Are We Really Ready?

I'm unimpressed.

There. I said it.

I've attended several EA-centric conferences over the past 5 years. I've seen many of you at those very conferences. They're like mini-reunions when you think about it, because I consistently run into many of the same alums that I saw a year or three prior. We exchange pleasantries and sit for two long days essentially assessing what's different than previous years, what spin a new speaker puts on the same material and what goodies we'll actually keep in yet another bag filled with shit we don't need. Can I get a quick, "Amen."

The upside of these conferences is that they bring us together. We get to [kinda] check out for two days and be amongst our tribe which actually feels great. We meet a few people we don't know. We break bread together and learn a few tidbits about our individual struggles. And then we pack up and head back to our insane lives with our insane execs with a few takeaways, a stack of business cards and that damn bag full of shit we don't need.

So here comes my diatribe. Did we really learn anything? Anything lasting?

Lately, I've been fortunate to have been asked to present at several of these conferences. Which means I'm also attending these conferences as a participant. Now that I operate a business that instructs and coaches EAs to maximize their potential and compensation, I'm all ears learning about what struggles are out there, what's keeping people "stuck" or what trends are prevalent in different industries so that I can adjust my cirriculum to address those needs. And when I speak, I have a clear intent to make people think, challenge their preconceived notions and realize their true worth and the power they have to change their situation dramatically simply by taking a few chances or being bold enough to actually ask for what they want and deserve. I'm confident that after I speak they've learned SOMETHING of value and/or validated something they'd always wondered about and can trust themselves to act upon it. Sure, my message isn't for everyone. But everyone can take something away and apply it to their careers with positive, often immediate results.

But as I listen to these sidebar conversations or hear the same questions being asked by the same people I saw three years prior I find myself becoming more and more frustrated by the lack of progress. Not just in the people asking redundant questions, but more by the aging crowds I'm seeing year after year at these conferences. Are we actually learning anything?

The conference I recently attended had a brilliant feature: live polls. We were queried about everything from compensation to on-the-job autonomy to years in the role. One super interesting poll showed that 73% of the attendees at this conference had been in the EA role for over 10 years. 73%! To say I was astonished would be an understatement. There were around 85 attendees and most were late 30s to 50s. Which made me think. If these veterans showed up en masse to a conference, likely with some pretty insane skills and high competency levels, what exactly are they trying to learn that they don't already know or can't figure out for themselves?

I remember hearing one Assistant ask a question to one panelist re: trying to get her exec to become more managerial and potentially take management training classes, essentially to benefit her. I then watched her go to several other speakers (including me) asking the same question, which kinda beguiled me. Sure, 5 different opinions could be seen as an opportunity to weigh each and validate which action she'd ultimately decide to take. But my bull-in-china-shop, incorrigible self just wanted to grab her by the shoulders, shake her and scream, "WAKE UP! He's not going to change! It's not in his DNA, not on his radar, not on his mind! MOVE ON!" As she asked me the question, I played the scenario in my head. "Hi Mr. Middle Manager. I think you'd really benefit from taking management training classes because I need you to understand my worth, treat me with more respect and allow me to take on more responsibility which will, in time, allow me to be compensated commensurate with my contribution."

Process that. I'll be right over here.

I had a really frank and honest conversation with Bonnie Low-Kramen while she was setting up her booth and preparing to speak. I had actually met her at a couple of other conferences years prior, but was fine with the fact that she didn't remember me. This woman has been around the world about 40 or more times. Admittedly, I approached with a bit of trepidation, especially since I'm now in the same field, and have already experienced the shade and "copy catting" of others in the field pretending to be friendly. (Don't be fooled. It's high school all over again in this business.) But I was incredibly shocked and surprised by the openness and candor this incredible woman displayed to me as we talked about where EAs are now and how we're hoping to change the mindset and respect level both within the ranks and outside, looking in. She admitted that she is also a bit disappointed with how slowly we as EAs are owning the role, but incredibly hopeful as companies, especially those led by younger CEOs, are actually creating an environment where they want us to succeed and are actually waiting for us to simply seize the opportunities. Bonnie Low-Kramen owes me absolutely nothing. If anyone owes anyone it's me owing her ALL of my respect as she's almost single-handedly fought the good fight on behalf of all of us and continues to do so city-by-city, country-by-country, year after year. That said, are we actually listening?

So, back to my question that's the title of this post: "Are we really ready?"

I'm not convinced we are. At least most of us. I'm still seeing serial conference attendees asking the same lame questions. I'm still experiencing EAs on the job who are lazy, disengaged and collecting the check. I'm still seeing cockblocking and gossip cabals and late replies to urgent emails from other EAs. I'm still seeing EAs let opportunities to kill it pass on by because they're too lazy to grasp the ring. And it kinda pisses me off.

