https://www.bonnielowkramen.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/TheGirlAtTheParty-blog-photo.jpg 183 194 competenow /wp-content/uploads/2020/08/bonnie-low-logo.png competenow2015-05-19 17:49:532015-05-19 17:49:53Career Success International Magazine Interview with Bonnie Low-Kramen
Read Bonnie’s profile in South Africa’s Career Success Magazine | By Ana-Maria Valente | April 2015
Read Bonnie’s profile in South Africa’s Career Success Magazine | By Ana-Maria Valente | April 2015
Bonnie is a Jersey (USA) girl whose voice is one of the most respected in the profession. With honesty and humour, she pulls the curtain back on a career that is glamorized and misunderstood. She is known for her passionate commitment to professional assistants and to affecting positive change in the American workplace believing that the way to do this is through education and training of both assistants and managers. Both groups are the backbone of American business and as such, are deserving of professional development in the form of training.
Seeing there were so few resources for assistants, she authored the best-selling book, “Be the Ultimate Assistant: A celebrity assistant’s secrets to working with any high-powered employer.” Her articles on workplace issues affecting professional assistants are widely published. Bonnie is a cofounder of the professional association New York Celebrity Assistants (NYCA) and works to build positive collaborations and networks between assistants around the world.
We asked Bonnie three questions:
- WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO BE A PA?
I’ve never been asked that before. The truth is that the profession chose me although I have it in my DNA since my mother was a legal secretary and dad was an accountant. Office supplies were plentiful in our house! When I began working with Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis in 1986, we didn’t even know there was even a name for what I was doing. What I knew is that she had an urgent need for help to keep her life running smoothly and I seemed to have the skills required. I was winging it every single day which was the motivation for seeking community and resources. I now know that those feelings of frustration have led to everything that is happening now with my training, writing, and speaking. Olympia and I were a great team for 25 years.
- WHY ARE YOU SO PASSIONATE TO SHARE INFORMATION?
I learned by burn and I don’t want assistants to have to wing it anymore. Plus, this is a far more complicated workplace than when I first started. Training is simply not an option anymore and I want to be part of the solution for assistants to get what they need. From the beginning of my career, I was shocked by the appalling lack of resources for assistants. That isn’t the case with other professions and we must do better. I co-founded NYCA in 1996 – New York Celebrity Assistants – and it was clear that several heads were much better than one. Everything became possible. My imagination took me to this idea: WHAT IF the world’s assistants could be connected and easily share what they know generously and without keeping score? WHAT IF we could break down the silos and have a vital global community? These ideas are the why for my work.
HOW BEST TO WORK WITH MANAGERS? Assistants can be of enormous help to their managers to be better ones. Assistants can be a manager’s most powerful secret weapon, says BonnieLow-Kramen Here’s what happened to me.For 25 years I worked as the Personal Assistant to Oscar winning actress Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck, Steel Magnolias.) What I experienced is that people would say things to me as her assistant that they would never say directly to her. This automatically meant that I had information that she did not have. Using this information in productive and proactive ways is a key element of managing your manager and potentially sticky situations.I could give Olympia a heads-up about issues that I knew she would want to know. How did I know this? I asked the question, “May I tell you what I think is going on?” and inevitably, the answer would be, “Yes, of course.” Was I always right? No, but over time, Olympia came to trust this information as important pieces to a project’s puzzle, whether it was a movie, a play, or the bathroom renovation.
Assistants can be good managers too!Around the world, this is the dynamic of the assistant/manager relationship. In general, people censor themselves around “the boss.” That’s just the way it is and it probably always will be. Therefore, the most talented assistants make themselves accessible to receive the truth about any given situation and the smartest managers are the ones who recognize that the assistant can be their eyes and ears and value them as such. The manager empowers the staff to say what they see and hear. An assistant is so much more than “just an assistant,” and in fact, is an integral part of the management team.
Here are 8 of my favourite ways for assistants to manage up.”
