadership was hardly what I’d signed up for. I just wanted to be the “techie-behind-the-scenes”. Who was I to offer myself as an authority on mentoring?! As I began to wrestle with this question, I was paralyzed by Impostor Syndrome. The terror was not unlike that which I experienced when, nearly 18 years ago, I was a brand-new mom faced with the care of a healthy but helpless newborn boy: what have I gotten myself into?!
On the other hand, there was also a promise implicit in the launch of my site, and I wasn’t about to leave that promise unfulfilled. To help grow the community, I needed to become a mentor’s mentor. Having identified the problem, I knew I could tackle it. After all, I’ve survived eighteen years of motherhood…and I’ve done a damn fine job of it, if I do say so myself. In fact, parenting taught me more than a few good mentoring lessons along the way, lessons like:
- You don’t need to have all the answers to be a mentor.
- In mentoring, your greatest weaknesses become invaluable assets.
- You can’t mentor everyone, and that’s okay.
The other thing that keeps me going is this: I deeply believe that everyone has creative potential, and that there is no more important work than encouraging the development of that potential. As Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Rather, we must challenge ourselves and others to thinking and doing things in new ways. There is no more powerful tool in this endeavor that the personal encouragement of a mentor…and a friend.
Someone needs the gifts that only you have to offer, so join me as I explore the joys, rewards and methods of becoming a mentor.
“Be the Mentor” is a series in which I explore the joys and benefits of stepping up to be a mentor, and offer my insights on how to do it well. “Where Do Mentors Come From?” is the first article in this series.
Be the Mentor is published on the first Wednesday of every month at www.mentorsandmasterminds.com.
 My personal inspiration was actually a less-known dating site, lavalife.com. Met my S.O. there in July 2004 and 14 years later we are still going strong! It’s less about the how and where you meet, and more about the time you invest into finding a good match and creating a great relationship.
Calling all Administrative Professionals along the I-91 Business Corridor:
From Hartford, CT to Deerfield, MA, administrative professionals are supporting every manner of business in the area. But are we supporting ourselves? MentorsAndMasterminds.com is proud to announce its first local meetup, the Connecticut River Valley Admin Network. Our goal is to help administrative professionals connect in mutually supportive relationships to advance their careers and elevate the profession through training and social networking events.
On Administrative Professionals Day 2017, Mentors & Masterminds launched its first ever on-the-ground networking group via Meetup.com, the Connecticut River Valley Admin Network, and tomorrow (May 24th), we will hold our first networking event at The Foundry in Northampton, MA (CLICK HERE TO RSVP for this and future events).
Two weeks later, we sponsored the Greater Charlotte Admin Network meetup for Joan Haessler in the Charlotte, NC area, and that group already has almost 20 members, with no promotion apart from announcement within the Meetup forum. Check it out here: https://www.meetup.com/Greater-Charlotte-Admin-Network/
Plainly Administrative Professionals are hungry for real-life connections and professional support! If you’d like to start a Meetup in your area but aren’t sure how to get going, I’d be happy to share what I know: email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/taraebrowne-dtm/ .
Today, in our first ever Member Spotlight feature, I am delighted to introduce Mentors & Masterminds’ very first member ever, Jessica Dupre.
Jessica is also a colleague of mine at Baystate Health. When she first joined us a little over a year ago, I noticed her enthusiasm and willingness to try new things, and quickly talked her into helping me run an administrative professionals collaboration site I was building for the organization. Our relationship as mentor & protege has blossomed since then, and has enriched both of us tremendously.
A few months later, when I asked for beta testers on this site, Jessica was the first to step up. (Thank you Jessica!) I am proud to work with her, and to introduce her to you today. Below, in her own words, is her career story.
Jessica Dupre, Administrative Coordinator
Baystate Health, Springfield MA
Experience: 11+ Years in Administrative Support
Greatest Professional Strength: Organizational Skills
Current Professional Priority: Finishing undergrad degree by 2018
Interested In: Peer Mentoring, Be A Coaching Mentor, Local Networking
Meeting Preferences: Face to Face, Online or Teleconference, Industry Events
Primary Location: Greenfield, MA, United States
Other Locations: Springfield, MA/Northampton, MA
Where I’m From
I started my administrative career in high school by doing some part-time clerical work for the office my mother worked in. My job was to review I-9 forms to ensure completion and accuracy of the information, file in the personal files and general office help. I went to school in Boston and continued in an administrative capacity at a recruiting firm around the corner from where I was going to school. In addition to assisting with resume rewrites and onboarding new hires, I was introduced to mail merges and there started my self-teaching in the Microsoft Office suite of applications. By the time I returned home from school in the summer of 2000 I began to be proficient in all Microsoft applications, and increased my typing speed to 75+ wpm. I worked in the Human Resources Office of Yankee Candle Company for 15 years with increasing levels of responsibility in an administrative role.
