Executive Assistants and Work Ethic
I have just finished listening to The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. In it, the protagonist Stevens, a butler, reviews his life. By putting his duty to his boss above all else he fails to support his father and wrecks the opportunity for a relationship – indeed doesn’t even recognise it. He was privy to many meetings held by his boss, significantly about the treaties after the first world war and meetings with the Germans immediately before the second world war. Never questioning the wisdom of his boss he wonders how his responsibility for the provision of the perfect cup of tea helps with the meetings .
How relevant is this for today?
An Executive Assistant appears to be similar to the role of Butler. Making sure that everything runs smoothy. Recent articles have asked whether the EA should be on the board? To me, lets say at a meeting, it depends on whether the EA is in part responsible for the outcome of the meeting. Providing input and opinion as well as ensuring the smooth running behind the scenes as it were are different responsibilities and different roles . And it depends whether the EA is paid for those different responsibilities,
The Work Ethic
Working 72 hours per week not only ensures you are not working at your most effective at work but it can completely remove any hope of a personal life. During a coaching session for a client, we had developed a strategy for his career, and I asked what his personal goals were. He replied- to find a partner, get married etc. There was no space in his life to even build a strategy to find a partner let alone execute it. It took him ten years to find a partner.
Perfectionism and Delegation
The butler believed his standards were the only ones, and was incapable of delegation of responsibility. Complete failure to recognise what is ‘good enough’, and that there are other ways of doing the job. The ‘extra mile’ is fine every once in a while.
Getting the coffee
It was the butler’s role to provide the tea (and maybe coffee) . These days the first half hour of a meeting can be: going around the room, taking coffee orders, someone leaves the meeting to go to Star*ucks (and therefore does not participate during that time), then there is this skill of each participant trying to remember what they ordered. A butler could arrange this, but an Executive Assistant with responsibilities couldn’t because they need to be present. (Personally, as I am in Spain I would insist on a proper coffee from a local café , thereby extending the ‘coffee’ process).
The Remains of the day
In the novel, this refers to how much of your life is left, and the things you might regret
- Spending too long at the office
- Not building up connections and lifelong friendships nothing to do with work
- Not getting a life or even organising a life
- Not getting too many responsibilities and if you do, making sure you are paid
- Not finding space to reflect, learning new stuff, changing your strategy.
Gen x/z and the 35 hour week
My Mother always said that if you can’t do your job in 35 hours a week then you are incompetent or in the wrong job . The butler’s only life was his work.
It used to be: you clocked off your work after 8 hours and clocked back in the next day. Technology, flexible working and working from home meant being always available, a slave to your job. So welcome back the 35 hour week and not being always available. And eat the remains of your dinner while it still hot and have a proper Spanish two hour lunch break
It’s your misguided choice to work 72 hours a week, therefore doing someone else out of a job as well as wrecking your own life, . Just don’t expect others to do so. And remember this lifestyle is YOUR CHOICE. Smart Coaching & Training’s coaches can help you get a balanced life .
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“What the butler saw” is also a play by Joe Orton