1. Have Mutual Respect.
No relationship is worth anything without mutual respect. Managers have a tough job to do as do assistants. Everyone has an important role to play and the most healthy relationships are built on a foundation of respect. Not everyone is cut out to be a great manager, just as not everyone is cut out to be a top-flight assistant. Acknowledgement of one another’s roles is vital. It’s as simple as an assistant truthfully saying, “You handled that really well. I learned a lot from watching you.” Managers need feedback too.
2. Show Empathy. Put yourself in your manager’s shoes and act accordingly. Imagine flying the redeye and then having to hit the ground running at the 9AM client meeting. If you have ever done this, you know how tough it can be. Working through jet lag remedies and making sure your manager’s favorite energy-boosting foods are waiting for her/him at the meeting, are examples of how empathy serves everyone. Say, “I know that next week is going to be a bear for you. Here are 3 ideas of what we can do to make it go easier. What do you think?” The better you get to know your manager, the more you can just go ahead and make these things happen without asking. Olympia would say, “If you have respect and empathy, everything is possible.” Yes, indeed.
3. Help your manager be successful. The best way for an assistant to not come off as a threat to a manager is to help her/him be successful and to look great. Exceed expectations and offer ideas that may be new ones to your manager. When he rocks the PowerPoint presentation that you designed or she hosts the lunch meeting at the trés cool restaurant you discovered, congratulations are in order for both of you. Then you get to move on together to the next project. The healthiest assistant/manager relationships are ones where each of you is invested in the other’s success.
4. Scratch their itch and ease their pain. What is keeping your manager up at night? My wise colleague Nancy Fox (The Business Fox) told this to me years ago. She said that if an assistant can figure out how to (figuratively, of course!) scratch their managers itch and ease their pain, that they will never be unemployed. An assistant can stay alert to the hottest angst-producing issues and come up with ways to alleviate them. Make it your business to know your manager’s immediate and long-term goals.
5. When in doubt, ask. Still in doubt, ask again. Assistants can support their managers be better managers by the thoughtful asking of questions that helps to clarify situations. Don’t assume and make a poor decision out of insufficient or inaccurate information. The best managers understand that it is a sign of strength to ask questions when you are unsure
6. Speak truth to power, Become your manager’s most valuable asset when you can be depended on to say the hard thing that needs to be said but no one wants to say it out of fear. Assistants need to be supported to say what they know. If you are unsure, try saying, “I have a thought about XYZ. Would you like me to share it? It is respectful to ask first and wait for the answer. See what happens. If it doesn’t work out the first time, dont let it stop you from trying again.
7. Don’t Suffer in Silence. It is not a matter of if but when problems are going to arise. Assistants need to address them quickly, directly, and thoughtfully. Managers are depending upon assistants to tell them what they need to know, even if it hurts a little. Many are oblivious or clueless to issues, mainly because their staff erroneously protect them from the reality. The best managers will not kill the proverbial messenger for telling them the truth. Hey, I never said it was easy being an assistant or a manager! That is why each of you needs to be compensated well. Bullying behaviors are unacceptable and not to be tolerated at any time. Speaking up is imperative to create awareness. Only then can solutions be found. Do not reward bad behavior by permitting them to poison whole offices. Assistants can be integral in short-circuiting workplace bullies by supporting their managers to take action to build cultures of respect.
8. Assistants can be good managers too. Read and study leadership and management books and articles. Take professional development workshops and classes. Ideally these will be paid for by your manager and company. Be your manager’s invaluable right arm when you strengthen your own leadership muscles. Two heads are definitely better than one. After all, being a good manager takes training and practice, just like everything else.
Leadership expert Jack Zenger conducted a 2012 poll of 17,000 worldwide leaders around the world. He calculated the average age that a leader received their first training in learning how to manage people – 42. Given that the average college graduate is in their 20’s, it is easy to do the math and realize that managers need as much support as they can get to be effective managers. Assistants can help them to do precisely that.
This article has been copied with permission from CareerSuccess magazine.