In this article, author Jan Jones discusses building confidence and how it correlates to being an effective executive assistant.
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FlyPrivate: We often receive questions from executive assistants about confidence. You tell assistants “Nothing builds confidence like being good at what you do.” What are some other ways for EAs to build confidence so they can be effective at work?
Jan Jones: Let’s start by understanding what is confidence? Confidence is self-belief. It’s how you feel about yourself. It’s self-trust, a quiet sense of certainty that comes from deep within you. Confidence is having a strong sense of self-worth.
Knowing you are worthy is the foundation on which your self-confidence is built. At your core, you are rooted in the belief that you are competent to handle life. You are effective on all levels of your life, whatever role you are playing. Confidence is not ego, it’s not superficial and it’s not momentary happy talk.
Entrepreneur Ed Mylett says self-confidence is about “building your reputation with yourself.” Stop and take that in. This is you speaking to you, saying “This is who I am.” It is you being honest and accountable to yourself. At your core, there is only you, and you have to give yourself all the love, respect and support any human can need, so you can live a confident, fulfilled life. Absent that, there is no “you.”
I know how important the topic of confidence is for executive assistants, personally and professionally. There are assistants who display a lack of confidence in themselves and the value of their profession. Assistants have remarked they are embarrassed to say what they do, because the profession is not respected. This means they are not clear about their true worth, because your worth is not dependent on what you do for a living. Their self-respect is compromised. Sadly, they lack pride in a profession that has stood the test of time. It has been around for longer than many important companies in existence today, where many of you work. They lack pride in a profession that has been providing critical support to business for generations, and shows no signs of letting up.
We hear constantly that assistants are not being valued, appreciated and respected for what they do. I just saw a comment from an assistant saying she’s tired of “feeling like a second-class citizen.” If you are confident and have self-respect you speak up, politely but firmly. You put an end to disrespect the very first time it happens. You don’t tolerate that kind of treatment from anybody.
You can’t perform at your very best when you are feeling disrespected. Then it becomes a vicious cycle – you don’t do your best, they see you as incompetent, they disrespect you, you react, and on it goes. Putting a stop to disrespect is completely in your hands. That’s something I was always clear about in job interviews. I used to make it a point to say to my prospective employer that I don’t tolerate disrespect. “I will never be disrespectful to you and I won’t permit you to be disrespectful to me.” One executive asked me if that meant I was thin-skinned.
Irrespective of the quality of your job performance, as a human being you are worthy of respect, so insist upon it. Not in an aggressive, militant manner, but in a mature, confident, professional way that lays down boundaries and says, “You don’t get to treat me that way.”
Your confidence level directly influences your job performance. The EA role requires good decision-making. In order to be a good decision-maker, you must have confidence in yourself and your ability. Certainly, experience and skill are major contributing factors, but if you don’t believe you have what it takes, you’ll hesitate to make decisions, despite having the know-how and skills to do so.
Dr. Nathaniel Branden, the revered father of the self-esteem movement said “The biggest indicator of a lack of self-confidence is difficulty in making decisions.”
I used to head up administration at a startup that was packed with brilliant industry professionals. There was this one manager who was looked up to by his coworkers for his in-depth technical knowledge. When it came to making routine management decisions, he was paralyzed. I could not get a simple decision out of him. He had expert knowledge. He had the skill and the experience. But making a decision terrified him. Decisions require courage and courage comes from self-confidence. He didn’t trust himself. His low confidence didn’t match his high competence. That makes for a poor manager. His team was constantly frustrated waiting for him to make decisions.
Good decision-making is vital to performing effectively as an assistant. It brings immeasurable value to your executive and team. Confident decision-making keeps things moving. It avoids bottlenecks and delays. You take charge. You pursue wider opportunities. Lack of self-confidence makes you timid. You don’t take chances because you aren’t sure you can handle the consequences of your decisions if things don’t work out. So you wait to be allowed, or told what to do. One of the most common refrains in the assistant profession is “My boss won’t let me.”
You don’t need to be “allowed” to do something when you have the know-how and it’s the right thing to do. Being “allowed” is something too many assistants keep waiting for. If this is you, it’s time to develop self-reliance. Begin where the stakes are not too high if something goes wrong. You’ll get confident by doing. You’ll get good by doing. Effective decision-making takes practice. Take small steps and build your self-trust steadily. Get used to taking control. Feeling in control does wonders for your confidence and for your credibility. People around you will start taking you seriously because you’ll radiate authority, along with your knowledge and skill.
