Le nostre International Ambassador hanno intervistato Peggy Grande, Executive Assistant di Ronald Reagan.
In occasione del Executive Secretary Live a Londra nel 2016 la delegazione Italiana di Secretary.it ha avuto modo di incontrare Peggy Grande, EA del Presidente Americano Ronald Reagan e key note speaker dell’evento.
Dopo il video di saluto al Secretary Day lo scorso anno, l’abbiamo intervistata a seguito della pubblicazione del suo libro in cui racconta la sua decennale esperienza di EA al fianco del Presidente Reagan dopo gli anni alla Casa Bianca.
Your book “The President Will See You Now” describes your ten-year experience working with President Ronald Reagan after his presidency. Would you briefly describe to us what it was like to be an EA of a former President?
In many ways, whether you are the EA to the president of a company, or EA to the President of a country, the day to day tasks are very similar. However, working for someone who is a global icon and national treasure has its own life-changing opportunities and privileges, along with a unique set of challenges and complexities. When the person you support literally cannot step one foot outside of their office or their home without an entire team of security, planning ahead becomes paramount. There are no last-minute changes of plans or veering off the schedule on a whim. Security is always the priority, even if it means less flexibility or spontaneity. So, every decision is made with a mindfulness of safety. In addition to that, the EA is, in many ways, the face and the voice of their boss and, in my case, only one out of every 100 people who wanted to talk to or see Ronald Reagan actually got to. The other 99 interacted with me and I knew that their opinion of the president in many ways hinged on their experience in interacting with me. Did I treat them with the same respect and graciousness that he would have? Did I exhibit the same sunny optimism and excellence that he always embodied? He had spent a lifetime building his reputation as an admired and memorable person – I was very aware of my role in ensuring that his life and legacy was perpetuated with the same passion and prestige that he himself exhibited.
What are 3 main assets you learned working with President Reagan?
- Strength and graciousness can co-exist – Ronald Reagan was a powerful personality. He went toe to toe with the Soviet Union and helped bring an end to Communism in many places around the world. Yet alongside that strength was a beautiful humanity – a graciousness, kindness, gentlemanly manners, awareness and appreciation of others. I watched this in action in the president and applied it to my own role as well – acting with strength and confidence, while also incorporating a softer side of personal interaction into my work. I loved how surprised guests were by the warmth and approachability of our office and our staff. And that came directly from the president and the way he led and lived.
- Putting people first is always best – yes, productivity is imperative, but we can always find a way to accomplish our goals and complete our work while not only keeping relationships intact, but building and deepening them along the way. An office is people, not the work itself. Prioritizing the human component and realizing the impact and importance of every interaction is vital. Set the pace for the office, but also set the tone – make sure it is positive and upbeat, not negative and toxic. Often the tone you set is as important, if not more so, than the boss’s.
- There’s always a better way – constantly challenge yourself to grow and improve. Is there a more efficient way? A more effective way? A more excellent way? A more kind and gracious way? A more positive way? Everything you do and say is part of your personal brand. If your colleagues or clients used one word to describe you what would it be? If that’s a scary thought then decide what YOU want that word to be and then look at the way in which you work and align everything around that word or brand.
In your book, you say “There is an unwritten code among EAs to help each other out, make each other look good, and do anything and everything you can to pull off the impossible and to do so without ever letting anyone see you sweat.” I believe every EA can relate to this. Would you tell us some occasions when you made the impossible, possible?
