The Revolutionary Assistant

The Revolutionary Assistant aims to be a partner to her manager. Fetching coffee and typing memos aren't her focus - she's fighting the good fight day by day with the boss, and she's getting things done.

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Revolutionary Reference

Revolutionary Reference

We've amassed years of administrative assistant knowledge here on this site, and it's time we share it with you.
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Revolutionary Quotes

Revolutionary Quotes

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." (Helen Keller) Collaborate better with these helpful hints!
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Apps for Success

Apps for Success

Evernote allows you to keep all kinds of files together in one place, on the cloud, accessible by any device!
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Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks

Planning meetings across the globe? World Time Server is the best tool to ensure that you're not getting anyone out of bed to meet!
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Keep Your Manager Out of Awful Airports

airportA lot of revolutionary assistants don’t travel as much as I do (because I love to travel).  So, when I tell you that an airport is easy to navigate and a snap to get in and out of, that’s an airport to remember.  When your exec is traveling, the last thing he wants is to be tangled up in a line waiting for assistance from an ornery airport employee.  Then, there are also issues with checked luggage, luggage getting lost, inability to get ground transportation, a trip around the world to get to the car rental place…well, the list goes on.

According to a study done by J. D. Power, the least satisfying airports to travel to or through are:

  • New York LaGuardia Airport
  • Newark Liberty International
  • Philadelphia International
  • Chicago O’Hare International
  • Boston Logan International

Having been to all of these airports, I can tell you one of the things they all have in common is that they’re older in design.  Efforts have been made to freshen up LaGuardia but it’s still old and tired.  That said, it’s a better airport than the other two New York airports (Newark and JFK) to use if you’re looking to get to New York City.  (New rejuvenation efforts have recently created some traffic jams for the small but well-used airport, which is why some are choosing to avoid it.)

Older facilities like those listed above often don’t have the ability to move people through quickly.  Logan Airport in Boston was built in the 1920s, and when you think about how travel has changed since then, you understand why it’s at a disadvantage.

In almost all these cases, you could avoid sending your exec to or through the airport, instead choosing  a nearby location (Midway instead of O’Hare or Providence instead of Logan, for instance), but sometimes the cost of the flight or proximal location dictate that they must be used.  Plan for extra time if that’s the case, so your manager isn’t late.

J.D. Power also cited the five best airports in the US:

  • Indianapolis International
  • Buffalo Niagara International
  • Southwest Florida International
  • Jacksonville International
  • Portland International (Oregon)

You’re likely to get great feedback from your manager if he or she is using one of these airports.  These are, for the most part, new or newly renovated to accommodate travel in the new millennium.  This doesn’t mean travel hassles don’t exist there, but they’re happier places in general.

It’s always good to be aware of where you’re sending your manager and what he’ll encounter when he gets there.  If you can’t be traveling and see it first hand, do your research and prepare for the best and the worst!

Next Post:  Wednesday, April 5

The Administrative Network (and Why It’s Important)

While we are constantly reminded with memes on Facebook that “one voice can start a revolution,” the importance of working with your team and understanding your collective strength is huge when you’re a Revolutionary Assistant.  The message of this article is a simple one: network with your fellow assistants.

Why network with the other assistants?  Well there are plenty of reasons to get to know them, have regular con-fabs and lean on each other:

Establishing a relationship with another exec’s admin is good for your manager – Your manager is on a team with other managers, and there’s a boss above that expecting it all to hum like a well-oiled machine.  Reaching out to the other executive assistants ensures another level of that machine is humming.  Break down the silos between departments and start talking.

Useful information comes from other assistants – If your manager needs a report from another department, your relationship with that department’s assistant helps speed that request along.  Not only that, but it’s a task off your manager’s plate AND the plate of the manager whose assistant you’re working with.  Here’s to enhancing that manager/assistant relationship!

Learn more about your company – When you’re sitting in human resources or finance and surrounded by the work that those departments do, you often don’t see the whole picture.  Networking with another admin helps complete the picture of what your company does and how it does it.  Understanding what others are looking for when they receive information from your department helps you produce useful, efficient work.

