What would life be like if you were assistant to the former President of the United States?
I had the pleasure of speaking with Peggy Grande, former Executive Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, and author of The President Will See You Now.
Tune in to hear Peggy talk about what it was like being an assistant to such a well-known world leader, and how she ended up in such a unique EA role.
Peggy also shares what she learned about communication from “The Great Communicator.”
I hope you enjoy our conversation and be sure to check out Peggy’s book here.
Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence, rather than your doubts.
– President Ronald Reagan
President Reagan chose Peggy Grande to work at his side for 10 years, and together they created a powerful partnership. Serving as his post-presidency Executive Assistant, Peggy was the liaison between Ronald Reagan and his staff, the public, local dignitaries and world leaders. She ensured that his events, travel, personal and political relationships and day to day operations were handled efficiently and effectively.
She drafted and managed correspondence for his original signature, reviewed invitations, scheduled visitors, appointments and phone calls and attended to a wide range of office and personal needs.
Peggy traveled with him, serving as his post-presidency official photographer which gave her a behind the scenes view of his private interactions with everyone from the general public to heads of state, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Brian Mulroney, Helmut Kohl and even a saint – Mother Teresa.
As a keynote speaker, Peggy shares principles of leadership and excellence with corporations, non-profits, C-Suites, political groups, students and executive assistants. She is a certified consultant for the Fascination Assessment, and uses it to help individuals and companies discover and articulate their highest value. She is an opinion writer for FoxNews.com and contributes on-air commentary regularly for Fox News as well.
Peggy is a graduate of Pepperdine University with a degree in Organizational Communications and Business. She is a native Californian and lives in Los Angeles.
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Peggy Grande 0:00
Hi, I’m Peggy Grande. And today’s leadership quote comes from my former boss, President Ronald Reagan. He said, Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appeal to your best hopes, not your worst fears to your confidence rather than your doubts.
Podcast Intro 0:20
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become irreplaceable, Game Changing leader assistants.
Jeremy Burrows 0:32
President Ronald Reagan chose Peggy Grande to work at his side for 10 years and together they created a powerful partnership. Serving as his post presidency executive assistant, Peggy was the liaison between Ronald Reagan personally and his staff, the public, local dignitaries and world leaders, she ensured that his events, travel, personal and political relationships, and day to day operations were handled efficiently and effectively. She had a front row seat to history and got to know Ronald Reagan, the man, not just the president. She drafted and managed correspondence for his original signature, reviewed invitations, scheduled visitors appointments and phone calls, and attended to a wide range of office and personal needs. Peggy traveled with President Reagan regularly and was also his post presidency official photographer. As a keynote speaker Peggy shares principles of leadership and excellence with corporations, nonprofits, C suites political groups, students and executive assistants. Peggy is a graduate of Pepperdine University with a degree in organizational communications and business. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their 4 diverse and accomplished children. I’m super excited to have Peggy Grande on today’s episode. So without further ado, let’s jump right into the interview. Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast. I’m very excited today to have Peggy Grande, the author of the president will see you now, her stories and lessons from Ronald Reagan’s final years. Peggy, thanks so much for taking time out of your day and joining us on the show.
Peggy Grande 2:21
Thank you so much for having me on your podcast.
Jeremy Burrows 2:24
Well, I’m going to jump right in and ask probably the question that you might get asked often, how did you end up getting the job of executive assistant to President Ronald Reagan?
Peggy Grande 2:35
Well, it was one of those things it had to have been meant to be because it’s highly impossible how it happened. But I was always that nerdy little kid that loved presidents and politics and government and I grew up in Southern California, which might as well have been a million miles from Washington, DC. But somehow it was just something I was really fascinated by. And so fast forward to I’m in college, I decided to be a communications major because I don’t think politics is going to be a very practical way to go. And so I’m a Communications major and wouldn’t you know, the great communicator is in the White House. And so he represents everything. I love communications and politics and a great man of integrity and character and faith and all these things I loved and still never imagined that my my path would ever cross his but, As I was getting ready to graduate I was entering my last semester at Pepperdine University, I needed an internship for credit. And I remember something my dad always told me and he said, you know, somebody’s got to have the job you want, and it might as well be you. So I took a chance. And I wrote a letter on probably an old typewriter and mailed it, stamp it all off to the Office of Ronald Reagan and was shocked when my phone rang a few weeks later, asked me in for an interview. And I went in for the interview. I was very nervous. But I thought things went fairly well. And wouldn’t you know, I was hired pretty much on the spot to serve as an intern or volunteer in the president’s office during my final semester of college. And then at the end of that semester, the woman actually who had hired me returned to Washington, DC and asked me if I would take her job. And so I started being the executive assistant to the chief of staff. And I served him in that capacity for a few years until Ronald Reagan’s longtime executive assistant that she basically had since before he was governor decided to retire and they asked me to take that job. So you don’t say no to your job offer like that. But at the time, I was six months pregnant with my first baby, I wasn’t quite sure how I was gonna navigate all of that space. But I wound up serving Ronald Reagan from 1989 right after he left the White House until 1999 10 years later when he left the public eye and stayed connected with him until his passing in 2004. And with Mrs. Reagan until her passing in 2016. So 27 years of my life was very intertwined and very connected to those wonderful people, the Reagan’s
Jeremy Burrows 4:57
Wow, that’s amazing. So how If there’s if there’s an assistant listening to this episode, and they are just dreaming of working for a president someday or working for a former president someday, do you have any tips or recommendations on what they could do to reach that dream?