In my book, I tell the story of President Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union coming to Los Angeles to receive the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award and on that particular week there were riots going on in LA and FedEx was not delivering for a few days. The custom-made medal had been shipped from Tiffany & Co. in New York to our office but had been delayed at the warehouse near LAX and was not going to arrive in time for the ceremony. I knew there could not be a medal-less medal ceremony and didn’t want to have to break the bad news to President Reagan. The FedEx main number and the regional office both said there was nothing they could do to help and apologized. Undeterred, I was not going to take “no” for an answer. I called the office of the president of FedEx and spoke to his executive assistant and shared with her my plight. She at first seemed hesitant to get involved, but also knew that she could help resolve the situation. I gave her my number and gave her my full confidence that she could single-handedly save this desperate situation. Within the hour, she called me back and had arranged for one of our staff members to go to the LA warehouse and pick up the box even though the warehouse was closed and was only a distribution center, not even a pick-up location. She had made the impossible possible. She was a hero in our office and received not only our thanks, but a personally signed letter from Ronald Reagan – along with a very special box of presidential memorabilia as a sign of his gratitude. The medal ceremony had a beautiful medal for President Reagan to present Mikhail Gorbachev. No one in the audience ever knew of that woman’s heroics, but I did. And now the world does too in the pages of my book.
Among the Heads of State and celebrities you have met, have you been positively or negatively struck by someone?
The most surprising thing to me about diplomatic interactions at the highest level is that in many ways they look like any other ordinary interaction in the sense that in order to be most effective there should be a relationship, not just rhetoric. And it should be connected in a personal way, not just politically or professionally. The global leaders that Ronald Reagan interacted with post-presidency were friends, not just colleagues on the world stage. I believe they accomplished more together and enjoyed their work together more because they actually enjoyed each other’s company. Whether it was seeing the Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, throwing his head back in a full belly laugh at one of the president’s jokes, or seeing an always-proper Margaret Thatcher kick off her shoes and chat alongside Mrs. Reagan in a formal evening gown and stocking feet, or the frailty of frame, yet strength of purpose and character which Mother Teresa (now a saint!) exhibited in a quiet but powerful visit with President Reagan, there was a special connection Ronald Reagan had with each one. Yet somehow Ronald Reagan was also able to similarly connect with everyday people who didn’t have titles or rank or power. It taught me at an early age that there can be – and should be – a beautiful humanity and personal connection in every interaction. That is what leadership looks like at its highest and best.
Mrs. Reagan once told you “I am a well, not a fountain (of information)”. On top of confidentiality, what do you think are the most important qualities of an EA?
Be worthy of trust. Never betray confidence. Ever. Even though you will have colleagues in the office it is never appropriate to share information that you are privy to because or your proximity, or engage in office banter that belittles your boss. Ever. Even if it’s only meant in jest by others.
Realize you are the face and the voice of the company. Just as people will judge the person you support based on your attitudes and actions, the same works in reverse. Your boss will be more greatly respected based on your work ethic and diplomacy, or avoided and looked down upon by others based on how they see you and whether or not they enjoy their interactions with you.
Adopt a “Bring It On” attitude. Be a cheerful and diligent worker. Challenge yourself to greater achievement, learning, growth and maturity in your role and in your interactions with others.
Anticipate needs, don’t just meet them. Don’t just keep up with your boss, but aim to stay three steps ahead. Planning ahead and thinking about what will come next will avert many last-minute crises. Have a strategic offense and game plan in mind, not just a defense, waiting to be asked – or told – what to do. Think like an executive, not like a receptionist.
Be assertive, not aggressive. Take initiative and exude confidence in your opinions and in your decision making.
Take Ownership over your words, your actions, the work flow, the level of organization and communication, the tone and the pace of work. Your boss will likely never be more organized than you are. Establish a functional and flexible framework for achievement. Be proud of your work and your accomplishments along the way.
Be a clock watcher. Time is essential. Manage it and control it. Don’t let it control you.
Become an expert – keep learning, be eager to include new skills into your work, embrace technology but also remember that no program or app takes the place of a strategically thinking EA. Never be too comfortable. Embrace growth and change and additional opportunities for responsibility as they arise.
No “lines in the sand”. Embrace and help facilitate the tasks that although may be outside the scope of the office work, can become a distraction to your boss. Helping navigate and streamline things outside of the office will reduce much of the stress that is brought to the office each day. That goes for your life too.
The topic of Secretary’s contest “Assistant of the Year 2017” is I LOVE MY JOB. How important is the role of an EA with the team she works with, how can she manage communication through the office with staff and employees, and therefore contribute to creating a great place to work? From your book, your book seems quite outstanding. Could you briefly give us some insights and suggestions?