Get new assistants up to speed faster – When I started with a new company (one I ended up loving), I was taken under the wings of two other senior assistants who showed me the ropes, introduced me around and made me feel less alone.  They guided me in how the company worked, helped me when I ran into roadblocks or didn’t know where to go, and in the end paved the way for me to get more done for my manager.  Helping a new assistant get acclimated ensures that she knows the way the company operates, and that means less work for you when you don’t have to correct work!

A union of assistants corrects system-wide issues – When one assistant doesn’t like a process or a system, it’s just a small voice complaining.  When a group of people get together and say, “This isn’t working for us,” suddenly people are listening.  In one of my roles, our purchasing department decided to terminate our relationship with a very hands-on travel company and take up with one that was nearly 100% automated.  The assistants who supported execs at the top of the ladder found themselves waiting on the phone for 30 minutes to get their managers changed to flights that left 10 minutes before anyone answered their call.  Needless to say, the assistants got together and demanded the purchasing department take another look at the relationship, and things were changed.

Ensure help is just around the corner – Company-wide charitable causes and other similar initiatives suddenly have a group of champions around the building!  Use your network of admins to help you raise money for charity during events, and assist with company-wide picnics and other events.

The administrative network is a valuable part of the company.  Do your part to make connections, and make the network to other, shier assistants.  Make the network formal with quarterly meetings or just do your part to share a lunch or some free time with a fellow admin.  You won’t be sorry you did!

admin network

Next post:  Wednesday, March 22

Training an Exec on How to Use an Assistant

Wouldn’t it be nice if an executive could go to a class to learn how to use an assistant?  I know that, if such a class had existed, there were a couple of managers I’d have sent to learn a thing or two.

I’d been an assistant for about ten years before I made it to the C-level, and when I did, the first manager I found Trainingthere was a sponge.  Constantly open to ideas about how I could make his life easier, he started by handing me his typing and his travel schedule and ended up allowing me to manage portions of projects that had huge impact on the company.  We sat down once or twice a week and just talked:  not only about his schedule, but about his projects, the expected outcomes, and so on.  With regular dialogue, I was able to speak up when I saw he was working on something where I could contribute.

I thought this was the norm, but when I moved on to my next position supporting a C-level executive, I got exactly the opposite.  He was, in fact, not only clueless on how to use an assistant to his best advantage, he was pretty adamant that there was no part of his job I could do as well as him and insisted I only do his travel and expenses.

I probably don’t have to tell you that executive #1 is tremendously successful today, and executive #2 is no longer an executive.

Because no real training exists for an executive, here are some helpful hints you can use to start the ball rolling on a better working relationship:

Bring a list of your skills to the table – Your manager should know what you do well.  If you’re all about the numbers, tell him you’re up for some budget management or watching payroll.  If you’re into the communication side of things, you can manage his correspondence, newsletters, etc.  Make sure everything is represented – if you’ve been with the company twenty years and he just started, you know a lot better how things operate and that’s something he will find useful.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – Some assistants are lucky to get a once-a-week status meeting with their managers.  If you can sit down with your manager every day, even for ten or fifteen minutes at the end of the day, and hash over what happened today and what’s going to happen tomorrow, you’ll have a better idea from day to day where you can jump in.  If he says he’s too busy to connect, tell him, “That’s why we have to connect!”

Watch his output for work you can take over – My manager used to have to communicate leadership changes on a regular basis, and he’d get something started on paper and then say, “What do you think?”  I’d make a couple of changes to what he wrote, tighten it up, make it sound more powerful (he was, on his own, not one to blow his own horn), and then give it back to him.  Eventually, he’d give me a list of things he wanted to say and let me do it.  Other things, like regular correspondence, department purchasing, or even project management, will follow suit.  Look at his work and decide what you could do as well, and then speak up.

Ask for the “why” along with the task – A revolutionary assistant can’t anticipate needs until she knows why tasks are being completed, who benefits from them, and what happens to the work from there.  Get the complete story behind decisions and requests so you can see the strategy.