Peggy Grande 5:16
I believe it’s always about proximity. And so whether you work for the president of a country or the president of a company, if that’s something you aspire to, I’d say get as close as you can. Did, did I aspire of being an intern or volunteer and answering phones and doing press clippings? No, I don’t know that I ever even could have aspired as big an edge or dreamed big enough to serve a president. But I knew that that was an arena that I wanted to be in the middle of. And so I was willing to take a job very much at the bottom of the totem pole, and just lean in and do my best there and figure out how my little role fit into the rest of the office work. And just really put forth my best effort. learn and grow and try to be there every day and pursue excellence. And so I’d say get as close as you can, and then work your way up from there.
Jeremy Burrows 6:06
Yeah, how are they gonna make the call if they don’t know your number Right?
Peggy Grande 6:11
Well, I have a lot of people actually, who say, Oh, we were so lucky to work for the President. Okay, well, luck, maybe had a little bit to do with it. But I took initiative, I wrote a letter I dared to dream big. And then once I got there, I actually tried to do a really good job. We had probably 100 interns that came through over the course of my time there. And there was maybe two or three of us that transitioned into full time staffers. And so what do you do with that opportunity? Once you get it? And are you looking for it? And are you prepared to do a great job once you’re there? And so, you know, I believe that luck has a little to do with it. But I also believe that everybody has the opportunity to catch some luck in their life, and they’re just sometimes not looking forward or ready for it when it happens.
Jeremy Burrows 6:54
So what did you love about the role of an assistant
Peggy Grande 7:00
you’re in the thick of everything, and I’m one of these people, you know, God bless my mother, I probably drove her crazy, because I was just one of these kids that could never do enough things. At the same time, I loved life coming at me full force, I love spinning lots of plates and juggling lots of things at the same time. And so all the those elements that I loved about life, the adrenaline rush, it gave me that in the president’s office, I finally met my match. And so not only staying power and keeping up with the President, but I really had to be five steps ahead of him. And so not only very present in the moment, attending to whatever he needed, being very aware of what was happening with any visitors or things like that, but also planning ahead. And as you know, because you you’ve picked through the pages of my book, nothing was simple when you work for the President. So if we were getting ready to leave the office in a few minutes, he may have a visitor in there. And so simultaneously, I’m wrapping up that visit I’m since it’s a small staff, I’m probably taking the pictures and maybe taking out the catering dishes. And I’m also packing a bag up and alerting Secret Service, we’re going to leave in five minutes, making sure the rest of the staff is ready to go, making sure his briefing book is ready to go making sure I have all my things ready to go. And all at the same time making sure the office looks presentable because we have visitors of any level. So I think I love the fact that I finally met my match as far as just being kind of an adrenaline junkie. Also, it was very special to work for somebody who every day impacted positively the lives of others. And, you know, politics aside whether or not you were politically aligned with Ronald Reagan, he was somebody that you couldn’t help but meet and like personally, and I watch time and time again, he looked people in the eye and shake their hand and speak to them and their lives were forever changed. Just even in that moment. It was a very special moment. And he never missed the opportunity to positively impact the world and the people around him. And it was very special to be part of something like that. I knew at the time, he was a great man and a great president. But now history looks back, And He’s truly a giant among grades. So it makes me even more grateful for for my role and being in that proximity with him.
Jeremy Burrows 9:18
Yeah, I always say, you know, one of the things I love about being an assistant is there’s never a dull moment. So, you know, it’s definitely a plus when the company and the executive you work for is also a good person, and it’s kind of a very sweet spot to be in.
Peggy Grande 9:37
Absolutely. Yeah, it was everyday was a privilege and an honor. And even though of course, I had to get very comfortable working with him very closely. There, of course, was that natural familiarity, but there was also that formality that was always there and not a day went by when I didn’t pause and look into his office and him sitting there and think wow, That man was the leader of the free world. And I’m the luckiest woman in the world to sit right outside his office door every day and serve Him now in the final years of his life.
Jeremy Burrows 10:08
So he was known, kind of, as you mentioned it earlier, the great communicator, Is that right?
Peggy Grande 10:15
Jeremy Burrows 10:15
what’s one thing you learned about communication as his assistant?
