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Being a Personal Assistant: A Professional with the right attitude

There is an old saying that there is a reason we have two hands - one to help ourselves and the other is to help others. This maxim is an adequate description when it comes to the life of a Personal Assistant. They are helpers by choice, and their daily working environment requires them to always remain calm under pressure and swiftly think and act on their feet.

In the historical-cultural context, we find that people viewed assistants as nothing but servants or less relevant people. However, behavioural and environmental psychological perspectives emerged that suggests that assistants are a special breed of people, who often place the needs of others above their own and who possess an extra dose of kindness. This does not mean that they are pushovers; they are trained professionals who hold the strength of character and a sharp mind. Their distinctive abilities range from a positive demeanour to a myriad of administrative duties. These include excellent written and spoken communication skills, high level of discretion, calmness under pressure, reflective listening skills and accuracy, among others.

Organisations need to have offices that run smoothly, so that focus can be dedicated to the core business. This is why leaders need excellent assistants. It requires poise and potential to improve a workplace, people, and presentation skills to represent senior managers, department heads and business owners. While others may consider some duties, responsibilities and functions tedious, the personal assistant proves to be flexible and can switch tasks effectively. There is nothing not important enough in the world of a personal assistant, whether it is time managing, scheduling meetings, correspondence, event-planning or note-taking.

A few essential aspects that aspiring secretaries or personal assistants should consider before making a choice to become one.

  • High level of discretion and keeping confidences. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word "secretary" comes from a 'person entrusted with a secret'. Know what, when and with whom to speak
  • Professionalism – behaving in a positive, poised, consistent and respectful manner
  • Excellent communication skills – be a reflective listener and always communicate with both etiquette and diplomacy.   
  • Computer skills - keep up with technology as it is a vital part of being a competent personal assistant.
  • Be proactive – taking an active role in dealing with something before it needs to be taken care of
  • Personal Branding – in all excellence find that unique qualities and abilities in yourself that sets you apart from other personal assistants.
  • Have career goals.

What it means to me being a personal assistant

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."  Being of service in the profession as a personal assistant gives me a sense of fulfilment and immense joy in knowing that I make a difference even in the smallest and humblest form in the lives of my Executive Manager and my fellow colleagues.

The attributes I focus daily are being proactive, attention to detail and delivering accurate and quality work always. Values such as loyalty, respect, equality and confidentiality are fundamentals that form part of my professional and personal branding.

Servanthood itself comes as natural as breathing to me, and it prompts me to aspire to be someone who continually evaluates and improve herself. It touches a profound part in my heart that creates the feeling of home and reminds me of who I truly am.

Going the extra mile

Going the extra mile is always about having a sense of excellence and a deep-rooted drive of persistence in pursuing the best of your capabilities and potential. It's about making that conscious decision to challenge yourself with an open mind on all your deliverables entrusted to you to intentionally execute them with more accuracy, efficiency and smarter ideas every single time. It creates within you a positive mental attitude and allows you to improve your knowledge and skills, while it enhances your self-confidence and credibility. It is about having the right attitude towards the work that needs to be executed for the higher purpose of all involved, with the heart of someone who cares enough about the comfort of her fellow colleagues.

May you always have that sense of hope and courage to realise that you are one step away from that dream or breakthrough that will transform yourself and your life forever.

Athel Innes, Personal Assistant to Group Executive: Brand & Corporate Affairs

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