Give the relationship time – When you’ve worked together for a year or two, you’ll have an instinct for each other that makes the relationship successful.  If you’re new to each other, remember that you’ll need your manager’s guidance and opinion every step of the way.  Both of you should know and remember that it won’t always be this way.

When the manager/assistant partnership is a well-oiled machine, everyone is at their most productive.  Do what you can to help your manager use you better!


Next Post:  Wednesday, March 8

Improving Your Strategic Thinking Skills

A Revolutionary Assistant is a business partner to her manager, and she can be an even better business partner by improving her strategic thinking skills.  Strategy is a part of your manager’s every-day job, and if you’re tuned in to your department’s strategy and how it fits into the company’s strategy , you’re an even bigger help.

A strategic thinker anticipates change, takes risks and is flexible in her approach to work.  If you don’t see how your work fits into the bigger picture, there’s no way for you to reach outside what you’ve been told to do and mean something more to your job.  That’s not a very revolutionary approach!

If you want to improve your strategic thinking skills, take a look at Nina Bowman’s article “Four Ways To Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills” on the Harvard Business Review website.  You won’t be sorry you took a look!


Next Post:  Wednesday, February 26, 2017

Virtual Assistant Freelancing – Is It For You?

Being a Revolutionary Assistant can be a rewarding career, but it’s not always the best paying one.  Like many, you’re probably working for a manager who makes five or six (or a gazillion) times more than you do.  Sure, money doesn’t mean as much as job satisfaction for most of us, but every once in a while it would be nice to have a little extra cash.

If you’re looking to make a little extra cash, you might be checking out some of the freelance sites that are out there.  People are looking for “virtual assistants” right now, a person who can do data entry, research, or even actual administrative tasks, but they’re not ready to hire someone as a full-or part-time employee.

Sites like and provides free access to people who are looking for candidates who have administrative skills to offer.  Some are full time positions, others are very specific tasks with a delivery date and are just one-time jobs.

You’ll find, as I did, that most people looking for freelance help are not willing to pay big bucks for the work, but many of the tasks are not such that they require a lot of effort.  Expect to see rates from $5 to $15 an hour, or fixed rate prices on jobs that extend anywhere from $20 to a couple hundred dollars.

Are you going to make your living being a freelance virtual assistant?  Not likely to happen on these sites, but if you’re looking for a project to bring in a little extra cash after the kids go to bed, it might be the best possible way to make a couple of bucks without leaving your couch.  Check out Upwork, Guru, and some of the other freelance sites out there to see for yourself.

Next Post:  Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Boss With No Expertise

A couple of companies ago, I worked for a manager who had his act together.  He worked in a discipline he knew inside and out, and he had the respect and admiration of most everyone he worked with.  Then, he was promoted, and he continued to oversee that discipline, along with a new discipline: Information Technology.

Information Technology.  This was a man who called me at home between Christmas and New Year because he couldn’t figure out how to make the copier create a .PDF file.

I mention this because I was wandering through the Harvard Business Review website and saw an article called “If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to be Happy at Work” (by Benjamin Artz, Amanda Goodall, and Andrew J. Oswald).  Most of the time, I agree with the things I read from HBR, but this time, I felt like the authors missed the mark…a little bit.

The article concluded that “employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business.”  While it’s often a notion that it’s wrong to promote an engineer to lead engineers or an editor to lead editors, this article argues that a manager’s expertise in the field matters a great deal.  Employee satisfaction, according to their surveys in the US and Britain, go up when they feel like the boss can step in and do what they do.

A Revolutionary Assistant wants to support a manager no matter what the circumstances, and, as was the case for me, I had a manager who was suddenly overseeing a department where he had very little expertise.  And while it might be true that employees are happier when their boss has the same expertise, I saw a manager who made do without. Here’s how he was successful:

He didn’t claim expertise and respected those who had it – My manager walked in, equipped with an awareness of corporate goals and how IT needed to fit in.  He made every effort to understand the obstacles and involve the team in how they were going to reach their goals.

