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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Powerful People and Collaboration

I’ve been reading my Harvard Business Review again – and yes, I’m about a year behind.  But I was thumbing through the May, 2016 issue, and I caught this little tidbit that I thought really applied to the life and work of a Revolutionary Assistant.

The article is called “Collaboration: Powerful People Perform Badly on Teams.”

I could have written that article.  You could have, too.

CollaborationYes, according to the research that produced this five-paragraph passage to enlightenment, authors John Angus D. Hildreth and Cameron Anderson  found that “high-power individuals tend to be overly confident, devalue others’ contributions, take credit for others’ ideas, and interrupt—all negative behaviors when collaborating.”

To determine this, they ran a series of experiments, the first of which was a team of two people (a leader and a follower), building a tower of toothpicks and candy.  The first group was evaluated and decisions made from the results of that to do a second experiment.  The second was a team of three that was assigned a project involving creativity.  The teams of three, when made up of all high-powered individuals, were less creative, less focused, shared less information and had fewer interactions.

When your high-powered executive, that executive with the short attention span who’s oblivious to detail, is in a collaborative situation, there are roles he or she should be playing.  Being equal to the rest of the group probably isn’t one of them.  But a great leader puts collaboration in motion (both in meeting situations and in work environments) by affecting some of the things that can bring it to a standstill.

“Everyone is equal here” – That’s never true, but the executive can certainly make everyone a little more equal than they were when they walked in.  Help your manager level the playing field by giving all team members a voice and making sure they’re treated with equal respect.

Communication is key – Creating a collaborative environment means making sure all your employees are aware of the others and have opportunities to talk to one another throughout the day.  Being collaborative when you’re in a room together means that everyone is heard.  Help your manager seek input from the quiet team members and make sure the loud ones take a break so that others can contribute.

Even out the assignments – Team members can’t contribute or collaborate when they’re so buried in work they don’t have time for anything else.  Whether in a meeting situation or in a work environment situation, help your manager make sure that work is being distributed evenly, that Joe has the time and energy to contribute.


High-powered leaders have a place in the collaboration scheme, but usually they’re far better at orchestrating it.  Like you would in any other group, play each person to their strengths.  Your executive’s strength is creating music from the noise his team spews, so let the collaboration sing while he holds the director’s baton!

Next Post:  Wednesday, May 17

Developing Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional IntelligenceNothing stood the business world on its ear like the concept of emotional intelligence and its effect on a person’s success in the corporate world.  Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize your own emotions and keep them in control, and to recognize others’ emotions as well.  Studies have shown that people with greater “emotional intelligence” are more stable and are better leaders, and they perform better at the office.

There’s a book about it by Daniel Goleman, if you care to check it out.  You probably should.

At any rate, if you believe in “emotional intelligence” the next step is getting some for yourself.  Well, you already have a natural level of emotional intelligence, just like you have a level of actual intelligence.  And just like your actual intelligence, you can increase it a little with some studying.  Here are a few hints to enhancing your emotional intelligence.

Get in touch with how you feel – This might sound a little elementary, but it’s more complicated than you think!  Emotions are more complicated than “happy” and “sad,” so spend some time thinking about what you feel and why you’re feeling it.  Force yourself to stop and take pause a few times a day.  Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?”  Ask yourself what the origin of that feeling might be.  Pay attention to your physical reaction as well.

How do you act when you’re feeling that way? – Emotions will always impact your actions and reactions.  Start paying attention to how you behave when you’re frustrated, when you’ve just been given bad news or have been sent back to the drawing board.  Is the little voice in your head eating away at your confidence?  Is that affecting how you communicate, how you act around others?  Pay attention, and take responsibility for your behaviors.

Reduce negative emotions – I know, I know.  How do I do that?  Well, it’s not easy.  But you can try.  Stop jumping to negative conclusions.  Quit listening to that little voice in your head chipping away at your self-confidence.  Think about all the ways you can view a situation before you act on it.  One of my managers told me once, “There’s really no place in business – or in life – for anger.  You can accomplish everything you want, and overcome every obstacle, without it.”

Focus on others, and less on yourself – This can be a hard one.  You spend a lot of time at the office doing the best job you can do so you will get praise and more money.  Emotionally intelligent people focus on others.  Look at what your co-workers bring to the table, what their individual strengths are.  Learn what motivates them, and rely on that knowledge when you need to bring people together to work on a project.

Be a pleasure to work with, and explore new things – Be the person other people like to be around.  Be fun, be adventurous, and try to bring out that same attitude in others.  Don’t ever stop learning.

Easier to read than to accomplish?  That may be true, but one can only grow by pushing yourself and exploring new territory.  So go out there and improve your emotional intelligence – the effort will take you far!


Next Post:  Wednesday, May 5, 2017

The Person in the Office You Don’t Like

In my office, I sat next to a person that I did not like for a long time.  In an open office environment, of course.

When I tell you that this woman could test the patience of a saint, I do not jest or over exaggerate.  The rest of the office will back me up on that.  But as an assistant to the man who led our company, I needed to work with all of our employees – including her – to accomplish our agenda.

It’s never easy when you have to work with someone you despise, but I learned, and you can, too.  Here are a few hints on how you can work with people that rub you the wrong way.

The People You Dont LikeAsk yourself why you have a problem with this person – Did you start off on the wrong foot, or is there really something about this person that you fundamentally disagree with?  Occasionally, you can get the wrong first impression of a person.  Think for a moment about what it is that really irritates you about this person.  Is it superficial, like the way she laughs when the boss is around?  Maybe she’s trying to cover up a lack of confidence.  If that’s the case, put yourself in her shoes.  You know what that feels like, right?

Add patience and subtract emotion – If it’s something you can’t get past, your fundamental philosophy just doesn’t match hers, well, then you have to deal.  Each time you approach her, remember that you have an objective in mind and something that needs to be accomplished.  Sift out all of the emotion from your request, and focus on the end result.

Confront the person with the issue – She might not be aware she’s bothering you with her habits.  If you sit down with her and explain that it drives you crazy when she interrupts you, or that you didn’t think it was very nice when she agreed to support you in a one-on-one meeting and then threw you under the bus in a group meeting, perhaps she’ll understand and try to change her behavior.

Is the fight really worth it? – If you’re unable to reconcile your differences, ask yourself if this person is really worth the time and trouble.  Is she worth the elevated blood pressure?  If she’s not affecting the outcome of your work and you can avoid her, do it.

Think offense, not defense – If the toxic person in your office is on the attack and her victim is you, don’t let her back you into a corner.  Step forward, and start asking questions.  “How are you unsatisfied with my work?” or “What exactly is the problem and how can I correct it?” will diffuse the attack.  Moving into her “space” by earnestly trying to get to the core of her “issue” will send the message that you’re not going to back down to a bully.  Sometimes, that’s all a toxic person needs to experience to leave you alone.

Don’t be a gossip – As much as you hate her, avoid talking about her at the coffee machine, no matter how sympathetic the ear.  Don’t share your angst with co-workers, because if that gets back to her, it’s just another reason for her to make your life miserable.  Wait till you’re home to complain!

Sometimes you can’t solve the problem of the much-hated co-worker, but even if you can’t, remember that it’s about her, not about you.  You can control how you feel and how you act – don’t let her ruin your happiness or your enjoyment of work.


Next Post: Wednesday, April 19

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