In this article, author Jan Jones discusses being resourceful and why it is a crucial skill for executive assistants.
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FlyPrivate: In our previous blog you discussed why assistants must have good Anticipation ability. You also said, “Anticipation and Resourcefulness are identical twins.” The EA book club that asked about Anticipation is asking about Resourcefulness as a crucial power skill by itself, and also how it links to Anticipation.
Jan Jones: There’s a saying, “I can’t control the wind but I can adjust my sails.” I can’t control situations or circumstances, but I can make adjustments and take appropriate action to achieve the results I want.
Anticipation gives me a 360-degree view of a situation. Resourcefulness gives me the wherewithal to do something about it. Anticipation gives me the advance notice. Resourcefulness helps me to capitalize on it. Anticipation lets me see what’s coming. Resourcefulness lets me adapt and manage the outcome. That’s why I say Anticipation and Resourcefulness are identical twins. Their partnership makes you solution-oriented. Together they give you the foresight to proactively manage situations so you can avert a disaster, or gain a competitive advantage.
I’ll share a personal example of resourcefulness. A while back I used to learn Italian. Each week, our teacher would review the homework with us. I missed class one week, so when the teacher asked me a question about the previous week’s lesson, I could not answer specifically. I gave a response and waited for her to suggest I brush up on the lesson I’d missed. Instead, she turned to the class and said, “Very good. She didn’t have what she needed, so she used what she had.”
Her comment is resourcefulness in a nutshell. You may not have what you need, but you know how to use what you have to your advantage. You find a way. Your situation doesn’t faze you. You have options and you know how to use them, or you know where to go to get them. These options are the resources you are constantly accumulating. As a result, you have presence of mind and can think on your feet. Being resourceful means you don’t run out of options. You can call on them to get you out of a tight spot, or into an opportunity.
Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of InfoSys, India’s $2 billion IT services company, said “Resourcefulness is about finding a way. Be open-minded. Redefine the possible.” Being open-minded about possibilities allows us to put our resourcefulness to good use.
Resourcefulness is a skill that helped me enormously in my role as executive assistant. The very idea of resourcefulness gets me excited because it is excellence in action. It’s dynamic, optimistic, full of a sense of accomplishment. It allowed me to demonstrate my ability, and show my passion for my work. Resourcefulness identified me as someone who produced results. It turned me into a recognized, respected brand.
My mantra to assistants is “Showing is better than telling.” Resourcefulness is ideas made visible. It’s not all talk, it’s about taking action and delivering results. Visibly showing how you contribute. Your executives and team members are the direct beneficiaries of you thinking creatively and coming up with solutions. As assistants, this is how we can be a vital resource to our stakeholders.
With the unpredictable nature of the executive assistant’s job, resourcefulness is a skill we must unfailingly develop. Be ready with options. You can’t sit there stumped when things aren’t working out, or you are called on to jump in and prevent or fix a problem. Start by quickly assessing the situation, determine what needs to be done and put your plan into action, using whatever options are available to you. Don’t hesitate to push the boundaries and think outside the confines of your job description. Resourcefulness is about getting results. That requires broad thinking.
I was visiting a friend who had planned to make a special dinner that evening. As she started cooking, she realized she’d forgotten to buy one ingredient. We told her it didn’t matter to us. One of the guests, who had made the recipe a few times, suggested an alternative ingredient. Our hostess insisted she needed every ingredient, exactly as the recipe called for. Her husband quietly pleaded with her to just get on with it. She told us firmly she was not going to prepare that recipe without the ingredient, and sent her husband off to their local Italian restaurant to pick up dinner for us.
That is exactly the opposite of resourcefulness. Someone so inflexible, who can’t make a slight adjustment to a recipe, would not do well in the executive assistant role. This woman behaved like a quintessential bureaucrat. Executive assistants must adopt a much more can-do mindset to be successful in the EA role, which requires extreme elasticity. If you are rigid in your thinking, if you can’t make a move unless conditions are perfect, you will struggle to be an effective assistant who adds value.
