Mindsets of the Invaluable Assistant

by Sandy Geroux, M.S.


When we think of how the roles and duties of administrative professionals have changed over the years, it’s clear to see how crucial the right mindsets toward innovation, change, and training are to our success.

Obviously, we must keep up with technology changes or risk being left behind as new technologies become table stakes (basic necessities required to get and stay in the game)!

However, it’s not just in the area of technology that we need to stay on our toes. Today’s high level executive assistants must demonstrate superior soft skills, such as leadership, communication and negotiation skills, in order to build trust and rapport and create the networks necessary to survive and thrive in a global economy.

But there’s another area of change that is required of today’s administrative professional… one that many overlook as they try to keep up with those hard and soft skill changes. They must switch their focus from being merely “indispensable” to being truly “invaluable.”

The following matrix highlights the differences between these two mindsets:

Indispensable (focuses on): Invaluable (focuses on):
Tasks and duties Outcomes and experiences
Filling my hours every day Demonstrating my value at any given moment
Reactively doing what I’m told Proactively taking initiative without being told
Doing the steps and considering a task done Thinking ahead and staying connected throughout the task

This matrix stresses the fact that we’re not hired to just perform tasks or push buttons, but to think about everything related to those tasks: the logistics, contingencies, experience, stress, convenience, cost… and ensure that every aspect of the task is as smooth and seamless as possible.

For example, let’s take the seemingly simple task of making travel arrangements for your leadership team. Anyone can be hired to “push the buttons” and perform the required steps, then “check the box” and move on the to the next task.

But, if we think about the outcomes and experiences of the travelers during the trip, we must ask additional questions before considering the task done. For example, what if the outbound flights are delayed? Have I researched and listed backup flights? Are they handy, so I can change the flights on a moment’s notice? Better yet, do my leaders have them, so they know their options and can take care of it themselves if I’m not available at the exact moment they need to re-book their flights?

What if the hotel loses their reservations and is sold out? Have I researched backup hotels? What connections do I have that can assist us? Do the travelers have this information with them (or easily accessible, which may mean “printed” in case of spotty connections), just in case?

What if the car no-shows? Or the restaurant loses their reservation? What backup options are available? Have I provided them to everyone?

What if a severe weather event occurs while they’re either traveling or already out there? Will they be able to get home?

Consider the case of an executive whose assistant booked her and her team for a trip to Denver, Colorado. While the executives were attending their meeting, a blizzard quickly moved in and began blanketing the city in snow!

Meeting in a room with no windows, the team was unaware of the issue. But, while monitoring the weather, this very astute assistant made an executive decision, quickly re-booked them on an earlier flight, contacted the executive to advise them to leave the meeting and head to the airport immediately… and got them home.

As it turns out, they were on the last flight to leave the city for two days! Their “meeting mates” were all stranded at the Denver airport for 48 hours because their assistants had focused solely on the initial task of getting them there, but failed to proactively consider the “what if” scenarios that could have created the desired outcomes, which included getting everyone to the meeting on time AND getting them home on time… as safely and comfortably as possible.

Excellent proactive and critical thinking skills saved the day! This incident happened over 10 years ago, and the executive still remembers that assistant with fondness and admiration because of it.

Some tips to foster proactive thinking:

  1. Ask tons of questions by creating “what-if” scenarios
  2. Never assume that all will go as planned
  3. Monitor the situation until the desired outcome is achieved
  4. Never stop learning from mistakes and applying the learning to future tasks

Obviously, there’s no way to remain on the cutting edge of any profession without also being willing and able to adapt, change and monitor a task through completion.

But taking ownership for proactively considering a task’s desired outcomes and experiences goes a long way toward making you invaluable versus merely indispensable.

summit-graphic-v2Catch Sandy and other spectacular speakers at IAAP Summit 2018 in Austin, Texas. Find out why IAAP Summit is the go-to conference for office and administrative professionals year-in and year-out. Hurry, early bird pricing ends in January.


Professional speaker, trainer and author Sandy Geroux has more than 18 years of administrative experience. She now helps others create the WOW factor, become more effective and efficient, and achieve their personal and professional dreams. Since 2000, she has conducted over 125 keynotes, training programs and workshops for more than 15,000 administrative professionals in 41 countries. Her columns and articles appear in many administrative publications. Visit her website, blog, email her, or call her at 407.856.1188 to discuss an educational and entertaining presentation for your administrative staff.

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