Sashai Yhukutwana has a variety of work experiences and is currently an executive assistant living with her partner and working in Johannesburg, South Africa.
In this episode of The Leader Assistant Podcast, Sashai and I have a fun conversation about seeing yourself as a leader, remaining curious, and overcoming doubt.
Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.
– Malcolm Gladwell
CONNECT WITH SASHAI
Sashai Yhukutwana has a variety of work experiences and is currently an executive assistant living with her partner and working in Johannesburg, South Africa. She enjoys social hiking trips, loves reading, having great homemade meals, and being a positive culture influencer and team player at work.
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Sashai Yhukutwana 0:00
My name is Sashai Yhukutwana and I’d like to quote Malcolm Gladwell for today’s leadership quote, hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.
Podcast Intro 0:16
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident game changing leader assistants
Jeremy Burrows 0:30
The Leader Assistant Podcast is brought to you by goody. If you’re starting to think about holiday gifts for your team, like I am, goody is a game changer. They have amazing gifts that people will really love including brands that give back to charitable causes. As a longtime executive assistant, I’ve always been nervous about holiday gifting season. But thankfully, goody’s platform lets you send one gift or hundreds at the same time without ever worrying about shipping details. Can I get an amen? With goody your gift recipients provide all their shipping info, and they can even swap out your gift for another option if they prefer. It’s free to start gifting and you can get a $20 credit when you sign up. Oh, and if you mentioned you heard about goody from The Leader Assistant Podcast, goody will add an extra $10 credit to your account. Go to leaderassistant.com/goody to start gifting today. Hey friends, thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast. It’s your host, Jeremy Burrows and I’m excited to be speaking with Sashai Yhukutwana today so shy is an executive assistant at a global company. And Sashai, you’re in South Africa. Is that right?
Sashai Yhukutwana 1:45
Jeremy Burrows 1:47
Awesome. And what part of South Africa?
Sashai Yhukutwana 1:51
Jeremy Burrows 1:53
Johannesburg. Lovely. Lovely. Well, I know it’s a different time of day for you. So I appreciate you jumping on. I know it’s really early, too early, as some would probably say for you to be on a podcast interview. But you’re dedicated. And you’re excited to share your story. And I’m excited to talk with you today. Tell us a little bit about Yeah, maybe one of your hobbies or what you’d like to do when you’re not at work.
Sashai Yhukutwana 2:23
I love to read actually, I have rabbit hole moments where someone will post a link to an article click on that. They reference other links and click on those. And if it’s not electronic, I got at least three books on my bedside table. And at least I don’t know maybe 30 more on a bookshelf somewhere in the house. Maybe 20 more in a box somewhere. So I think that tells you I love reading. If it’s not that, I mean if a partner’s home, we just watch Netflix series.
Jeremy Burrows 3:00
What’s one of your favorite books that you either recently read or currently reading?
Sashai Yhukutwana 3:06
I’m currently reading one by bell hooks. It’s called War about love. COMM I tend to miss subtitles, but it’s about love. All about love. Yeah, that’s correct. You can’t rush through it. So I’ve been reading it for the past month and a half because I tend to read more than one book at a time. After I read a chapter I have to kind of simmer a little bit in it and absorb it and think about it and share with 10 million of my friends. Just my friends really? Hey, this is what I learned. Have you ever thought of this? There was another conversation for an hour? So yeah, that’s my current favorite. All about law by bell hooks. Yeah.
Jeremy Burrows 3:51
If and then what about Netflix? What’s your favorite? Which one of your favorite shows to watch on Netflix?
Sashai Yhukutwana 3:58
Wow. A go to show that I struggle with that. I’ll talk about books all day, but I really don’t mind what I watch. I let my partner the day. But I started one yesterday. I think it’s called from scratch. I watched one or two episodes and I think I’m pumped. It’s a romantic romantic drama I think again I sometimes get Shawn was wrong I just started watching something and I gauge Do I like this or not. My usual is action a lot action movies or series of crime mystery mysteries. Those are my favorite secret city. That’s the other one. I’m watching with my partner. So yeah, that brings Yeah,
Jeremy Burrows 4:42
yeah, I’ll have to add those to my list. I haven’t watched either those.
