When I led a regional division of a large HR consulting firm, Bridget was my boss Suzanne’s executive assistant.
Even though we worked 500 miles apart, it was easy to see how she kept Suzanne moving quickly and efficiently through the quagmire of work, deadlines, and details a senior corporate leader has to face.
And she did it with a smile.
One day, Bridget called me. Her husband was being transferred to my city and would I be open to her transferring into the group I led there?
I immediately said yes to put her mind at ease and prevent any thoughts of her searching for work elsewhere.
Then I realized we had no open assistant positions at the time, and certainly none at the level of Bridget’s expertise.
So I called Suzanne to discuss it.
My brain went into overdrive mapping out various creative ways to share Bridget’s talent locally with other departments and teams, and I knew Suzanne would support anything to keep Bridget at our company.
I started to pitch what I thought were practical solutions, when Suzanne interrupted me and said these life-changing words:
“Darcy, just have Bridget support you directly. She’ll take things off your plate you haven’t even thought of yet. With her support, you’ll be able to do so much more than you can right now.”
It was a lesson that changed my life at work and my effectiveness as a leader.
It made me change my mental definition of the word “support” from “a way to get help when you need it” to “a way to build you up to be stronger.”
I had been caught up in the minutia of “how” and “when,” and my big-picture thinking boss was focused on the “why”—why more support would be good for me and our business.
As a byproduct, of course, the “why” was also good for Suzanne, since she could keep an excellent employee—Bridget—and increase the contributions of another one—me!
And Suzanne’s prediction came true—with Bridget’s support, I was able to focus more on higher value activities that made a bigger difference to our people, clients, and business –work that I now know was much closer to my superpower space.
Bridget taught me how important getting the right support was, and now, long after I’ve left that job and she’s retired from that company, I still know that building your support team is essential to bringing your superpowers to work. (And she’s still an inspiration as well as a friend.)
How to Build Your Support Team
Not everyone can be lucky enough to have a Bridget in their lives. But it’s easier than ever today to seek out the support you need in all areas of your work and career.
Maybe you don’t have a Suzanne who can give you the assistant of your dreams, but what’s the support you can ask for at work?
If you’re in a role working with a professional administrative assistant, are you asking enough of him or her? A true admin pro wants to be involved, proactive, and be part of the solution, but sometimes finds they’re only getting the request to execute.
Do you really understand their own superpowers, and how you can use them? (Have you asked?)
Maybe you need to make a business case for additional assistant support, whether as an employee or a contractor (the growing world of virtual assistants makes it easier than ever to do this.)
I’m always amazed at the companies who are short-sighted enough to see assistants as a cost and not an asset.
For example, I once led a series of coaching groups for selected high-potential employees at a major technology firm.
For me, the best part of these groups was watching talented, insightful people actively growing their own leadership skills as well as supporting each other in the day-to-day challenges of a fast-paced environment.
The worse part of these groups is that these busy, high performing and highly paid people did not have administrative support and so spent loads of time scheduling meetings, juggling six busy internal schedules and one outsider’s (me).
If you’ve ever scheduled a meeting in a large organization with busy people, you know that even with great calendaring technology this isn’t a simple task.
If you broke down those folk’s salaries into hourly rates, I shudder to think what that deceptively simple but time-consuming task has cost this company over time.
Another way to build your support team is to ask.
Are there others in your company who you can swap superpowers with—maybe you can work on their spreadsheets if they’ll help you with your stand-up presentations.
Or are there others in your industry you can mastermind or brainstorm with to find better solutions to your workplace problems?
It’s easier than ever to meet people like this at professional associations or to post questions in online groups such as LinkedIn (where you’re welcome to connect with me–just tell me in your invitation that you “met” me here.)
What’s the support you need to really be your best in your superpower space?
Your red cape doesn’t get hung by the door when you get home; it’s part of you.
Beyond your workplace, start to think about your support team more broadly:
- Do you need a new doctor, nutritionist, massage therapist or workout buddy to help you feel better?
- Is it time to see an image consultant, personal shopper or hair stylist so you can look better?
- Would a personal organizer, housekeeper, tax accountant or lawn service eliminate some stress so you can think better?
- How would a coach, mastermind group, or community college class help you just be better?
But I can’t afford the support I need.
Finally, if you’re saying right now, “I’d love more support, but can’t afford it,” then you’re not alone.
And you’re wrong. Here’s why.
Everything we do either costs us energy or gives us energy.
Activities outside our superpower space always cost us energy—we call them “draining,” “exhausting,” or “overwhelming.”
Work in our superpower space gives us energy, even if the work is complex and hard—if it’s the right work, you can certainly be tired at the end of a day but still feel excited, proud, and great.
Money is just an exchange of energy.
Paying it to someone to eliminate the energy drains around you—the things that aren’t in your superpower space but might be in someone else’s—can be the best investment in yourself you’ll make.
What’s it worth to you to be in your superpower space, feeling proud and great, more often?
Here’s my own example.
I am really, really clear on my superpowers, and keeping an organized space is not one of them.
My brain is very organized; my physical environment, well, not so much.
Intellectually, I know I can clean a closet—I know how and am bodily able. Yet, the idea of spending precious time doing it bores and drains me, and so I procrastinate, make half-assed attempts on rainy days, and end up spending more brainpower avoiding the job than doing it.
Until I met Emily.
Emily is a certified professional organizer, and she’s in her superpower space doing the same exact things that rob me of mine.
Plus, since she cleans and rearranges closets, drawers, and secret stashes all the time, she does it quickly and efficiently and knows the tricks and tools to get the job done.
I might wander in the Container Store for hours; Emily knows what’s there before she goes.
I first hired Emily to organize my small yet cluttered kitchen. Then my office. Then a closet. And another.
What I gained in time, refreshed energy, less guilt on those rainy days, and better use and enjoyment of my physical environment has been worth every penny of my investment in her superpowers.
What support do you need right now to be able to bring your superpowers to work each and every day, to feel clear, confident, and in control?
What would it be worth to you to feel like that? It’s easier than you think—so start building that support team now.