He was a great leader – Honestly, I’ve never worked with anyone before or since who was quite like him when it came to leadership skills.  He approached that aspect with great confidence, and his direct reports were likely to follow him anywhere.  He had confidence here, and he showed it.  If your manager can’t be an expert in the field he’s leading, you can cheer him on to be an expert leader.

He was a people manager – He wanted to see people succeed in their positions, and he was willing to help them get to the next level, especially when it came to those skills that were common no matter what the position.  When it came to presentation, speaking persuasively to senior management, he was a coach and cheerleader for the team members.

Authors Artz, Goodall, and Oswald are likely mostly correct when they say that employees are happier when the boss knows how to do their job.  There’s none of that, “He has no idea what he’s asking me to do!” and “Doesn’t he know how much time that’s going to take?”  But if your manager is faced with the task of leading a group of people and he’s not at all an expert, a little bit of respect, love of people and good old fashioned leadership might do the trick.


Next Post:  Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Another year of Revolutionary conversations in the books!  Happy holidays to all my readers, and many thanks for celebrating our fifth year with us.

I hope that 2017 finds you looking to tackle all the revolutionary issues presented to you.  Have a delightful holiday season, and we’ll see you in January!





Next post:  Wednesday, January 11

Crying in the Office

A while back we talked about women in the workplace and their tendencies to over-apologize.  Now we’re going to talk about crying.  Sure, it’s probably not 100% a female thing, but you can find a whole lot more women that cry than men, so worth talking about for a minute.

My own personal opinion:  I don’t if I can help it.  Crying gives away your power, and men look at you and think, “Typical female” when you’re standing in front of them sobbing.  So I just don’t do it.  This is not to say that I haven’t had moments where I’ve wanted to, whether it be from anger, frustration, or even extreme sadness.  Of those, only the latter is really worthwhile.

crying-at-workIf a man who cries “seems more human,” a woman is cursed with all the negatives.  She’s incompetent in her position, and she’s crying because she can’t handle it.  She’s manipulative, trying to get someone to feel sorry for her and help her.  Whatever the interpretation, women aren’t exactly praised when they shed a tear – it’s just another reason for others to judge them and their capabilities in the workplace.

It might not be right, but it is what it is, so I try to keep a promise to myself: keep my tears for the moments when they’re warranted (death, loss, etc.), and control them when they’re not (not getting my way, frustration over other people’s actions).  Mostly, I’ll forgive myself and my co-workers when it happens, because…it happens.


Some interesting articles and opinions on crying in the office:


Huffington Post:  What 15 Female Leaders Really Think About Crying at Work 

The Atlantic:  Is it Okay to Cry at Work?

Fast Company:  When It’s Okay to Cry at Work (and When It Isn’t)


Next Post:  Wednesday, December 21


Collecting Honest Employee Feedback

Not as easy as it sounds!  You can put out suggestion boxes, provide employee hotlines, tout your open door policy from the roof of the building, and still, your team members hesitate to contribute.  And – here’s a newsflash for you – it’s likely those people have valuable information they’re not sharing.  How do you get it out of them?

The reasons why employees are unlikely to share information about bad bosses, poor processes, or even ways to improve current operations, are pretty logical.  People are generally afraid to speak their minds in a work environment – they don’t want managers to take their feedback personally or seem disrespectful.  In some circumstances, they don’t want to risk reprimand or dismissal.  On the other end of the spectrum, they think, “Why bother?  Nothing’s going to change.”  In order to create an environment where employee feedback is given freely, a manager (and his Revolutionary Assistant!) needs to mitigate these conditions.

suggestion-boxThe payoff is excellent.  If employees feel comfortable sharing and provide feedback regularly, those companies usually experience a higher employee retention and usually higher performance.  Here’s how you can increase feedback in your office.