Sashai Yhukutwana 4:46
flippin pop me a message later and tell me what you think about that.
Jeremy Burrows 4:49
Yeah, definitely we’ll do. All right. Well, tell us about your career. How did you end up being an assistant
Sashai Yhukutwana 4:59
well That part’s I did not look for the job. It was actually a referral. Friend of mine was very curious about my move back home. So up until this day, three years ago, I was in another country, I was in South Korea teaching English as a conversational English. And for some reason, we decided to catch up after 20 years we met through basketball in university. And he was curious, are you going to stay in Korea forever? Are you moving home? When I mentioned I’m moving home, he started taking an interest. So what you’re going to do, and I said, just get home, you know, you’re on vacation for three months, four months, depending on my savings, and then I’ll take it from there. But by the time I got into the country, and we’d spoken some more, I think he gave me my strength saw he was a CEO of some NGO at the time as well. And he found out a friend of his was actively looking for an EA. And he recommended Hey, why don’t you try out for for this, you know, get your CV together? And should I tell you, you should do I tell my friend, you’re interested? Should I suggest you and I said, I hesitated. The person who pushed me was our partner. It’s like, what do you have to lose? And I thought, I don’t just do that when it comes to work. I’m very purposeful about, you know, the kind of work I do. And I thought, Okay, I’ve been out of the country for a while, eight years to be exact. I need to get back into being interviewed and learning about the industries around where I can work fine, it will be a practice run, not knowing that, for some reason, I’d impress my future boss. And he decided to take a chance on me. I’d never been an EA before. So that’s how it started. I was hesitant.
Jeremy Burrows 6:59
Wow. Yeah. So never been in EA before. Convinced or impress them with your skills? What? What’s something in that first, maybe few months of your first EA role that maybe surprised you about the role?
Sashai Yhukutwana 7:20
That in some weird way? I didn’t have the basic skills to add a header kind of launch pad if I could put it like that, where it was really up to me if I wanted to make the role work or not. And then I realized that’s that’s been the attitude in basically all the roles have been in trading can take you so far. Qualifications could, you know, add something with your attitude, it was knowing that it was up to me to make it work. Also, I did start in in April 2020, which meant that, you know, it was hard lockdown in South Africa at the time. This was when Coronavirus, you know, was the new dawn a new word was about but the trends in other countries made our country decide, okay, everyone stay home. So I started this new goal in a new industry, with someone I hadn’t really interacted before with in hard work done in isolation. So that that made for an interesting start. So when you say how are the first few months, the first word that comes to mind is hard. I’ll tell you that. It’s very hard to learn a culture a new role, when you have to do it from home and you meet everyone through a screen. And everyone else on the screen knows each other from when they were in the office, you know. So yeah, that’s the first word, but it progressed. Anyway, you know, nothing stays the same forever. I was given a few people to have as context to help me in my specific role. And I just had to have that can do attitude. Otherwise, you know, when people would call me maybe three, four months in a row, and they tried to obviously get hold of my, my executive and they’re like, Oh, you’re still here. That doesn’t help. Because I’m not sure what they meant. Whether it was you know, how are you surviving in this role? We’ve heard you knew. But for me, it was okay. Is that a challenge? And I just and I just decided, well, I’m going to do this for me. I’m gonna learn as much as I can through this online platform that we are using. I will do some background learning I remember I did an online polls for administrators, one of those free ones on Addison Avenue, if you know ellison.com, I’d come across it years before for something else and I thought, Okay, let me just do something that’s going to give me a bit of a qualification on aside, and the company did put me through some training to help me. But uh, yeah, the first one that comes to mind is hard. This was not an easy transition from being a teacher. We I was in a classroom full of, you know, physical interaction. So, yeah.