Peggy Grande 10:21
Yeah, his communication style was phenomenal, in the sense that it was always focused on the audience or the recipient. So he didn’t just have things he wanted to tell people, he always thought about his audience and carefully considered their point of view where they were coming from, their station in life and what he could do to inspire them and encourage them. His language was very carefully chosen, it was in full alignment with his branding. I mean, we think of him as a great optimist as a great champion for freedom as being very visionary, as somebody who inspired people to follow Him who gave loyalty and gave faith and belief in the American people without demanding it, or before he demanded it. And so his language was infused with those messages consistently. And so everything that we thought of about him was basically the language he used every single day, for example, little things like instead of saying, Never forget, he would say, always remember, because it’s just a more positive way of stating the same thing. And so it may have looked very organic, and Ronald Reagan came across as somebody who was just happy go lucky and smiley and cheerful. And he was, but what people didn’t realize is all the very careful, dedicated discipline, hard work that was behind what then came across as looking very effortless. But there was intentional thought put into every word that he used, and it infused everything he did. And that’s why we remember him in the ways that he did, he was very consistent with his language.
Jeremy Burrows 12:03
So did you find yourself writing emails or talking the same type of language to other people and growing in your communication?
Peggy Grande 12:11
Absolutely. And in fact, it was funny, because I wrote for him so much, whether it was editing speeches, or writing his correspondence, or even the way I would speak to people on the phone very much trying to mirror how I know he would have treated them if he had the opportunity to. Because, you know, for every 100 people that wrote to the office, or called the office and wanted to talk to him, probably one or two got him and 98, or 99. Got me. So what would they think of him because of their interaction with me, and hopefully, at the end of that interaction, they were still fond of him and admired him and looked up to him and felt like they had been heard and validated by him, even if it was through me. But so post working for him, it did take a while to actually find my own language and my own style. And in fact, when I first started writing my book, that was one of the comments that the my senior editor gave to me, I’d sent a couple of chapters in and he said, Peggy, do you know what a memoir is? And I said, Is this a trick question? No, I think so. And he said, You have to tell your own story, not just his. And that’s stuck with me. Because I think so often, especially as assistants, don’t we tell the story of our company or our boss or our product. And so often we write ourselves out of our own story. But I found that we could see my boss better, we could understand him and relate to him more, if I told my own story. And so rather than being an interruption to his story, I became the very vehicle by which you get to see him. And so I then started telling my story, in the way that I saw him. And so it wasn’t just talking about Ronald Reagan, but it was taking you into the office with him. What did I see when I walked in the door? What did I feel? What did I think? What did I witness? How did that change my life? And how do I think that those stories still have the power to impact? And so yeah, it was a little difficult trying to unwrite like Ronald Reagan and learn to write and, and really write myself back into my own story.
Jeremy Burrows 14:16
So to kind of dig a little deeper on this one. So did people you mentioned, you know, all, you know, there’s obviously a lot of inbound requests, you had to say no to, you know, 98 or 99 out of 100 of them? Or at least you had to handle it versus them getting to President Reagan? Did Did people try to get close to you just to get close to him?
Peggy Grande 14:41
You hope that that’s not the case. But of course, after working for the President, for 10 years, it was very interesting to see when I no longer sat in that seat, who my real friends were and who kept up and who kept in touch and who had a relationship with me that really was lasting. And you know, fortunately, there were so many people that I met over the course of the years that really turned into wonderful friends, I actually would laugh at the people who would call and treat me like I was an obstacle and be rude to me and things like that. And I think, okay, now you’re trying to get through me to my boss, you’re being rude to me, that’s probably not going to happen. You know. So I don’t realize, you know, the President may be the head, but you know, the assistant kind of gets to be the neck sometimes. And we can steer the boss toward or away from things and people, as we wish. And so I always laughed at that dynamic. I thought, this is just not going to play well out for them.
Jeremy Burrows 15:42
Yeah, so I’ve had those experiences before where I feel like people are trying to get get to my boss. So they, you know, they come talk to me, or they say, Hey, how’s it going? And then next thing, you know, they’re asking about my boss, and what’s my boss doing? Or what’s, uh, you know, it just felt, You know, I didn’t really realize this until I was transitioned from my prior to my current one how dehumanizing it was. And just, you know, the fact that it’s like, okay, like, I’m a person too. Right. So how would you, You know, it sounds like you had some of that experience, like you said, when you were done working for him. You found out who your real friends were. How, how did you kind of deal with those types of interactions or that realization? And what would you say to other assistants listening who are also being really used? Like, like this type of, you know, get to you to get to the boss?