It seems to me that hybrid/remote work is a good opportunity for EAs to get accustomed to making decisions, because you don’t have easy access to your manager like you would together in the office. Take an easy shot and see what happens. Build from there. When you become confident in your ability, you take effective action. Learn by trial and error. A mistake is something to learn from. It’s not something to paralyze you forever, even if you get scolded. Remember, you don’t build your confidence by staying hidden. Try to get face-to-face and in-person with your manager as much as possible. Confident people are good communicators. Learn to say what needs to be said without being insubordinate or offensive. I used to blurt things out, but I learned to be more measured, while still speaking up, because I saw that it got better results. Not every executive or organization appreciates candor, so know who you are talking to and be discreet.
One assistant said she fears rejection and is dependent on approval from others. It makes her ineffective at work because she hesitates to take action. I suggested she think about all the tasks she’s completed, the projects she’s managed successfully, the children she’s raised. That should count for something in building confidence, because you have a track record as evidence. She told me she wanted a blood transfusion from me to inject confidence into her! But self-confidence is not something anyone can give you. It’s what you give to yourself when you know who you are. With that certainty, you dare to do more. You think and act like a leader.
Believe in yourself. Develop your skills. Get really good at what you do and you won’t need assurance from anyone else. You won’t need people to bolster you. Past successes are a good indication that you have what it takes. It demonstrates your competence. Your competence should raise your confidence. Give yourself credit for your accomplishments. Don’t indulge in limiting beliefs. If affirmations will help, then do that.
Recently, someone I asked for advice said she couldn’t oblige for legal reasons. I’ve known her for years and we’ve always shared information, so I felt hurt by her refusal. Driving home, I found myself drifting into despondency when, from out of nowhere, I blurted out emphatically, “I always find a way.” That immediately shifted my energy, and my mind began racing to other possibilities. Clearly, I have the power to change my situation, and you should know that about yourself as well. No matter what, you always find a way. Go ahead and use that affirmation if you want. Or, “I have what it takes.” “I feel safe and supported.” “I claim my power,” are other good options to try, if you like affirmations. I use affirmations constantly. It’s self-talk that keeps me confident about who I am, trusting myself and my efficacy.
The thing about developing your confidence is that it anchors you into the core of your being. So even if you don’t succeed at everything, or you have weakness in certain areas, that doesn’t alter your self-worth. Some ignoramus implying you are “just an assistant” doesn’t faze you, because you know who you are, and you rely on that. It gives you courage and strength. You can stand on your own two feet and not worry about the opinions of others.
Any time something or someone knocks you off kilter, practice returning to your core; the foundation of your self-esteem and confidence. Find some method that gets you back there quickly (taking a deep breath, an affirmation, laughing, stretching). In time, you won’t need any method. You will remain intact. You’ll have mental courage. You’ll be fearless. No one can bully you. You won’t feel like a victim. You’ll be confident in the face of insult or rejection, no matter how hard anyone tries to undermine you.
Dr. Branden makes the connection between self-confidence and negotiating. He says people who are self-confident tend to be realistic in their demands. People who lack confidence will ask for too much, or too little. I’m sure this resonates with EAs who tend to not ask for enough. Remember to put value on yourself, your skills and your contribution. Be realistic, do your due diligence, don’t underestimate yourself and negotiate accordingly.
Yes, I’ll say it again, nothing builds your confidence like being good at what you do. It takes practice. It’s a life-long endeavor that builds upon itself. Confidence is a “muscle” that has to be developed. You do that by building your belief in yourself. You develop your skills and knowledge and you put them into practice, day-by-day, step-by-step, until you’ve built a foundation of certainty that is not easily shaken.
Confidence is a vital life skill. It’s worth every ounce of the energy it takes to develop it. It’s a state of mind. Confidence makes you self-reliant and gives you faith in your ability. It gives you a can-do attitude, drive and initiative. You live your life with a sense of certainty that you have all the resources you need for a fulfilled, self-actualized life.
Confidence is the key to a life of satisfaction and wellbeing. As poet William Ernest Henley wrote, “You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.” It is said that confident people are happier, healthier and live longer. That may be your biggest incentive of all to develop your self-confidence.
Women’s Confidence Increases with Age
Over time, women rate their leadership effectiveness higher than men.
©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.
Author: Jan Jones
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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.
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