Mom, wife, and high performer, Kate Wilkes is an executive assistant who found work she loves, with a leader who poured into her. Kate is moving out of her EA role and into a Chief People Officer role doing work she loves.

Kate Wilkes Leader Assistant Podcast

In this episode of The Leader Assistant Podcast, Kate walks us through her career path from EA to Chief People Officer, shares how important culture is, and encourages assistants on how to find your path.


The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.

– Brené Brown (Dare to Lead)

Kate Wilkes Leader Assistant Podcast

Mom, wife, and high performer, Kate Wilkes is an executive assistant who found work she loves, with a leader who poured into her. Kate is moving out of her EA role and into a Chief People Officer role doing work she loves.

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Kate Wilkes 0:00
Hi, my name is Kate Wilkes, and today’s quote comes from Brene Brown. The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing. It’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.

Podcast Intro 0:15
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident game changing leader assistants.

Jeremy Burrows 0:26
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Kate Wilkes 2:04
Great. Thanks for having me on. How’s it going?

Jeremy Burrows 2:06
It’s going alright, what part of the world are you in?

Kate Wilkes 2:09
I am in North Central Arkansas in the US in the Ozarks.

Jeremy Burrows 2:14
Love it. I spent some time in northern Arkansas and being in Kansas City, Missouri. And growing up in Kansas City, Missouri. We drive down south and it’s Yep, lovely down there. There’s some lovely country down there.

Kate Wilkes 2:26
And we live in vacation land. Yeah.

Jeremy Burrows 2:30
Cool. So tell us a little bit about yourself first. So maybe what’s one of your favorite hobbies? And maybe something interesting about you that you’d like to share?

Kate Wilkes 2:46
Oh, boy, this is always a fun question. Right? My, I think my The thing I enjoy telling people about myself is that I’m a huge introvert. Really just terrified of the world. But I love to live outside of my comfort zone. So it’s kind of a contradictory statement. But I find that I’ve learned that much of your good things in your life happen once you stop being scared. So that’s my favorite. My Kait fact

Jeremy Burrows 3:20
is I’m a very high introvert as well. So I can relate. I don’t know that I necessarily love going outside of my comfort zone. But I love learning new things. And one of those things that I had to teach myself and that I had to learn was how to be an extrovert. So Right. It’s been a fun, fun journey. Okay, so tell us about your hobbies. Do you have a hobby?

Kate Wilkes 3:46
Well, you have kiddos, so you’ll understand when I say keeping the tiny human alive. I have a two and a half year old son I enjoy playing with and mostly running around in the mud outside. So that’s what we do with most of our spare time. But I like to read I like self development. And I would like to dig into a lot of good books. Spend time with friends and my husband of course. But yeah, just work and enjoy the fun times after work with the kiddo

Jeremy Burrows 4:18
race. And you have several years of experience as an assistant. I’m looking at your LinkedIn which I will link in the show notes for those who want to reach out and connect with you. But looks like administrative coordinator was one of your titles admin of administrative assistant was one of your titles Human Resources assistant and then executive assistant. And then recently, you are essentially have been worked your way up if you will to Chief People Officer. So tell us a little bit about what propelled you toward the Your assistant career and then share how you’ve transitioned or why you transitioned from executive assistant to now Chief People Officer?

Kate Wilkes 5:10
Absolutely. I think it’s I think it starts way back in childhood, I’ve always been a helper. You know, I think, just depending on how you’re raised, and what you see from parents, that’s just, I just ended up being a helper. So my parents always owned their own business, they were always doing things. I was always helping mom and dad. And then I wanted to be I actually wanted to be an RN, I wanted to be a nurse. And I realized that after a couple of years of assisting physicians, it because you know, they need a lot of help to do what they do, I realized that I don’t have the immune system for that. So we quickly thought, Where else can I help people if not, you know, at the doctor’s office, from, you know, a Lessa, sick perspective, no fun being sick all the time. So I just did what anybody that you know, is a helper is they look for jobs, where they can help people and I realized quickly, I like being the one to fix things and get things done for people and say, that’s already handled, it just, it’s feeds my soul in a way kind of to know that I can just make other people’s lives easier, even if it’s, you know, something, it’s not life changing, or life saving, it’s actually just that that level of support, you can give someone as assists as an assistant, and just making their job easier. So that that’s where I started, and then got an office job, got another office job, you know, everyone is a little bit bigger and tougher than the one before it, and you just kind of, you know, you say what else can I do? You know, often as assistants, I find that we grow out of roles, if we are introspective, and we’re trying to learn and grow, sometimes the role doesn’t grow with you. And so you have to look for that next thing that you can stretch yourself with. So input is definitely one of my signature strengths. So I’m a learner, I didn’t go to college, I’m a longtime self learner, just give me something to tackle, and I’ll go for it. So, you know, assisting just became that natural path, I do believe where absorb information, handle the tasks, take care of the people. So it’s really fulfilling for me to have had that career for quite some time.

Jeremy Burrows 7:32
So you know, I mentioned your Human Resources assistant, and now your chief people officer, which is obviously a Human Resources role. Did that give you kind of a taste for that world? And and maybe just point you more in HR direction?