Jeremy Burrows 10:17
Wow, what kind of teacher were you? What age group? What subject? Things that you said, right? Yeah, English, okay.
Sashai Yhukutwana 10:26
I taught conversational English. And the first five years in Korea, I could teach all age groups. We were at those private institutions. So you had the adult students morning and evenings and you had the kids in the afternoons. And then my last three years, I was in a middle school. So I taught the middle school is that’s the eight or 13 to 15 year age range. Okay.
Jeremy Burrows 10:54
So do you ever feel like it now in your current role as an Assistant, do you ever feel like you’re a teacher with a bunch of middle schoolers?
Sashai Yhukutwana 11:04
Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to get teach cats, some even teach a cat anything?
Jeremy Burrows 11:14
Well, so how long have you been an assistant now?
Sashai Yhukutwana 11:20
Just over two and a half years,
Jeremy Burrows 11:22
what’s your favorite part about it?
Sashai Yhukutwana 11:26
This there’s, there’s so many different parts to it. It’s it’s varied. The one moment you you’re looking at someone’s diary, the next moment you’re responding to a vendor for an event you’ve tried to put together the next moment, a young colleague is trying to find out how they can get help on the computer, but some things and I’m directing traffic, it’s so varied, and I’ve come to enjoy that. But more than that, knowing, you know, how I can help those different aspects of how I can help different people from those different aspects, that I found that to be quite satisfying, actually, not being annoyed all, because suddenly, the word just pops into my head. I don’t know if it’s because it’s 330 or three in the morning, but just knowing that I can help people in that way, they can ask me for something and I have an answer, or I have some direction. And when they leave, they feel, you know, less stress, less anxious, and they’ve got what they need. I’ve come to enjoy the variety of each and find in the work.
Jeremy Burrows 12:39
What do you think? You’re, you’ve been doing it for a couple years now. What’s has your executive? And has your team? made it easy for you to see yourself as a leader? Or did that come? A little bit more difficult to come by? Or does that make sense? Like what what has helped you really own your role as I’m not just a task, rabbit, if you will, I’m a leader.
Sashai Yhukutwana 13:16
When they teach, you know, when they say things that make me feel or make me think that they think I’m an expert in something, they can leave a certain. I don’t want to say a task, because I know they can leave certain things to me now take care of it from start to finish. There’s a certain trust that comes with knowing that my team, they can rely on me for certain things. They need to earn you to really micromanage me. And they don’t need to as much as this, this gave me a bit of anxiety at first, they don’t have to, they can confidently say in an email that, oh, this could be to another colleague or to an outside take an external person. Oh, you need this? I’ll leave you to sigh You know, so shall we’ll take care of it. Once I knew the basics of what is expected of me. And I’d had the time to connect with different stakeholders in the company and externally, and I saw what the processes were in place, I was able to just take in one with those situations. And my team relies on me in that way. In a sense. It made me feel like yeah, I’m an expert in something and I’m trusted. I think those two things are what gave me they gave me the sense that I could lead out in a certain way. And even in meetings where you know, the subject matters. I need to do anything I have to worry about. But I’m a louder voice at the table and the things I say are taking into consideration. I don’t always need to see it in right As I can see the attitude, and knowing that my name is mentioned in certain rooms. And if not my name, the process of, you know, suggested, it gives me the sense that I’m not looked upon as, you know, tea lady was someone who’s there for filing, they, there’s more to that there’s more that I can offer in certain cases. In terms of other colleagues, it’s a little different. There. I was so surprised when people will come up to me and be excited to know, oh, this is you, you the lady who assists you know, certain people, you do an amazing job with this. It’s only been here for a short time, I’ve heard that a lot in the first you know, six to nine months, you know, we have to take into consideration COVID, being at home, the lockdown, etc. But to hear that, you know, and I was in the company for less than a year, it was very affirming that people could look up to me in a certain way, that also gave me a sense of, okay, if I know what I’m doing, I can articulate myself, well, given space to make suggestions, people trust me with certain processes. Those are, in a sense, you know, the makings of someone who knows how to take care of themselves, and they will be a leader or themselves, and possibly, you know, a wider scope as well.