Peggy Grande 16:36
Yeah, you know, my criteria always was, Is this something that’s best for the president? is isn’t something that is in alignment with his vision and what he’s prioritizing right now? Is it something he should be spending his time on? And is it something that he should be spending his time on at the expense of something else, because as you know, every time you allocate a block of time towards something, you’re pulling time away from something else. And so as long as I took all the emotional piece of it away, and really just looked at what are his top priorities, a lot of things that might have been good causes or good people or good things to do didn’t elevate or rise to the level of the top. And so there was a lot of good things that he could have, and probably would have loved to have done that just didn’t rise to that level. And so I think when you’re really clear on what the priorities are, what are the top things that he should be doing and spending his time on, the rest sort of diminishes, and if you don’t get emotionally attached to people or things, or to the power of the position, and really just keep the focus on what is truly best for him, his branding and his vision right now, then the rest kind of sorts itself out, and it actually becomes really clear. it’s when you get sucked into personalities, and the emotional components of it, that I think it gets distracting. So I think just having a really clear focus vision of what you need to be doing, then the others, you know, it’s just predetermined that you’re not going to be doing that, by default.
Jeremy Burrows 18:14
Have you found Have you found it difficult, so like, you’re very, you’d be very professional, you try to keep the emotions out of it. Did you find it difficult to then flip the switch to, to be emotional with, you know, family and close friends, because I’m sure you were pretty busy during that stretch those 10 years.
Peggy Grande 18:38
Yeah, I got married and had three of my four children while I was working for the President. And so running a household of little kids with a very high pressure, stressful demanding job, I have a husband who was a saint, and he was a great diffuser of, of a lot of and a great sounding board for things at the end of the day, but as you know, it can be a very isolating job, because even within the office, there’s other people that are friends and that you’re friendly with but you know, at the end of the day, that there’s certain things that only you know, and that you are privy to and have access to and so, ultimately, you’re kind of on an island if you work for the top person because sometimes people don’t want to share things with you or tell you things or include you in things because they know you’ve got the ear of the boss and so it can be a little alienating and so it is nice to be sure that you have a support system and have those things that help you feel human again and certainly having little kids does that very humanizing, you know, go from the President’s very professional, polished, quiet, very perfect office, and then you go home and you know, chaos ensues, organized chaos, but but I also found that in a lot of ways, the way I ran the president’s office was kind of the way I ran home too, I had to be super efficient. I had to be super were organized. I had to know my own priorities and what was important to my family. Because certainly we could not do it all when I’m working full time and juggling a bunch of little kids and a commute. And so again, just being focused and being very intentional about the things you do, and not getting sucked into the things that other people think you should be doing, but really sticking with what are my personal priorities, what’s the priorities of our family and put those in first, and then the rest Sometimes there’s just not room for and that’s okay. Because it’s for a season, you know, I believe that everything is for a time. And so if it’s not the right time for this to be part of your life right now, that’s okay. You know, maybe it another season of life, it’ll be there.
Jeremy Burrows 20:40
So did you have a hobby, during your your time with President Reagan? Or was, did you pretty much have family, you know, your husband, your kids, and, you know, former president?
Peggy Grande 20:51
Yeah, we actually, as a family, we love to travel, even when the kids were little, we would go camping and things like that on the weekends. And so anything we could do, primarily to get out of the city and to get outdoors. And to be together as a family was always very special, and very much the priority. And so, and it’s fun, because now that my kids are grown, that’s the thing that we still love to do together. And as far and wide as my kids are, anytime I say, Hey, I’m thinking about planning a trip to here, you know, it’s the great, it’s the great magnet that pulls them all back together. So it was fun to make time for that. And, you know, I look back on those years, and they were so crazy. But I look back and there was so much joy during those years. And so I think sometimes there’s this temptation to think, well, when the kids are a certain age, or when I get through this project, then life will be easier, I’ll have more time for myself or, you know, then I’ll be happier. And really, I learned during those years, because there was so much going on, that you really have to be very intentional about finding joy in the moment. And working for the President, you would think that the black tie dinners and all the, you know, private planes and motorcades and all the fancy things would be what really stand out in my mind after all these years. And while those are there, and those were amazing. And as a 20, something completely spoiled and ruined me forever. Because every time I get on a commercial flight, I’m thinking, I know how good it is to fly private aircraft. But when I look back on those years, there’s something very special about the if you could call them ordinary days in the office where the President and I there’s very young woman that’s very elder statesman, had this great system and routine of accomplishment and having a destination in mind of where the day was going to go and what we were going to accomplish together and really finding a lot of joy in those years. And so I would challenge people to not just look at the big milestones, but but really look at I guess those ordinary days in the middle and and can you find joy in those? Can you find purpose in those? And can you find a way to look back on your time, wherever you are, and not have wasted? What you think is ordinary days looking for the extraordinary, because there were extraordinary days, but but there’s something very special about those ordinary days as well. And especially as the President’s health, of course, deteriorated. And, you know, the world knew about that, I began to savor more and more every day, regardless of what it was like, and we don’t know how long any one of us have on this earth or our boss or our job. You know, none of that’s guaranteed. And so I think just finding gratitude and joy in every single day regardless, of course, it’s stressful. Of course, it’s busy, of course is demanding, but but look for the joy and look for opportunities to be grateful.