Where I’m At
In 2016, I joined Baystate Health as the Administrative Coordinator to the Acute Care Pharmacy, and this is where I met Mentors and Masterminds founder, Tara Browne. My first interaction with Tara was an email invitation I received in my first week of work asking me to join a “Scheduling Support Contacts” list on SharePoint – a platform I was unfamiliar with. I was totally lost. When I called to ask about the platform, Tara invited me to help administer the resource list, which I enthusiastically accepted after a brief tutorial on using the platform.
Where I’m Headed
With Tara’s encouragement, I also joined Office Support Network, Baystate’s internal admin improvement group. We are excited to be launching our Administrative Knowledge Base via ServiceNow very soon. This site will offer new administrative staff a central access point to get procedures and support while they learn the Baystate ways, and will serve as the go-to resource for all our Admins, creating consistency and standardizing best practices across the organization.
If you enjoyed getting to know Jessica from this article, be sure to drop by her profile page HERE and leave her a message!
NOTES TO MEMBERS
- To be considered for a future “Member Spotlight” feature, be sure to complete your full member profile using the profile edit page. Members with incomplete profiles will not be considered for this feature.
- If you have completed your profile, but would prefer not to be featured, please update your profile by selecting the “Please do NOT feature me in Member Spotlight” in the new “MEMBERS SPOTLIGHT” section at the bottom of the profile edit page.
- To access your profile edit page, cursor over your profile name at the upper right corner of any page on the site, then select “Profile” and “Edit” from the dropdown menus that appear. Be sure to save changes before closing out.
Thanks again for visiting Mentors and Masterminds.com. On this Administrative Professionals Day, I’d like to take a moment to thank our members who are helping to build this community.
If you’re not yet a member, why not consider joining (it’s free!) and engaging with our members in one or more of the following ways?
To connect with lots of like-minded professionals to share success stories, get a fresh perspective and provide mutual support, select the “Co-Mentoring” option. You will get most of the benefits of a traditional Mentor/Protégé relationship, but without having to compete for the comparatively limited supply of senior mentors. A co-mentoring relationship is much easier to form, because even if someone doesn’t feel ready to be a mentor quite yet, most people are more than happy to be a sounding board and accountability partner to a peer – and gain those same benefits in return!
A Coaching relationship more closely fits the traditional Mentor/Protégé model, with the senior partner providing coaching in specific skills and strategies of the trade in addition to the kind of support described in the Co-Mentoring model above. If you are a senior administrative professional, consider sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience with other in a Coaching Mentor capacity. There is truly no reward like seeing a protégé grow and succeed!
If two heads are better than one, then how about three…or four? Similar in nature to a Co-Mentoring relationship, but expanding upon it to tap the collective energy and insights of a group, Masterminds can become especially valuable resources for those who participate in them. One member’s project is often another’s inspiration! Join (or form) a powerhouse team of motivated peers, focused on big goals and committed to helping each other along the way.
For some much-needed fun and laughter after a hard day’s work, what could be better than socializing with others who know the tribulations and triumphs of your job? Networking groups are a great way to get to know other administrative professionals in your area, and benefits can include connecting to new sources of information, having inside contacts for event planning or services, or even getting a lead on a great job opportunity. Starting one can be as simple as finding a good happy hour at a local restaurant, picking a date and emailing some friends.
Mentors and Masterminds is pleased to announce “Member Spotlight!”, a new blog feature that we hope will help our members get to know each other better, encourage new members to join, and make it easier for all to engage with our growing community of administrative professionals and experts at mentorsandmasterminds.com.
Our first member profile will be published next Wednesday, April 26, 2017 in honor of Administrative Professional’s Day.
We’d also love to feature your experiences and advice on mentoring and professional development here in our blog. Email your ideas for future blog posts to email@example.com!
NOTES TO MEMBERS
- To be considered for this feature, please be sure to complete your full member profile using the profile edit page. Members with incomplete profiles will not be considered for this feature.
- If you would prefer not to be included in this feature, please update your profile by selecting the “Please do NOT feature me in Member Spotlight” in the new “MEMBERS SPOTLIGHT” section at the bottom of the profile edit page.
- To access your profile edit page, cursor over your profile name at the upper right corner of any page on the site, then select “Profile” and “Edit” from the dropdown menus that appear. Be sure to save changes before closing out.
What would happen in a business that was run as though each individual had the potential to bear fruit, rather than simply bearing a load?
Are You a Culture Cultivator?
“Company culture? Sure, we could do better,” you may think, “but I’m just an admin. What can I do about culture?”
As it turns out, you can do quite a bit!