Kate Wilkes 7:53
I think no, I think this was an organic thing that happened with the company that I work with what happened your career. I think that I just was ripe for the picking. When I found a leader who had me join his company, as the CEO, hired me on as his executive assistant, I handle personal and business stuff for them. And I think I finally just had a leader who saw that I could do great things and it wasn’t about I just need you to come sit down and handle these tasks and take these minutes and do all the things that we know that kind of are the center and the meat of an assistant role. And so six months in or so after having joined the team, and having a voice from day one, and being thrown into projects, and somebody left the team for other work, and I picked up their stuff. And I started doing some of our podcasts and content behind the scenes. And I realized that I was growing out of that role kind of organically, and supporting the team in many other ways. And so six months in I had a I had a kind of three times a year meeting with my boss where you kind of just drive your career and he supports you and which was so foreign to me to be able to just say what I want. And I said I said Scott, I don’t I don’t want to be your assistant anymore. Oh, you know, how do you say that? I don’t want to leave this company. I love what we do. I love working with the team. But I don’t think this is the roll for me anymore. And he says well, what do you want to do? And I said I saw that empty spot on the quote unquote, org chart. We just call it the people chart. But I saw that empty spot in it. It says I said something like team success team leader. It’s not we don’t have HR, we’re, you know, we’re a small company. We were doing everything ourselves started from a really small team for a really long time. So we you know, we’re professionals who don’t always act as professional Unless you might, you know, see in the office, but yeah, he’s he embraced it, he got behind me, he pushed me, he said, let’s see how to make this happen. Once we had the initial conversation about what I loved about the, his ideas for the role it was, it was just perfect because I want to see our whole team succeed. And so that, you know, that lets me help to bring on new people that will enrich our culture and sourcing those people and finding those people and bringing them on to the team and, and then giving them all of what they need to set them up for success. So that’s just, you know, it’s like my helper, my love for being a helper just to the extreme. So now I get to focus on an entire team of people, and how I can not only make our team successful, whether it be leading meetings, or planning work, running sprints, or you know, all the all the awesome things that is involved with collaboration with a team, and then just taking it and making it even better for everyone. So I do some HR tasks, but we definitely, it’s definitely a really robust role for the entire organization.

Jeremy Burrows 11:11
Love it. So as you lean more into this role and step out of the assistant role, what are your plans for replacing yourself in that executive assistant position?

Kate Wilkes 11:31
That’s gonna be fun, I actually actually am really excited, because that person who, you know, will, will come from outside of our company, we don’t have anyone in our team that would want to go into that role. They’re all doing other things. But I’m going to have a great time hunting down just the right person to hand to what I would consider to be one of the world’s best leaders. So that’s going to be fun, I’m going to enjoy I’m already making my plans for how I will set that person up for success once we bring them onto the team. And then I’m just going to sit back and watch them and help them and and watch them grow as well. So it’s gonna be really exciting.

Jeremy Burrows 12:09
What you said you’re making plans, as they join the team, what’s maybe one or two things that you could share for maybe onboarding tips, or like first 90 days, tips?

Kate Wilkes 12:23
First 90 days? Yeah. The so we are a very culture driven company, we, we have, you know, you you, you’ve worked a lot of places, I’m sure Jeremy where you see mission, vision and values. And, you know, it’s a beautiful statement that was handcrafted by who knows who and its outward facing Lee beautiful, and but you work, you know, on those teams, and they just, they’re not living it and it feels it feels disingenuous. So we, we have a handful of values, and we live them and breathe them and they spill over into our personal life. So the first thing that I do like it can be culture shock, you know, I’ve been I’ve been with Scotland team for since COVID, since since COVID. And since it started 20, just early 2020, mid 2020, excuse me. And then I find myself still trying to shed baggage from past leaders and past organizations where the situation’s weren’t as good or, you know, you have this rigid, you know, you have to be in your office at your desk at all times, all of the things that we pick up that we carry around from not necessarily bad jobs, but less than awesome jobs, even. And so I find that acclamation to our culture is very important. Because you don’t have a boss who is going to, you know, ever jump down your throat for any reason. Things are just different. It’s just different. You drive your own career, you collaborate with your team members from day one, as an EA, you have a voice that is as loud as the oldest team member, and is important to everyone as the oldest team member and company founder. So it’s a real culture thing. So we learned early on that when we’re bringing people in there, they have this, you know, I call it my backpack of like past traumas that they have and we all have them. We have, you know, many of our clients have these, these corporate jobs that they’ve had for years, and they’re terrified when they go into a new company of what it might be. So we spend a lot of time really just acclimating people. And I think the that is very important for our our team is specifically but for just basic onboarding, we have checklists, and we have spreadsheets and we have processes that go in before anybody even starts and I set up a lot of stuff on their behalf but just bringing them on with a clear learning plan, we we set up a learning plan that is probably about zero are the eight weeks and we get everything on the calendar on day one, we let them know what’s going to happen. So the transparency of this is what we’re going to need to hand off to you by x date. This is the plan, we know is the plan. We know plans change. But these are all of the things we’re going to show you and teach you and help you with in order to get you there. So really setting people up for success from day one, giving them everything that they need, and everything that they don’t know that they need, is really important. So I also set up with my team members, we just hired a growth team. Recently, three new team members, which almost doubled us in size, and I on boarded two of them at the same time. And so we just had weekly check ins where I would spend 30 Minutes two times a week in the morning, outside of just, you know, pinging each other with questions and answers, where they could just bring any questions about culture about platform’s about company, not policies, but how we do the work, different kinds of things so that they can come away with extra knowledge every week and have immediate needs answered. So just really helping them be successful from day one, it really, really is nice to support people and have them just feel not only like they’ve joined a team, but they but that they’ve joined a team that wants them to succeed.