Jeremy Burrows 16:33
That’s great. Yeah. Well said. So what about times? Or could you let us in a little bit on what you do when you lack confidence? What’s What’s something that you try to do when you’re like, Wait, really? Like? Do I really know what I’m doing here? Do I really have anything to say here? How do you kind of push through that that doubt?
Sashai Yhukutwana 17:03
Is that Is it a title those words, imposter syndrome? It filters in? Not so much now. But yes, I had a lot of that. Especially when I was witness to how other EAS dealt with certain things, you know, they’ll they’ll try to step in, and then help me. And I would think, Oh, wow, I see where my lack is, or see where I need a bit of help. And either reach out to the obviously, I establish relationships along the way, but most senior EAS in the company, I’d reach out to them and ask them, Hey, how does this process work? What is the policy in place? And what’s the best way to deal with something? So I reach out to people who I knew would show me the way or, you know, spend time with me and teach me how something works, we’d get on a zoom call. And they practically show me the steps in how to do something. So I have had those moments, a lot of them. And I’d fight that inner voice. Yeah, well, you have too much. Now you can’t handle it, there’s a voice that just comes. What were you thinking, you thought you’d succeed in this as much as you did in teaching, you know, that voice would come, but I wouldn’t let it win. I definitely wouldn’t. If sometimes I was not, I’m not always in the mood. But if I’m in a mood to journal, for example, I’d write down things about myself that I know I’m good at, or do a gratitude, addition, you know, things I’m grateful for, those kinds of things would help me focus on Hey, these are your strengths. And you’ve used them in this way before, see how you can use them in this role. You know, I draw on my strengths, basically. So I’d seek out people who I knew would be willing to help me so I can identify gaps in my, in my everyday activities, I would then go back to myself, and find that voice and remind myself what I’m good at. And then I’ll see where the bridges are, where I can filter in my strings into this role and what I need to do. And then over and above that, I guess the same way I found your podcast the same way I found, you know, information about you would I would search I would search for things that are related to my role, and see what I could learn from others or you know, what was out there. But more than that, I think I came across all that information when I joined a network. So I finally joined a network for pas and a lot of that, that those feelings, you know, really disappeared, disappeared when I started taking up the role that I have now in the network. So yeah, That’s great.
Jeremy Burrows 20:02
Well, Sasha, thank you so much for for sharing some of your story. Let’s wrap it up with a question. You know, there’s 1000s of assistants listening to this episode. And what’s one thing that you want those listening to take away? What’s one thing you want to tell the systems all over the world?
Sashai Yhukutwana 20:28
remain curious. I think when you remain curious, and even if you know how to apply that in your work, and try it out in your personal life, remain curious about your role. Be very realistic about your strengths, about your experiences, don’t be afraid to, to think well of yourself, you know, think, think of the parts of view that are great. I’m not talking physical, as you know, attributes. But everything we’ve done before, all the doors have been EAS for from the word go, or those who come from other industries or other roles. All of those experiences, they filter into where you are right now, everything that’s happened before has prepared you for where you are right now. But this moment right now is not it. This is where you also should reflect and see, well, what have I gained from these experiences? What do I still I feel needs improvement? Or where can I expand on. So not only remain curious about the role you’re in, remain curious about yourself? I think those are the two things that have carried me from, you know, primary school, or we call it primary school, elementary school, from through elementary school through high school University. For example, I was a basketball player for 15 years for quite a while I started in high school, and I finished off in about my early 30s. I played in local teams, I played in our provincial teams, and I was in the national team twice. It all started off with curiosity. You know, and it taught me some of my greatest joyful moments, it brought me a second family, I have friends that have been people I’ve been friends with since I started playing basketball. And the same goes for when I was a teacher abroad. I didn’t plan on being there for eight years. It was supposed to be a one year experience that became two and then three, and then five, and then eight. Because I remain curious about the role, what more could learn what more I could do, from just a teacher to head teacher to foreign teachers supervisor for our school, networking, career. And trainer. You know, the when you remain curious, you discover things about yourself, you discover strengths you didn’t know you had, or skills and talents that you maybe they were laying dormant. It’s the same with my childhood upbringing has grown up in church. I’ve done everything at church, I’ve been in the choir, I’ve been a presenter, I’ve been a youth leader. But not only that, serious, be curious, but seek out company that will push you mentors are great. Or, you know, look at look at your community, listen to people, they are those who will support you. In an idea. You think it’s just a silly idea that I came up with now to look at the company you keep as well. You know, a lot of suggestions that came from friends with just that because they see some they will they saw something in me that I didn’t see. But at the end of it, it’s comes down to me being curious. So yeah, that’s what I’d leave with our listeners today.