Don’t rely on the anonymous feedback opportunities – If no one knows who said what, then employees won’t be scared to contribute ad you’re going to get honest feedback, right?  Perhaps.  But consider this: it’s not very easy to follow up on a serious issue when protecting the anonymity of the employee who submitted it; even more difficult if you don’t know who submitted it at all.  So this method is not entirely helpful.  If that’s not bad enough, consider that “anonymous opportunities” like a suggestion box or a 360 assessment can make it seem like employees need the protection of anonymity.

Make your manager (and yourself, as his assistant) available – Like, REALLY available, in the work area of the employees on your team.  Be curious (in a good way) about what’s going on, and be helpful.   You two are the start of a culture of sharing and open dialogue in your office.  Be accessible all the time and…

Encourage your manager to be talkative and express his/her own opinions as an example for others – If your manager behaves like he or she is in the culture of sharing and open communication, employees are more likely to follow suit.  Transparency is key here, as it’d be easy for employees to think that your manager has a personal agenda if they’re not used to this behavior.

Make feedback a regular part of the routine – If your manager is holding weekly meetings, set aside a part of that meeting to encourage feedback as a part of the conversation.  Welcome all of it – even the bad ideas will get you to good ones, so no criticism and no picking on ideas that aren’t totally up to snuff!

Provide resources to address issues that come up – When you hear feedback that requires action, put someone on the case.  If employees aren’t sharing because they think nothing will be done, it’s your manager’s duty to make sure they aren’t right about that.

In order to encourage employee feedback, your manager has to work toward shifting the culture so that employees feel comfortable.  Once the suggestions start rolling in, take good care of them:  put adequate resources on them to see that good ideas come to fruition, and treasure even the bad ideas that come in.  Remember, you could work in an office where no one says anything at all!


Next Post:  Wednesday, December 7


Do They Know You’re Looking For Another Job?

Revolutionary Assistants are always looking for the next opportunity to prove themselves, and sometimes that opportunity is outside the four walls of your company.   But looking for a new career challenge isn’t the only reason that people look for new positions – they might be overworked and looking for a position that sticks a little closer to 40 hours, or perhaps they’re looking to get out of a bad social or management situation.  Whatever the reason, a person will take the usual steps to get themselves out on the market.

The question is: do their managers know they’re looking?

do-they-know-youre-looking-for-another-jobIt’s something to consider.  Technology has made job-hunting much easier, but it’s also easy to see the evidence.  People beef up their LinkedIn profiles, reach out to new connections and start conversations to get the word out, and if you’re doing that it’s not a huge leap to think that your manager can see it, too.  If you put your resume out on a job board, it’s out there for the whole world (and your boss) to review.  And if you’re using a head hunter, don’t be surprised if one of his associates or connections puts your resume right back in your manager’s hands.  They don’t always look too carefully before they send a qualified candidate along.

On top of those easy ways to give yourself away, though, your employer may be actively looking for all those signs and more to see if you’re looking for another job, and the reason why is pretty obvious:  employee turnover costs money.   Some companies have their eye on those employees that are most likely to leave and do things like track their comings and goings with access badge use or review activities on all their social media accounts.

Several of these concerned organizations have gone as far as retaining a company called Joberate to help them determine which of their employees are putting themselves on the market.  Joberate evaluates social media activity to pinpoint those people that are making all those tell-tale moves, and it’s allowing companies to nip attrition problems in the bud.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to stop someone who’s looking to advance his or her career, but it does mean that they can possibly look for a more challenging position for that person within the company.  An employee might not be forthcoming that his manager is a poor leader and not easy to work with, but Jobrate is telling them that several people who work with that manager are putting themselves on the job market, and that’s helping them determine what the problem is.

So if you’re sneaking around, taking extra-long lunches and maybe one too many dentist and doctor appointments, it might not be the first thing that gave you away.  If you’re truly looking for a bigger challenge in your career and you like the company and the people you work for, it’s worth a discussion with your manager to see if you can take your next steps without parting ways.  If you have other reasons for leaving, that might be worth an honest conversation as well.  After all, they could already know all about it!


Next Post:  Wednesday, November 23