Do You Think Like a Leader?

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The best administrative professionals are leaders in the truest sense of the word says Sandy Geroux

Have you ever noticed that most administrative professionals and their leaders think differently about how they approach their job tasks? The reasons for this are both necessary and valuable. Where one is a strategist, the other is fantastic at identifying and helping find ways to implement that strategy; where one sometimes goes on a “flight of fancy”, the other helps “rein in” those random thoughts and make harmonious sense of them so as to communicate effectively and enable everyone to act upon them.

Despite the differences in the way these two groups of professionals think, there are some important areas of crossover, as well as some areas where it is advantageous for administrative professionals to put themselves into the leadership mindset.

In order to determine what these mindsets are and how to adopt them, let’s take a look at the top qualities employers seek in each group:

Top Qualities for Administrative Professionals

  • Organized and detail-oriented
  • Quick and efficient follow-through
  • Excellent communication skills: spelling, grammar, writing, speaking
  • Skills up to date; easily able to learn new skills and procedures
  • Great at multi-tasking
  • Friendly and professional in appearance and attitude – doesn’t bring personal problems to work
  • Doesn’t quibble – knows when to keep quiet
  • Listens well and presents solutions, instead of dwelling on problems
  • Puts “best foot forward” for the company
  • Independent thinker – doesn’t bother the boss with every little detail
  • Takes initiative – doesn’t wait to be asked to do something

Top Qualities for Managers and Executives (Titled Leaders)

  • Defines success clearly
  • Can set clear priorities
  • Decisive – makes a decision and sticks to it; doesn’t keep re-visiting it
  • Able to work within set structure
  • Builds morale; gets in the trenches
  • Willing to develop people/share credit
  • Friendly and kind, but professional
  • Likes people; good communicator
  • Human; has a sense of humor
  • Creative and versatile
  • Has good intuition
  • Demonstrates discipline and focus
  • Can see the “Big Picture”
  • Good delegation skills
  • Committed and very determined
  • Has a solid knowledge base – knows their business inside & out
  • Has passion and charisma
  • Empathetic – especially in hard times; can understand occasional personal problems
  • Willing to listen with an open mind

Hmmm… is an obvious conclusion jumping out at anyone else here besides me? While most of the qualities on the first list are not necessarily required to be a great leader (and some could actually detract from a leader’s effectiveness), every one of the qualities on the second list can help us be better administrative professionals! In fact, I would be hard pressed to find anything on the second list that does not describe an exceptional administrative professional.

That’s because the best administrative professionals are leaders in the truest sense of the word

However, despite the crossover between the two lists, problems can arise when administrative professionals focus too much on some of the qualities on the first list, at the wrong times. So, the key to being a completely professional administrative leader lies in discerning how and when to focus on individual qualities that do not apply to all situations.

For example, while it’s a necessary skill for our positions, there are times when multi-tasking can get us into trouble. Certain tasks absolutely require focus and concentration to perform them well, such as when writing critical memos and correspondence. If we rush through our correspondence or get distracted while writing, we may miss crucial facts, forget people who must be included, or dispense the wrong information, just to name a few mishaps that could occur. Being a leader is all about credibility, and miscommunication (especially on a regular basis) damages our credibility (not to mention the credibility of the leader we represent) and reduces the trust others have in us to do our jobs well.

Therefore, when you need to focus, identify a place you can go for some uninterrupted time to perform the task well and get it done in the shortest time possible. Discuss the importance of this with your leader if you must, but find a way to get away from interruptions and distractions (to figuratively close your door, just as they do) when necessary.

Another quality that has the opportunity to either help us or hurt us is that of being detail-oriented. Again, this critical skill is an asset in most administrative situations, but it is a detriment when we try to focus on small details in situations where the purpose is to set a larger vision and overall strategy. For example, I too often see people unnecessarily dragging all meeting attendees down in minutiae that should be reserved for sub-committee meetings. This not only wastes everyone’s time, but it hurts that person’s ability to be viewed as a leader because they seem unable to tell the difference between a strategic meeting and a tactical one.

When you’re serving on a large committee or board that has assigned sub-committees, refrain from bringing up every detail at the large board meeting. Instead, make notes for yourself as you think of items that need addressing (so you don’t forget anything that should be discussed in committee). Then bring those items to the sub-committee meeting to be hammered out. Once they have been discussed (and suitable options identified) in sub-committee, they can be brought back to the board for further discussion and decisions.

One final example is that of taking initiative and not waiting to be asked to do something. While taking initiative when it comes to our own work and decision-making is always a benefit, it is wise to tread a little more carefully when you are brand new in an organization, or when you are suggesting a different way of doing things than someone else is doing it.

When you’re brand new, you want to contribute and may be very passionate about wanting to help, but trying to change too many things too quickly may confuse too many issues at once and cause you to appear scattered and unfocused; it may also rub people the wrong way.

The best way to approach this is to do a little homework before making suggestions. Take a little time to get to know the issues and the people involved. Find out if the new way you’d like to suggest has been suggested before; if so, investigate the success or failure of the suggested method, and any previous objections people have raised. By doing this, you can proceed slowly and methodically, address all concerns and avoid the “That’s been tried before and it failed!” objection so common in established organizations.

Also, pick your battles! Choose one or two top things to attack first, taking a more methodical approach to change than just changing everything all at once. You will be taken more seriously if you are able to prioritize, control your impulses, be very organized and methodical, and establish credibility by getting great results on a few initial projects before tackling others.

In addition, when you’re suggesting changes, be mindful not to insult the person or group that instituted the previous policy or procedure. Even if things need to change in order to keep moving forward, the organization was probably built by many people who did many things very well. Be sure to honor those who came before you by highlighting what was right at the time it was instituted (and what may still be applicable today), while suggesting variations and subtle changes that are needed to keep up with the times. All too often, when new blood enters the “tribe,” they have wonderful ideas for the future, but forget to honor those in the past who have successfully brought the organization to that point. So, don’t inadvertently “trash” everyone and everything that came before you (like the proverbial teenager who believes his parents know absolutely nothing)!

By focusing on the many qualities expected of both administrative professionals and titled leaders, you will demonstrate the perfect blend of highly desirable qualities that establish you as a true leader and help pave the way for more opportunities and personal and professional success in the future.

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About Author

Sandy Geroux

Professional speaker, trainer and author Sandy Geroux has more than 18 years of administrative experience. She now helps others create the WOW factor, become more effective and efficient, and achieve their personal and professional dreams. Since 2000, she has conducted over 100 keynotes, training programs and workshops for more than 13,000 administrative professionals in 41 countries. Her columns and articles appear in many administrative publications.

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