Due to the prevalence of permission-based operations and the strict pyramid of hierarchies found in most organizations, many administrative professionals do not think of themselves as influencers. Administrative support roles are both structured and commonly perceived as subordinate, so it is easy to make the mistake of thinking our influence is limited by this relationship.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
For Growth, Think “Garden”, Not “Pyramid”
The pyramid offers obvious analogies to the way most organizations are built: a large base (workers) supports ever-smaller layers (management and executive leadership); the shape (goals and strategy) of the organization is defined by the capstone (c-suite) of the structure. Then there is the unintentional irony: a pyramid is a tomb…and many large organizations are indeed tombs full of untapped personal potential and good ideas left to die. Workers are slotted into place like blocks. A really good block may eventually be relocated to an empty spot higher up on the pyramid, but the ultimate function of the pyramid is to support the pyramid…not to grow.
What if we were to flip that pyramid and imagine the organization as a garden container instead, designed to concentrate resources to support growth? What would happen in a business that was run as though each individual had the potential to bear fruit, rather than simply bearing a load? Executives would act as master gardeners, asking what is needed to create optimum growth conditions to maximize fruit from each plant; as strategic partners to these executives, administrative professionals could actively foster that growth in many ways.
As the go-to problem solvers for our departments, administrative professionals are in a unique position to answer the key question, “What is needed to create growth?” With our in-depth knowledge of how things work (and don’t work!), we can use our creativity and skills to solve problems. Moreover, being privy to the challenges and frustrations of our colleagues, how we choose to respond has a clear effect on the culture of our departments and, by extension, the organization as a whole. If we participate in gossip, feed fears and amplify complaints, we break down team spirit and undermine our executives’ ability to effectively lead. Conversely, when we choose to redirect negative talk, counter fears with positive suggestions for improvement, and seek common ground to resolve conflicts, we create a fertile soil for collaboration and growth.
Why Be a Cultivator?
Because we combine expert operational knowledge with an extensive network of working relationships at all levels of the organization, admins are in an incredibly powerful position to influence culture and create change…if we choose to do so. Take Mimi, for example: when she joined my department, it didn’t take long for me to notice that Mimi felt overwhelmed and underappreciated. At the time, I felt much the same: a long-promised promotion had just been given away to a new hire from outside the company; the economy was in a major slump; and unemployment rates were at record highs. I felt betrayed by my manager, and trapped in my job.
Recognizing my own vulnerability to negative talk, I made a choice to use my conversations with Mimi as pep talks, both for her and for myself. When Mimi complained that her training manual was inadequate and her supervisor unavailable, I empathized, but observed that it was very rare to find a training manual for any role in our organization, and staff reductions had reduced our manager’s availability for personal time. By doing this, I both acknowledged and depersonalized the issue. I then applied my operational knowledge to help Mimi document her processes and create some collaborative tools to streamline her work. Having an ally made all the difference to Mimi, and helping Mimi realigned me with my mission at work.
On another occasion, Mimi needed some reports from some senior colleagues, but she was acting as if her request was an imposition on them. I helped her to craft an email that focused on the common business need instead, a peer to peer communication. As we worked through this process, I saw her posture literally change before my eyes: standing straighter, walking more confidently and decisively editing the language of the final email to make it truly her own.
Over time, Mimi even began to consistently mirror that positivity back to me. She pulled me out of my own attitude slump more than once and, more importantly, began to change from a victim of circumstances to a person in charge of her own career. Knowing she was not alone gave her the courage to stand up for herself. As she did, she earned increasing respect from her supervisor and colleagues, and the entire department began to see her as a valued contributor instead of as a burden they didn’t have time to carry. Our overall culture improved directly as a result of my choice to cultivate possibilities instead of problems.
Can you imagine if I had instead given in to my own depression and indulged in a mutual pity-party with her? It would have been easy to do, but I would have missed out on seeing this amazing transformation! I would have missed out on one of the greatest successes of my career.
Cultivation Starts With YOU
One of the best things you can do to become a culture cultivator is to practice your communication and feedback skills. Co-mentoring – a mentoring relationship formed by two persons of similar experience and background – is especially valuable for this, because it requires many of the same skills: active listening, collaborative problem solving, and providing feedback, to name a few. If you connect with a mentor outside your organization, you will have the added benefits of expanding your network and gaining a truly fresh perspective on your challenges and opportunities. This can be especially valuable if your own work culture is currently stressful, draining or negative.
About now you may be wondering, “Where on earth am I going to find a mentor?”
Happily, there are many resources available today just for administrative professionals, and more being created by the moment. The Associations page at ExecutiveSecretary.com aggregates admin-oriented resources from around the world, and can help you locate and connect with both established and up-and-coming professional organizations in your area for training and networking. These, in turn, can lead to many wonderful mentoring opportunities. Also, be sure to check out the comprehensive list of conferences for administrative professionals at TipsForAssistants.com. Pick one or two conferences that are accessible to you, and start making your plans now: conferences are a great way to connect with like-minded admins and build your culture-cultivating mojo!