Jeremy Burrows 23:42
So what was the biggest mistake you made as an assistant? And what did you learn from the experience?
Peggy Grande 23:50
Oh, you know, I tried not to make big mistakes, because when you work for the President, not only is his safety at risk, but also there’s a whole lot of people following you. So if you turn the wrong way, you know, you’ve got secrets, or rather than half the staff and all those going the wrong way. So my goal was to make as few mistakes as I could. Now that being said, there are certainly things that happen that are beyond your control. I was so grateful for a boss who when things did go wrong, he had a great sense of humor about it and would kind of give me that look as if, okay, I know this is not what you planned. I know that is not how you want this to play out. But it’s okay because he trusted that I had done my best and you know sometimes circumstances are beyond your control whether it’s weather, whether it’s other participants in a program that didn’t stick to the script or did something you know, they weren’t supposed to do and so I think his trust in me knowing that I had absolutely crossed every T and dotted every i and tried to think through every scenario. So, before we got to any place, and tried to communicate that very clearly to him so that there were no surprises when things did happen. I think he was very tolerant because they were fortunately, very few. And fortunately, you know, were things that I had told him how it was gonna play out And it didn’t play out that way for one reason or another. And thankfully, he was the type of boss that took that in stride.
Jeremy Burrows 25:27
Can you describe a time or tell us a story about a time when you saved the day for President Reagan? I’m like, sorry, he’s, you know, he’s gone the wrong way. Or he’s, you know, signs the wrong document or right, you know, something, something that, you know, most assistants deal with all the time.
Peggy Grande 25:48
Yeah. You know, there was one time in particular, where you just kind of have to make decisions on the fly. And again, when it’s the president, it’s not quite so easy, but we were pulling up to an event. And it was a big outdoor venue that had been tented, so picture one of these big, like, circus top tents, almost, but it was several 1000 People in this outdoor venue. And we had a holding tent that was just adjacent to that, that we were supposed to pull up to, he was going to hold there. And then he was going to go across the way to make this speech in this big outdoor tent. And as we’re driving up, the weather’s getting worse and worse, and by the time we pull up, it is blowing a gale and it is raining. And as we’re pulling up, I’m in the backseat of the car with the President, Secret Service, obviously is driving and as we’re pulling up, my VR advanced person is standing outside the tent, this poor guy out in the pouring rain, and this gust of wind comes and not only flips his umbrella upside down, but takes the entire whole tent that we’re supposed to go into, and it lifts it from its steaks and tumbles it away. So the President and I are in the back of the car and thinking, Okay, well, there went our whole tent. So what exactly are we going to do? It’s dumping rain. Thankfully, I’m in the car with the President. And our poor advancement now is outside with no umbrella and no tent just getting completely windblown and drenched. But he comes over to the window. And I said, we got to figure this out. He’s supposed to be announced in about 5 10 minutes. And so we decided that the President is going to hold in the car, I get out, we peek in and we realize there’s one table of people that we think we can get them to move, and we can probably just pull the car right in the side of this tent. So we work it out with Secret Service, we work it out with the venue people, I mean, the event is still going on. And so I go back to the car, I’m like, Mr. President, this is how it’s gonna play out. So you’re going to, you’re going to put down the we’re going to open the doors so you can hear what’s happening, but you’re gonna be announced and you’re gonna step out of the car, and you’re gonna go right up to the stage and you thought, Okay, well, that’s alright. What we hadn’t counted on once we move the table is it even raining. So her there was mud there. And so as he steps out of the car, he steps into a couple inches of squishy mud. And of course, you know, he’s dressed beautifully. He’s always impeccably dressed, he’s got beautiful shoes on. And all of a sudden, he is stepping through the mud and I am horrified. And he goes up on the stage, muddy shoes and all makes his whole speech comes back to the car, gets back in my car, you know, covered in mud. And I just was cringing thinking, oh my gosh, I feel so terrible. This is awful. He’s going to be so angry. And he looks at me. He goes, I don’t know if I would do that again. But he goes, I think that made a rather nice entrance. And just kind of laughed at him. I looked at him I go, I promise to get your shoes clean, sir. You kind of laughed too. So just having a sense of humor about it and being willing to adjust on the fly and just make it work. And then kind of selling it to him in a way that it’ll be okay. And it’ll play out all right. But he he was a very good sport. And unfortunately, you know, things like that happen. And he was always a good sport about it.
Jeremy Burrows 28:56
Awesome. So how would you describe the job of an assistant in one or two sentences?