Jeremy Burrows 24:06
Wow, that’s amazing. Well, I’m going to remain curious. And I’m going to ask you, but what was one of your What was your favorite moments during your basketball career?
Sashai Yhukutwana 24:17
Everybody loves winning, right?
Well, I think of them thinking of the two games in particular, where it was tough, where it was a close game, or my team was falling behind. And the way we rallied, you know, my team and I, maybe maybe partly because our coach was shouting at us, but when we remembered who we were or who we are, as a team, I played with some amazing athletes. And we just took it upon ourselves like ladies, why are we playing like losers? And Um, we’re winning team or were the best from the province. We’re representing our province. Let’s bring it let’s, let’s just give it our all just motivating each other. So I guess those two games were it was either very close game, or this one other game we were down 17 At halftime and for some reason we just ran it in. We won the game. Yeah. Yeah, the other games that we were it was easy it was cruising. There wasn’t much to learn from there basically your training takes over. But when someone or two or three of you in the team are just not in a great mental space and all of you just have to rally and push each other, I think. Yeah, those are the more memorable, memorable games for me. Definitely. When you come from a sore spots in the game, or you’re struggling with somehow somehow you just bring it together. Just put it together and you make it. It wasn’t memorable. Yeah.
Jeremy Burrows 26:01
So were you a more of a three point shooter or were you down in Makati?
Sashai Yhukutwana 26:10
Oh, you can’t see my hide. But yes, I was. I wasn’t number two, or whatever they call us. You know, they have so many different needs with Yes, I was a three point shooter. There’s also one of the smallest and fastest people on the court. So I was catching the fast breaks. The other side of that is if I did collide into somebody I went flying. So it took a few bruises here and there. But just getting up and getting back into the game. I was also always one of the best defenders. So yeah, yeah, basketball brought me a lot of joy. But more than that, it’s it’s that you know, having to have grits and putting in the hours and pulling together when things are tough. When it’s a mental game more than a physical game. Those Those tend to bring about memorable moments. Yeah.
Jeremy Burrows 27:00
Well, and those skills I’m sure are transferring to your executive assistant career and the grit and pushing through those hard times. And so yeah. That’s great. Well, again, thank you so much for being on the show. Best of luck to you and your career. And thanks for reaching out and taking a risk and saying, hey, I’ll be on the podcast. I really enjoyed speaking with you.
Sashai Yhukutwana 27:27
Thank you so much for having me, Jeremy. And yes, it was crazy. I literally just said, let me just do this. Thank you for having me.
Jeremy Burrows 27:35
Awesome. Well, I’m glad you did it. It was definitely a fun conversation. Where can people reach you or reach out to you and say hi, is LinkedIn the best place or do you have anywhere else that you want to?
Sashai Yhukutwana 27:46
Yeah, LinkedIn, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Okay, great.
Jeremy Burrows 27:52
Well, I’ll put the I’ll put those links in the show notes so people can connect and for those listening that will be later leaderassistant.com/191 Leaderassistant.com/191 This is episode 191. And thank you so much for listening.
Unknown Speaker 28:23
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