Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your current role. What does a normal day look like for you?
Thank you so much for inviting me into the Capital EA family! My name is Whitney Kelso, and I am an administrative professional in the Chief Digital Office at one of the largest fortune 30 health care companies in the US. I support two Staff Vice Presidents and their respective organizations. My executives and their organizations are vastly different, so there is no “normal” day for me as things change very rapidly. Overall, however, I manage calendars, special events (both internal and external), I ensure team deliverables, and other administrative duties. I am on the Steering Committee for our enterprise-wide Administrative Learning Group, I serve as a Business Change Champion for IT, I am an MS Teams Champion and Mentor for the enterprise, and recently took on being and Enterprise Change Manager for an internal program designed to change the way we approach and execute work. No two days are ever the same and each opportunity is one of growth and learning.
How did you come to be an EA? What interested you about the position and what do you like about it now?
I sort of stumbled upon the administrative profession. I have always been super organized and administrative-minded. In the past I have served as an Accounts Payable Specialist, Executive Assistant, Office Manager, Business Services Assistant, HR Manager, and now my current position. I have always worked for smaller organizations, but when I made the leap to this huge organization is when I really saw the administrative profession as a career, and not a “stepping stone” to something bigger and greater, as I believe that what we do is pretty great in itself – we are movers and shakers, and make everything happen behind the scenes.
Do you remember your first day as an EA?
When I first started in my current role (what I consider my real “first day”), I was terrified at the sheer size of the company. I only knew my friend who suggested I apply, so thankfully I worked with her and she introduced me to people, but even after 4 years, I am still meeting new people and learning new things on a daily basis. I love that there are no two identical days, and when I log in, I never know what I am going to get…no matter how meticulous I have planned my day and to-do lists.
What are your thoughts about the modern EA role?
In today’s EA world, we must set ourselves apart – we must find a niche, and we HAVE to keep learning. Gone are the days of filing our nails, copying things, and filing things. We need to be proactive strategic business partners with the executives we support. It does take time to build that trust, but it is so worth it when you are able to candidly share your thoughts on current situations within the organization or other important topics; to actually be heard and have your statement bear weight in the direction in which the organization turns.
I keep adding to my descriptors on Linked in (at the moment I describe myself as Compassionate Gatekeeper, Chaos Coordinator, Solution Collector, and Strategic Partner). Everyone thinks they HAVE to talk to the SVP, when in reality, the matter could be more appropriately handled by another member of his team, thus saving time in his life he would never get back – time that could be used more wisely on business. So rather than slam the door on the inquiry, I redirect them to the other person…gatekeeping duties done with compassion. Chaos coordinator should be a no-brainer to my fellow administrative professionals ????
Solutions collector is one I recently added. We are asked every question under the sun almost daily. Yes! Even about what the weather might be the next day (ever heard of Google??). So it is MY job to be proactive in anticipating and already arriving at the answer…or a short list of possible answers. I also make sure to build and maintain my network of professionals, and within that network, we work together to learn and to grow. My execs make a billion decisions every day – why would I add to that when it is my job to make theirs easier? It is called decision fatigue. So – rather than coming to them with a problem, I try to bring the problem to them with a solution already in mind based upon my knowledge of them and the research I have already done to try to ease that fatigue. The difference is: “What would you like for lunch?” versus “Would you like: a hamburger/fries, grilled chicken sandwich, or peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch today?” No thinking involved, and life moves on.
What would you consider to be the most rewarding part of your position as an EA?
I love the vast array of things I need to know to help my executives and their organizations. I have a servant’s heart, and love working behind the scenes to make the magic happen. We hold a lot of power, whether we realize it or not, but with that power comes great responsibility. Way back when, the leaders of countries had secretaries, and the word, literally, means “keeper of secrets”. Think on that for a second. I am in a unique place where I can choose to just plug along and go through the motions of the job, or I can open my mind and make it my business to know the business…and I choose the latter. I enjoy the learning and the growth that this position rewards me with each day, which results in being a valued business partner to my executives.
Can you tell us about your experiences volunteering with Equi-Kids? Do you feel those experiences helped you in your professional role in any way (or vice versa)?
Equi-kids is a non-profit therapeutic riding program for kids with disabilities. I first got involved with them to be around horses, as I have had a life long love for everything horses, and did not own one at the time (I do now and he takes most of my time!) They truly are magical creatures. The program required two people per rider – one to lead the horse, and the other to walk beside to steady the rider. It provides exercise, listening skills, flexibility, and release for these kids. I recall one child arriving for his session and he was literally kicking and screaming at his mother. The volunteers gently walked him over to his horse, and within moments (and for the whole session) he was giggling with joy. It was so amazing to watch the transformation the joys of riding brought to this young man. Volunteering of any sort builds the empathy muscle, which is so important in our roles and for our emotional intelligence.
What are three items you can’t work without?
Coffee. Coffee ????
But seriously, l cannot live without my laptop plus two monitors (and my laptop riser so I can stand up) – my eyesight isn’t what it used to be! And even though I use Outlook’s tasks and lists and all the rest of its awesome tools plus One Note, I am still old school enough to have a daily paper journal ready to jot notes on my desk at all times. The third thing (besides coffee, of course) are my own assistants: Siri and Alexa..I use them both all the time!
Do you have any tips or advice for your fellow EAs?
Stay curious and try to learn something new every day – knowledge is power, ladies and gents. Stay networked and connected to one another as there is strength in numbers…and sometimes we feel like a lone person on an island.
Lastly – be kind…always.