Many in the EA/PA field talk about being “gatekeepers” but I don’t use that terminology as it implies a role which is committed to keeping anything and everything out of the office and away from your boss. I prefer instead the image of a “gateway”. I never wanted people internally or externally to avoid me or try to find creative ways to go around me, but, instead, I wanted everyone to know that if there was something that the president needed to see or do or make a decision on, that the quickest way to get to him and accomplish what they needed was to go through me, not around me. And though many things which started at my desk got turned away for more information, rerouted to others who could handle the issue at hand, or didn’t rise to a level worthy of the president’s time and were either decided upon by me or declined for taking any action, there was never any question by those in the office that I was clear on the president’s priorities and knew the things that required his personal attention and what didn’t. My job was to protect his time and his calendar, making room for the things that were most important and that only he could accomplish. I was a gateway to him, not a gatekeeper to avoid.
More and more EAs and Pas are gathering in associations or communities to promote the value of their role and their profession in the business world. Do you think this is the right direction and how do you see the world of EAs in ten years?
I do think there’s great value in collaboration and sharing of best practices, top resources and useful technology. I certainly wish there had been EA associations or groups when I was in my role! The EA role can be very isolating at times so it’s wonderful to be able to share candidly with others who are in similar situations and can relate to the challenges, the pressures – and the perks – of the role. As with any group, though, I am always mindful that it should positive and uplifting, not a place to complain and talk negatively about your boss. Look to encourage and be encouraged, otherwise it will not be worth the investment of your time or contribute to your success or your happiness in your role.
If there’s no local organization available to you, there are countless online communities. You can also read books, blogs and periodicals written by those with success in your field. Seek out networking groups, conferences or additional training in new software, look into new organizational systems or techniques and adapt them to work for you. Try to improve your personal skill set, knowing that adding value to yourself adds value to your boss and to the company.
The legacy of a leader: We think that nowadays the role of an EA is more of a business partner than only an assistant. Do you think the spiritual legacy, not just the working legacy, of a boss can pass through an EA?
I don’t agree that an EA is a business partner. The boss assumes the risk, the high-profile visibility and pressure and puts his or her reputation on the line every day in their work. The EA has the luxury of working more invisibly behind the scenes, without the same assumption of risk, so I disagree that EAs are business partners. That being said, an EA can – and should – have a meaningful and mutually supportive partnership with the person they support. There is a level of trust and commitment and dedication to a singular focus which requires successful teamwork to accomplish both short and long term goals. I think it is important for an EA to always realize their place as being a position of support, while also taking pride in the value and benefit they offer. Much of their boss’s success hinges on their level of professionalism and excellence in their role. Working together seamlessly and in unity only enhances the success and the satisfaction of that partnership. And yes, the legacy of an excellent boss truly can live on through their EA. In my case, more than 25 years later I continue to talk about the impact and inspiration which my boss, Ronald Reagan, impressed upon me. He did so not through a list of leadership rules or lessons, but through the way in which he lived his life, treated others and spoke in positive and affirming ways. My hope is that every EA would have the opportunity and the privilege to serve someone they admire deeply and will aspire to emulate.
Closing words to my Italian EA friends:
Enjoy your “front row seat” to all the action. Make yourself as valuable as you can to your boss and to your company. You never know what opportunities will arise if you work with consistent dedication and professionalism. Whether you remain in a support role or eventually pursue a management or executive position, you will have all the experience you need to be successful.
© Peggy Grande 2010, All Rights Reserved.
“The information contained in this article is the copyrighted intellectual property of Peggy Grande and may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, duplicated or disseminated without prior permission of Peggy Grande”.
EA di Ronald Reagan dal 1989 al 1999, dopo il suo periodo di Presidenza alla Casa Bianca.
Ha avuto un posto in prima fila in quel periodo storico e ha avuto modo di conoscere l’uomo Ronald Regan, non solo Presidente.
È l’autrice del libro “The Presidente will see you now” in cui ci narra la sua esperienza di dieci anni al suo fianco.