Peggy Grande 29:05
You know, I kind of have a different view on the role. And I don’t want to contradict any of your former or future guests. But a lot of people see the role as being a gatekeeper. And to me that conjures up this whole idea that your job is to block everything and keep it out. It’s almost like a tennis machine that’s pitching balls at you and you’re trying to hit them back in a way as quickly as you can. And instead, I saw my role instead of trying to keep everything away, I saw myself really as the gateway to the President. And so in my mind what that meant was, yeah, a lot of things. We’re not going to rise to the level of meeting his attention. But I wanted it to be such that anything that needed to be on the President’s desk would come through me, not around me. I didn’t want it to be this game of Oh Peggy’s away from her desk. Maybe we can sneak the sun to the President’s nose to have him sign it or maybe I can ask him about this When Peggy’s out tomorrow or something like that. I didn’t want it to be a game to get around me. I wanted people to know that the fastest and best and most efficient way to get the best answer was to be through me, not around me. And so I saw myself as being the gateway to the president, anything that rose to the level of needing his attention, needing his signature came through me, there was a lot of things that obviously were rerouted from my desk, and they needed more information, or that wasn’t a priority this week, but let’s talk about it next week, or somebody else is already working on that, put your thoughts together, and then come back to me. And so a lot of things rerouted from my desk, but I tried not to just be this gatekeeper where everything was automatically, you know, and everything was, you know, me against them. And very controversial, you know, confrontational, I really saw my role as a gateway instead of a gatekeeper. And so that kind of kept me sane to during those years, too, because, of course, there’s this flood of things coming to you. And again, really, when the filter narrows to be something that the funnel only brings a few things that rise to needing his attention, it makes the decisions pretty easy.
Jeremy Burrows 31:13
Yeah, I love I love how you said that. I often think, okay, if I can, if I can help the team, and do what I say I’m going to do and be accessible, and, you know, helpful and reliable, then when I have to say, no, it’s going to be different, it’s going to come across as different versus I’m always kind of like, well, I don’t know, I’ll see if I can fit you in or oh, you know, I’ll do that. And then I don’t do that.
Peggy Grande 31:39
Right. And I was very careful about what I committed to. And a lot of it, I would put back on other people. And so rather than things finding a home and being dumped on my desk, I would say, bring that to me tomorrow afternoon, and I’m happy to have him sign it. So then it’s not sitting on my desk, it’s not my responsibility. It’s theirs. And so as much as I could have not things come to die on my desk, That was my goal. And and yet to be very firm with a no and with explanation when I could. And then when I said yes, to actually do it and facilitate it in a way that was useful and helpful and made them realize we’re all on the same team.
Jeremy Burrows 32:21
So what’s kind of one productivity tip or hack that you used during your time? I know technology was slightly different than that, in that day in age. So what’s something What’s kind of one practical way you kept track of things and made sure you were you know, you didn’t drop balls?
Peggy Grande 32:44
Yeah. You know, one of the things that I did then that I still do now, and I apologize to any great environmentalists out there, I’m still a fan of paper in certain instances. And so as far as scheduling items, addresses, times call in numbers, those kinds of things. I find technology to be fickle at times. And so even today, you know, for this podcast, I have a printed piece of paper that tells me exactly what time I’m calling and you know what that Skype address name is, and all of that. And so, to me, there’s still value even today in paper, because technology sometimes fails us. And so working with a boss that I could hand him a piece of paper on the way out the door. It wasn’t Oh, let me print that or let me forward that to you. Or, you know, and everybody works differently. But for me, back in the day, obviously, everything pretty much had to be printed. But I think there’s still value today. And sometimes we we eliminate a lot of steps by maybe just printing one little sheet of paper. Yeah. One of my favorite productivity hacks right now, though, that I use in my own personal business is something called Boomerang. And I don’t know if you use it just on my Gmail, because it keeps my inbox really clean. And so that way, whenever I want something to come back to me, it does. And then I can say, Oh, I already took care of that and file it or I need to remind that person to get back to me, or I’m one of these crazy people, I don’t really sleep very much. And so if I’m drafting an email at two o’clock in the morning, I can time it to sit send at six o’clock in the morning instead of letting people actually know I’m insane and I don’t sleep, and I’m doing emails at two o’clock in the morning.
Jeremy Burrows 34:28
I’ve done that a few times. So what do you think executives should look for when they’re trying to find an assistant and hire an assistant?