The EA role requires flexibility and confidence to pull something off even in conditions that are not ideal. You need the mental agility to figure things out on the fly and be adaptable and open-minded enough to make adjustments as needed. You need to learn how to compensate for what’s missing, for what didn’t get done, for any surprises that could derail your plans.
These past two years we’ve heard the word “pivot” endlessly. What is that exactly? It’s adapting quickly to changing situations. Making necessary adjustments, finding a better way, changing course if necessary, using what you have to deliver results in a short space of time. I wrote an article for Chief Executive magazine about how exceptional executive assistants were stepping up in the pandemic to help their executives thrive. It demonstrated how assistants were able to take independent action because they were expert at anticipating their executives’ needs. Good anticipation helps us to pivot in unfamiliar situations. It helps us prepare and gives us the confidence to make independent decisions. You have a “feel” for what your executive wants and you use your resources to deliver it. Sure, you might have a momentary pang of dread, but you quickly collect yourself and start putting together a plan of action.
Resourceful assistants are creative. They don’t get caught flat-footed. They are quick to respond when a challenge presents itself. One of my favorite stories on resourcefulness in my book is about executive assistant Sally Travasso. Sally found out that on the day her executive would be returning from vacation he had to attend a meeting and deliver a presentation at the opening of the meeting. Realizing he would not have time to prepare, she decided to create the presentation for him. He showed the presentation at the meeting without even knowing what it contained. In addition to demonstrating her anticipation and resourcefulness skills, it illustrates the deep trust Sally’s executive had in her to show that presentation sight unseen, with the complete assurance that she would never embarrass him.
Do you know that being a good problem solver helps you to be a strategic thinker? True. Strategy guru Richard Rumelt defines strategy as “A coherent mix of policy and action designed to surmount a high-stakes challenge.” While your EA role’s challenges may not rise to the level of an organizational high-stakes challenge, it is a challenge nonetheless, so you need to solve it. If you want to become a true strategic business partner, I urge you to sharpen your resourcefulness skills. Resourcefulness develops your strategic capabilities and gives you a strategic advantage by teaching you how to think your way out of difficult situations and into opportunities. Resourcefulness enhances that clever way of thinking that you have practiced relentlessly, in order to deliver impressive results.
Developing your resourcefulness capability gives you a key advantage in getting your job done. You’ve built up you reserves and established the alliances you can call upon as needed. Having those things in hand expands your confidence and encourages you to take charge. I said earlier the idea of resourcefulness is exciting. It allows you to be bold, to act with initiative. Your resourcefulness makes the job fun and interesting. You’ve run the fire drills so if there is a real “fire” you will be ready. Knowing you have what it takes gives you the freedom to step outside defined limits – ideas about what the role is or isn’t; what you can and can’t do; restraining your creativity because your boss won’t “let” you do what you know is a smarter way to get the job done.
The executive assistant role is what you make it. Resourcefulness plays a big part in determining your effectiveness, because it keeps you in ready mode. You’ve developed a special skill. You can create something new or revamp something old. You are enterprising. Poised and ready to meet challenges, or take advantage of opportunities. Learn to optimize your resources and your resourcefulness. It’s a key power skill that will identify you as a major asset to any organization.
©The CEO’s Secret Weapon. The ideas expressed in this article and any text extracted from “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” are the intellectual property and copyrighted to Jan Jones. All rights reserved. No unauthorized usage or duplication by any means is permitted without the express consent of the author.
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Jan Jones is the author of “The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness.” The book has received widespread acclaim from executives and executive assistants worldwide. Jan spent 20+ years as an esteemed international executive assistant to well-known business people, including Tony Robbins, the world’s #1 business and life strategist. Jan continues to champion the executive assistant profession with her writing, consulting and speaking. She offers timeless, practical advice that is relevant to the day-to-day role of the executive assistant.
Visit Amazon to purchase Jan Jones’ book and visit her website: The CEO’s Secret Weapon.
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