Jeremy Burrows 16:23
That’s great. Definitely a culture driven thought out process, for sure. And it sounds like a fun place to work.

Kate Wilkes 16:31
very intentional, I always tell everyone that my boss is the most intentional human being I’ve ever met. And I find myself that my whole life is a lot more intentional, just for being surrounded by people who are that that way. And it’s a good thing. It’s very enjoyable.

Jeremy Burrows 16:49
Nice. So let’s talk briefly about maybe what you would recommend to assistants listening, who aspire to grow, I’m not gonna say grow out of because I think EA role is a very respectable career. I’m currently an EA and I don’t have any plans or dreams to not be an EA. But just tips on those who maybe aspire to be a chief people officer someday or to get into finance, or whatever the industry or the department is. What would you recommend they do? Or how would you recommend they think about their career? In the sense of do they, you know, soak up as much as they can try out different things. What’s what’s, what’s some advice you could give to assistants listening who want a transition to a different path?

Kate Wilkes 17:59
Absolutely. I think I think really, what was helpful for me is just, we spend a lot of days and hours working, right. So we have our whole careers. We, we make jokes about how our generations will work much later, because we can’t retire as easily. But for me, doing work I love with people I love in the meantime was very important. So surrounding yourself by people who, when you say hey, I want to grow, even if that means you have to go, they’re still supporting you and loving you. That’s super important. Because those are also the people who will not hold you back from wanting to grow and self develop. So I as I said before, one of my strengths is input. So I like to read a lot of self development books. You know, if Simon or Brene writes it, or Jeremy at this point, I’m reading it, because it’s going to help me in some ways I’ve I, I am guilty of not being the most most introspective person for much of my life I was just getting by. And so in my early 40s, when life was calm, and finally felt really good, I started thinking what can I do to level up my game? What can I do and to be able to provide more if the opportunity is there. So for me, I didn’t go looking for a bigger roll. I just kind of it was so organic, but I think what you have to do is find work you love with a company that you love. And then just really, really be introspective, be a learner be a listener. When I joined this team, and I knew immediately I had a leader that would pour into me. I opened my eyes I opened my ears I open all my notebooks because I have too many notebooks and I just try to drown myself in knowledge because Is everything that everyone else around you if it’s a great team of people, or even if you only have a couple of people that are just super awesome, do you know do what they do learn what they’re learning, learn things about them, and what they’re doing in their roles and just be a sponge. I think that the ability to be a sponge as an EA probably is natural for a lot of us already. But just being really more intentional about that about those learnings and about just always, always being a student.

Jeremy Burrows 20:32
Yeah, well said, Be curious. And a sponge, it’s definitely, definitely a good way to do that. And then I think the as you are soaking things in and reading and whatever you’ll you’ll find topics and areas of the business or the organization that really get you up in the morning, more and more than those other areas. And so you kind of lean in on those areas more than than the rest. Kate, thank you so much for your time, thanks for sharing a little bit of wisdom and some of your story. What do you think in maybe a sentence or two makes an assistant a leader?

Kate Wilkes 21:22
I think that I think that the leader assistant is, as an assistant who not only wants to do a great job, come to work, show up, do the things, mark the tasks off, say that it’s handled, but they want to do more. They want to make I as far as I’m concerned, whoever I’m working with and supporting, I want to think forward beyond what they’re asking me for. My favorite thing about working with doctors was I got to learn what they needed. And they never had to really ask. So when doing that extra step to know your person, whoever you’re you’re supporting and know their needs. So that they don’t even have to ask unless it’s you know, random things or whatever, but so that you can make them feel supported. And I think that really, really will make an EI successful.

Jeremy Burrows 22:15
Well said, Well, is there anywhere that people can reach out to you other than LinkedIn? Or is LinkedIn the best best way to connect and say, Hi,

Kate Wilkes 22:26
I pretty much live on LinkedIn. And that’s where I’m at. But thank you. Thank you so much for having me, Jeremy.

Jeremy Burrows 22:32
Yeah, my pleasure. And I’ll put your LinkedIn URL in the show notes and people can say hi, and we appreciate you spending time with us. And good luck with the little one and the new, newer career path.

Kate Wilkes 22:49
Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Jeremy Burrows 23:01
You on Apple podcasts.


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