Peggy Grande 34:42
Yeah. I think it’s two things. The mechanics of the job have to be there and the mechanics of the job are going to be different for every single role for any assistant they have to know and be able to utilize this skills and the tools of the trade. So whether that requires you know, excellence on the phone or writing or email or coordinating time zones or expense reports, or data or whatever it is, the mechanics of the job, you, you have to be able to do those and to interact with that with excellence and with efficiency. But the other part of it that I believe is equally important, especially if you’re wanting to be an EA at the highest level is the mindset. So the mechanics are the tactics and the tools of the trade. But the mindset is what you bring to the job every single day, and are you bring in the mindset of a leader. And regardless of where you fall on the org chart, you have the capacity to influence the world around you, you know, for the most part, the executive assistant knows more, interacts with more people and has access to a wider audience than the boss does. And so that is a position of influence and leadership. And I believe every single day, you have two choices, am I going to use that to be toxic, and pollute the world around me? Or am I going to be contagiously optimistic, am I approaching my job with enthusiasm with a willingness to serve not only my boss, but to be accessible and available and helpful to my colleagues and to our clients. And so I think that mindset of optimism, the mindset of enjoying the best seat and most exciting seat in the house, and approaching every day with an enthusiasm and an eagerness for the job, I think goes a long way. I think it also takes somebody who is a strategic thinker and doesn’t sit back and just wait to be told what to do, but actually approaches every day with a plan in place. For the president, obviously, I would do anything he asked me to do. But I didn’t wait for him to come in and say, Okay, what do you want me to do today? Sir, you know, I had a whole plan. And we could adjust that, we could adapt that, I could save things till tomorrow, we could add things in. But I had a game plan of what I wanted him to accomplish that day. And I was going to drive that agenda forward during the day as best and as, you know, efficiently as I could. So we kept his schedule moving, we kept things, you know, passing through his desk in his office pretty quickly. But that wasn’t because he was saying, let’s do this. Let’s do that. And in fact, my favorite thing was when he would come to my desk, and he’d say, Peggy, I’m wondering if I can get a copy of, and I’d hold up a piece of paper, and he looked down and kind of get this twinkle in his eye and laugh and smile and shake his head. And he goes, How do you know? You know, so anticipating and just guessing and understanding because based on your experience and your interaction, anticipating exactly what you would need and have that prepared before you’ve been asked,
Jeremy Burrows 37:45
How many years do you think it took for you to get to that point where you really, were anticipating things like that?
Peggy Grande 37:53
Not too long, because when I even when I came in as an intern, I was doing, of course, the jobs that I was asked to do. But I like to say I had big ears. So I was listening to the people around me and I worked with amazing people in that office, you know, how did they talk to people? How did they accomplish things? How did they diplomatically you know, ask the tough questions or say no, politely. And so I felt like I had a lot of institutional knowledge before I even worked for the chief of staff and then working for the chief of staff. Of course, he’s involved in everything. And in fact, when I was serving the chief of staff, anytime the President’s assistant would step away from her desk, or be out for a day or something, I would swing over and cover for the President, as well, even then, and so he was somebody who was familiar to me, he was somebody I already had established rapport with. And again, he was he was a very happy warrior, so to speak, he came to the office with a skip in his step and an enthusiasm and an eagerness for every day. And so if I could model and mirror that to him, then we would work through the little things, but those were the big things that were important to him. How did I treat people that were important to him? How did I speak to people who were important to him? How did I, you know, write and communicate on his behalf and in a way that hopefully would be reflective of how he would have done it himself?
Jeremy Burrows 39:21
I love how you said you had big ears I literally have big ears.
Peggy Grande 39:25
I hope I don’t. Figuratively not literally but so important and especially when you’re young in the workplace. Yes, do your job but also, how does that piece fit into the bigger piece and listen to how people talk and handle things and interact and start mimicking that language. Even as an intern. I looked around and I didn’t dress as a college student. I dressed as the staff and so when they had a staff position, open up, I’m dressing the part I’m talking the part I know what’s going on in the The Office, it was a very natural fit. And I hope that it was an easy decision for them. Because I was there and in many ways already filling in that role.
Jeremy Burrows 40:09
So when did you decide that you’re gonna write a book about this experience?