I also invite you to check out MentorsAndMasterminds.com, a website I created specifically to make it easier for administrative professionals to connect with each other in professionally supportive relationships. Membership is free, and includes the Mentors and Masterminds Co-Mentoring Quickstart Guide, packed with advice and tools to get your co-mentoring relationship off to a great start.
It’s easy to assume that responsibility for creating a great corporate culture is the job of executives and managers; the truth is, everyone within the organization contributes to the culture that emerges. For better or for worse, we are all culture cultivators.
Choose to be a conscious cultivator:
- Recognize your influence. Wherever you are in a position of trust, there you have influence.
- Show up authentically. When negative situations arise at work, respond thoughtfully from your core beliefs rather than reflexively reacting to the negativity.
- Be present to others. Take no one for granted: empathize and offer support where you can, and celebrate successes whenever possible.
- Develop your “culture cultivator” skills. Use professional organizations, networking events and mentoring relationships to grow your skills in collaboration, giving and receiving feedback etc.
Not only will you positively impact culture where you are, you will open new and unexpected doors of opportunity for yourself!
 Microsoft Modern Workplace, Season 2, Episode 9, “Management in Motion: Building an Energized Workforce” Interview with L. David Marquet; episode time code 16:50,
 Names used in this article have been changed.
Additional References & Photo Credits
Holzhauer, Christina, “Conferences for Assistants: Get Energized in 2017!”, December 30, 2017 http://www.tipsforassistants.com/single-post/2016/12/30/Conferences-for-Assistants-Get-Energized-in-2017
Hyatt, Michael, “Why You Need to Take Care of the People Who Take Care of You: Customers, Bosses, Boards, and Investors Matter—But They Can’t Come First” https://michaelhyatt.com/take-care-of-your-team.html
Microsoft Modern Workplace, Season 2, Episode 9, “Management in Motion: Building an Energized Workforce” Interview with L. David Marquet, https://vts.inxpo.com/scripts/Server.nxp?LASCmd=AI:1;F:SF!42000&EventKey=176659 (free account and login required to access; interview starts @ 13:35).
Great Pyramid of Giza (photograph) by Mstyslav Chernov used under terms of Wikimedia Commons License @
Apple Orchard (photograph) is a Public Domain Image by Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, used under terms posted @ Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apple_orchard.jpg
More often than not, it is a situation that does not meet our expectations that teaches us what we want and need; so it was for me and my introduction to mentoring. I expected mentoring to be rather like school tutoring: I would have a learning need, and my mentor would supply me with the necessary knowledge. What I found was much more complex – a give and take that has benefits for both the mentor and the protégé. Peggy Vasquez, author of Not Just an Admin, describes it this way: “You’re not there to solve each other’s’ problems. You’re going to listen and collaborate and help each other discover your own solutions.”
When I first joined Toastmasters International in 2008, I was assigned a mentor from among the more experienced club members. As a “late bloomer” professionally, I had long struggled with many of the activities I was told would contribute to my career advancement: for instance, I knew that “getting a mentor” was important, but just how to find a mentor remained a mystery to me. When I found out I had been assigned a Toastmasters mentor, I was eager to jump right in!
Unfortunately, although my assigned mentor was considerate and encouraging, he was not a good match for my energy and drive. Whereas I was ready to meet from day one, to get guidance on meeting roles I was taking on and start planning my first speech, my mentor was distracted and hard to reach. Even after I initiated contact, he remained inaccessible, and had little to offer way of feedback or a plan for progress. After about two months of getting nowhere, I decided to request a new mentor, and I’m so glad that I did, because it led me to new relationships and opportunities I could never have imagined when first I set out on this road.
Co-Mentoring Quickstart Guide Overview
I created MentorsAndMasterminds.com to help make it easier for administrative professionals to find the mentoring we need to advance our careers and help elevate our profession. Now, I’m thrilled to introduce the Co-Mentoring Quickstart Guide as a map to forming productive professional mentoring relationships with the people you will meet there!
In the section titled Getting to Know You, I cover how to create a professional profile helps you to attract the best potential co-mentors to help with your professional goals. Once you have connected with a prospective mentor, it’s important that you get to know each other a on a more personal level, and critically examine your respective goals to see if there is a good fit. If the answer is yes, then you will want to agree upon objectives for the relationship, and define how you will work together. The section Roles and Responsibilities covers both roles and commitments of the mentoring partners, and addresses the memorialization of these commitments in a written agreement. In Following Through, we look at strategies you can use to ensure you get the most out of your partnership, and deliver the same to your co-mentor in return. Finally, the Appendix contains tools and resources you can use to put your mentoring plan into action.
Best of all, the Co-Mentoring Quickstart Guide is my gift to you when you claim your FREE membership at MentorsAndMasterminds.com!
Welcome to the #AdminNation.