My guest today: Diana Brandl, former senior executive assistant to top management is a freelance author, runs her own blog (The Socialista Projects), gives workshops, and speaks at national and international conferences. She is also the host of the Future Assistant Podcast.
With which three words would you describe yourself?
Passionate, loyal and visionary.
How do you experience the disruptions in the Corona crisis?
I have always seen possibilities and opportunities in crisis situations. Just like it was this time as well. I was a bit afraid of course. As a solopreneur it is never easy and every customer counts. My agenda was full for 2020, I was supposed to speak in New Zealand, USA, Canada, Dubai etc. and one event got cancelled or postponed after the other. However, I was sad, but I was never scared though as I had trust in myself transforming my business and I did. My live trainings became webinars and my customers were open to it and we started this journey together. I am very thankful and would like to specifically mention Irene from Siemens and Claudia and Andrea from Roche for giving me the opportunity to jointly explore new digital formats.
What challenge excites you the most in your life right now, and why?
The challenge of being home since mid of March. Super happy about this actually. I am used to travel throughout the world teaching, it was a bit of a change sleeping in my own bed for a longer period now. However, I love it and my husband and our dog Phoebe for sure appreciate the fact. I am a bit sad of being back on the road as of July.
What does «having a career» mean to you and how do you define success?
Everybody has a different understanding of the term career. I have always been focused on my career goals and tried to reach them. But I felt I could have a career in fancy companies where I would work for well-known CEOs. When I left Sony and started working for FP, some people told me that I should have chosen a larger and more visible brand. But this is not me. I saw many opportunities in job descriptions that did not belong to the top-notch fortune 500 index. Especially in these companies while working for these executives, I learnt the most. I fulfilled roles where I had a lot of freedom to discover my qualities and skills. And my managers supported me in my growth development. Success is only a success to me when my counterpart calls it a success. I have high standards and like to make my customers happy. Their success is mine.
Has learning from a mistake ever led you to success?
I once had a boss who told me that I am allowed to make mistakes but never make the same mistake twice. I learnt from that a lot and try to push myself which is not always easy when you deal with perfectionism like many of us do. It can get in the way of being creative.
Can you name the biggest overall lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Get a mentor. Once I started my own business nearly four years ago, I knew who my sounding board was and how important mentorship is for a growth mindset. I am glad to have this network in place that still helps me in various situations. I never walk alone.
What advice would you give someone who is considering entering the EA/PA arena?
Become an expert and find your niche right from the beginning. It is so relevant right now. Time is up that assistants will majorly manage calendars and travels. Assistants who are entering the profession should focus on business related topics and dive into agile thinking and working methods. This is where they help their managers in the future. And this is how they get their seat at the table from day one.
What was your best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?
Know your worth. I teach assistants finding their voice and their worth and can proudly say that I have seen quite some career moves of my coaching clients. However, it is not always about the money, it is about branding and positioning.
From a today’s perspective: What kind of education, training, and personal skills are indispensable for a «Future Assistant»?
Of course, technical knowledge but also getting in the shoes of the manager. I see more opportunities as performing as a co-manager, business partner and chief innovation officer. There are many incredible titles out there where we will see assistants related to in the future. Negotiation skills, strategic thinking, public speaking and networking are also relevant. Assistants I work with became agile coaches, scrum masters or lean office experts. The choices are out there, it is time to specialize and grab the opportunity.
What kinds of accomplishments tend to be valued and rewarded in the today’s profession of being an Executive Assistant?
Hm, tough one as I believe that more accomplishments should be named out loud for assistants. In many ways, assistants are the ones who help their managers to their accomplishments. It is a gesture of leadership that these managers officially thank their assistants for their work. Hence, I would love to see more open statements from executives in this field. Here and there you see some of these shout outs on LinkedIn from Millennial Managers who thank their assistants in public. We need more of that, please!
What are the three most important things for a «Future Assistant» to focus on?Technology, creativity and leadership. It is time to level up and form more leadership qualities.
In your opinion, will the AI bring positive effects to the work of an assistant and if so, which ones?
Of course, it brings many positive things and, in the future, even assistants will see more possibilities of delegating work to AI devices such as Alexa or Google Duplex. Once these devices are fully installed in companies (we still deal with a lot of resistance in terms of IT Security), I hope that modern day office environments will see the benefits rather than the fear in such tools. I am a huge fan of my Siri by the way.
On which topic could you give a lecture without any preparation and without including the topic assistance 4.0?
How to shape your personal brand.
What is the first thing you notice about other people?
Their open mindset (or not).
If you were able to meet three business leaders for a personal interview, which would they be?
Bill Gates, Oprah and Sabine Bendiek. Funny thing is that I know Sabines and Bills assistants personally and the former assistant of Oprah is a trainer colleague I shared stages with last year in London and Atlanta. Make sure you follow Libby Moore. Incredible woman. https://www.missmoneypenny.ch/article/libby-moore-ehemalige-assistentin-von-oprah-winfrey
Your favorite Podcasts?
Can I name my own one? I am proud to say that The Future Assistant Podcast is the worldwide first German speaking podcast with international guests as well. I have a follower base from assistants, non- assistants and executives from all around the globe. I interviewed the former assistant to the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the former Executive Business Partners to Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Chief of Staff to Eric Schmidt of Google. I do follow various podcasts. I love Unlocking Us by Brene Brown, Super Soul Conversations by Oprah, Female Leadership by Vera Marie Strauch and the one of my friend Zelda La Grange, former assistant to Nelson Mandela. It is worth following Zelda and her stories. I did an interview with her for the Miss Moneypenny magazine: https://www.missmoneypenny.ch/article/zwei-jahrzehnte-an-nelson-mandelas-seite
Can you recommend magazines, blogs, articles or professional associations which would be helpful for our assistant community?
I am a member of IMA (International Management Assistanst) since 2006. I am also a member of the IAAP association in the USA. Networking is a key skill for assistants, and I invested all my live into networking. The Moneypenny Society is also a Swiss based community I like to mention. I write for Miss Moenypenny, working@office and sekretaria Magazine – all German speaking resources that I love to mention here. If you like to focus on more international content, visit the website of “Practically Perfect PA” or the Executive Secretary Magazine from the UK.
What should never be missing in your fridge?
My eye mask 😊
What tool, object, or ritual could you not live without in your workday?
I try to meditate each morning with the podcast of Chel Hamilton. It is called Meditation Minis. Check it out.
What quotation or saying inspires and motivates you to be yourself and do what you love?
Don’t compare yourself with anyone in this world. If you do, you are insulting yourself. Bill Gates
What does the world need more of? Less of?
More: Stronger lobby for animal rescue. I am an animal lover and it is hard to believe how these creatures are treated in our modern world. Less: Comparison. I never compare myself to others, but many do, and it is not good for a positive mindset. Everyone is unique just like our fingerprints – stay true to yourself and do not waste time observing others.
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