Peggy Grande 40:16
Well, I think the book decided that it was going to write me because it, I never intended to write a book. And especially for assistants out there, we know that with proximity comes a great sense of privacy, there’s a responsibility and an obligation to protect the integrity of the people that we serve. And so I actually never thought I would write a book. But several years after I was working for the President, I started speaking out a lot about my experience, people wanted to know what it was like to, to work for this great man. And I felt like part of my stewardship to him would be to continue to tell those stories. And so I’ll never forget, after one event, this gentleman came up who runs the Presidential History program out of the University of Virginia, and he said to me, oh, Peggy, you have got to take this speech and all your stories you have and put them in a book. And I said, I just can’t imagine ever doing that. It doesn’t seem proper, I just don’t think I would ever do it. And he said to me, something that completely changed my mind. And he said, you know, if there was a woman who sat outside Abraham Lincoln’s office door every day for 10 years, don’t you think we would want to know what she saw? What she learned? what she observed? And don’t you think she would owe it to history to tell us? and that was pretty powerful. And I still wasn’t going to write a book. But that kind of changed my perspective on things. And so fast forward several years later, I was speaking at a conference with another executive assistant who had served for JFK Jr. Phenomenal lady Rosemarie Terenzio, she wrote a fascinating book, also called Fairy Tale Interrupted about her experiences surveying for John F. Kennedy, Jr. and she gave me a copy of her book, I read it cover to cover New York to LA. And when I got home, I emailed her and I said, RoseMarie, you did such a beautiful job of being revealing, but ultimately, being respectful. I felt like I knew him so much better, but felt like I didn’t know things that I didn’t want or need to know. And I just think you did a beautiful job. And she said, Thank you so much. It was due to my literary agent who I’ve copied on this email, Steve, Peggy has a book in her you’ve got to reach out to her. So Steve, and I had coffee the next time he was in LA. And again, I hadn’t written one page of a book, I didn’t intend on writing a book, I just told him my story. And he said, the next time you’re in New York, let me know I’ve got a friend in the publishing world, and let’s just, you know, see what he thinks. And so a few weeks later, I was in New York, sat around at a wine bar and told my story to this top editor from one of the top houses in the US and didn’t pitch a book didn’t have a writing sample even just told him my story. And when she you know, a couple of weeks later, I had a firm offer, to put my book my story into book form, from Hachette books in New York, and was terrified to do it. But I thought that, you know, with the right, encouragement that I could tell my story in a way that was revealing and respectful. And even though there’s 1000 books about Ronald Reagan, I knew that none of them captured him in the way that I saw him because I saw him in such a unique and different way. So anyway, I was grateful for the opportunity was a little bit anxious about could I actually capture him on paper the way I saw him in person. And I actually, at the end of the writing process, I’m actually very proud of the book and I do think it captures him in a revealing, but respectful way. Not political, but just a character sketch of a great man of our relationship And what it was like to serve a man like that for over a decade.
Jeremy Burrows 43:48
Yeah, it’s very exciting. I’ve dipped into it. I haven’t finished it yet. But definitely recommend listeners to pick it up. It’s called The President Will See You Now. And Peggygrande.com. Is that right?
Peggy Grande 44:02
Jeremy Burrows 44:03
And so check that out. Do you have any tips for an assistant? Who is considering writing a book any tips for finishing or any just practical, you know, how to write a book tips?
Peggy Grande 44:16
Well, I think it’s important to put yourself in this story, if that’s what it is, for the most part, facts and figures are not compelling or interesting stories are the things that that change minds that change hearts that have the power to inspire and to impact people’s lives or influence them to think about something differently or, or change their mind. And it’s very difficult and very scary to put yourself out there and to be transparent. But invulnerability also allows the reader to be more vulnerable. And that’s the thing I would say that I get the most emails that I get the most direct messages on social media is people are very grateful that I was willing to open myself up and to kind of tell the good, the bad and the ugly, I mean, I don’t always play out as this perfect character I talk about, you know, my worries and my struggles and my challenges in the book as well. And so that’s difficult. It’s easier to write about yourself as Wonder Woman than it is to write about yourself as a regular woman. And but in that vulnerability, I think there’s a relatability. And that’s the thing I think most people who have read the book have appreciated the fact that I was willing to put myself out there in a really vulnerable way and tell my story alongside his and I’m actually to this day, I’m really proud of the book. And it’s originally came out in hardback, ebook and audiobook, and they just re released it last year in paperback as well. And so it’s done really well far beyond anything I could ever imagine. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be able to tell my story and to share my boss and my front row seat to this remarkable man’s life for that decade that I got to serve him.
Jeremy Burrows 46:02
Great. Well, Peggy, thank you so much for, again, for taking time out of your day to chat with us. And my listeners are very grateful for the unique viewpoint that you provide. And I hope they’ll check out your book. And yeah, thanks so much for being on the show.
Peggy Grande 46:17
My pleasure. And yeah, Peggygrande.com, I try to get back to everybody who emails and asks a question. So if there’s something that somebody would want to know that I don’t cover in my book, or we didn’t cover today, I’m always happy to engage with people one on one as well. And I’m grateful to you for doing what you’re doing to encourage assistants out there, you know, I didn’t have anything like that when I was in the thick of things. And I was very much trying to figure it out on my own. And so all the travel all the speaking all the media that I do, there’s something very special about the events that I get to speak with executive assistants, because those are my people. That’s my tribe. I relate to those men and women who are just doing a phenomenal job on the front lines and admire and respect them and, and want to encourage them to just find joy in the job.
Jeremy Burrows 47:04
Awesome. Well, thanks so much. And yeah, we’ll hopefully talk to you again sometime.
Peggy Grande 47:09
Great. Thank you so much, Jeremy.
Podcast Outro 47:11
Thanks for listening to Episode 15.
Jeremy Burrows 47:14
You can find this episode’s show notes on leaderassistant.com/15.
Speaker 3 47:27
Help my dad out and leave a review on iTunes.
Unknown Speaker 47:37