No one is going to hand us a raise or a promotion. No one is going to tell our execs ALL that we do or sing our praises for us in our annual reviews. No one is going to come to our aid when we're struggling and are too afraid to speak up. And no one is going to wrap RESPECT in a bright blue Tiffany box with a white bow and sit it on our desks to discover when we arrive in the morning. Fortune favors the brave. And brave we are not. Across the board. And my question is WHY?

We as Executive Assistants have keys to the kingdom. We have the ability to see everything that's going on in minute detail. We have access to a breadth of information that no one else in the building has. And we have the opportunity to use all of this wealth to our DISTINCT advantage by simply treating ourselves as entrepreneurs, mastering the game by watching all of the players we support, and winning simply by playing a little bit better, speaking the same language and producing at the same level. But we cower from negotiations, sit on our hands instead of pushing the door open, "wait for the right time" instead of being a bit audacious, and (the worst) stay in position when it's clear that the respect level isn't there, wasn't there, and will never be there instead of assessing the ROI for ourselves and making the STRATEGIC decision to move on. We then spend our company's $2,000+ to go to 2-day conferences to "escape" yet spend most of it inappropriately tip-tapping away at our laptops, working, while people like me, Bonnie Low-Kramen and LEGENDARY CEO Hamid Moghadam are spitting actionable truth that we can use to literally change our lives and careers.

I won't lie. I'm frustrated. Because from the very core of me I want us to WIN. I've devoted my life to this role and I've made inroads wherever I could so that someone coming up in my wake could work less hard and experience less turmoil on their individual road to success. But I'm literally FIGHTING to fill 14 seats at each MAU table so that I can actually teach people HOW to win and sidestep the same bureaucratic BS that's been around since the beginning of time. I'm learning that people would much rather spend $2,000+ of their company's money to, essentially, be entertained while they work remotely instead of spending 8 hardcore hours with me and 13 other hungry, passionate Assistants who actually choose to be a part of changing the game.

One piece of advice that I was taught by Anthony Robbins himself was to align yourself with successful people and emulate everything they do. Then put your own special sauce on it. It's the quickest way to be successful and the easiest way to make successful habits stick. I can attest to that. I have several mentors who are successful, including many of the execs I've supported over the years. I've watched them like a hawk and have found the confidence to implement many of the same strategies I've gleaned from our talks and time together. I implore of you to start doing the same thing. Stop attending these conferences as an escape and start paying attention. And maybe augment one of the larger conferences that you've attended numerous times with a session like mine that DIVES IN and really teaches the methods you should be emulating to actually start creating the success you say you want to achieve.

Can we please cut the bullsh*t and really start learning something? I'm not maligning large conferences. They do a fantastic job at bringing us together and presenting information (over and over) that seems to be falling on deaf ears. If you truly want to learn something of value, you need to go to a specialized source. Experts who have seen it, done it and succeeded wildly and created an environment that is focused and geared toward making YOU just as successful. Would you take a Ferrari to a COSTCO car repair shop? Then why are you choosing yet another large conference over specialized, small group training with other EAs who want to succeed just as much as you do and are taking the same actions you are?

I'm not so sure I'm interested in attending any more large conferences. Because, I'm not sure a majority of people in the room are serious about "doing the damn thing" and committing to taking bold leaps in support of their own futures. We've become too complacent and entitled and are content waiting for the bread crumbs our execs slide under the door of our cells. F THAT. Not interesting. At all.

I teach superstars. I teach those who have HAD ENOUGH and are ready to make some serious moves and are confident (or crazy) enough to make career changes at 50 years old or becoming a C-suite Assistant making 6 digits only 2 years out of college. Those are the people who speak my language and they're typically not found sipping from vats of generic coffee, at tables full of people half listening/half working and those asking the same question of 5 people who told you the same damn thing. I want to help create the new breed of "Assistant" who leads the charge and rewrites the rules from the first day they walk in the door, because THEY CAN and have the confidence and belief to back it up.

If I've offended anyone, deep down you know I'm right. My message isn't for everyone. For those of you content being mediocre, "do you." I applaud your consistency. But if I'm making even one or two people think outside their comfort zone and assess where they lie on the spectrum of OK-to-GREAT, then I consider that a success.

Pick your poison, people. If you want to be great, put yourself in a room with great people and watch like a hawk, take notes like an intern, and emulate, emulate, emulate. If you're content spending your company's money on a "working vacation," enjoy. I'm sure you deserve everything you're getting. But, please know, those of us who are intent on changing the game and setting a new, MUCH HIGHER BAR, will likely not be all that sympathetic to your plight when companies finally catch on and start hiring MEGAs as the gold standard. It's inevitable. Bet on it. You might want to get hip to the new game now before you fall victim to it later.

Phoenix Normand