Amber Sullivan is a career EA with more than 15 years of experience supporting c-suite and senior executives.
In this episode of The Leader Assistant Podcast, Amber talks about leading a team of assistants, working with admins who lack ambition, balancing the demands of a fast-paced work environment with a fast-paced home life, and being honest during the interview process.
Management is about doing things right, leadership is about doing the right things.
– Peter Drucker
CONNECT WITH AMBER
Amber Sullivan is a career EA with more than 15 years of high level executive support and maintaining strategic partnerships with C-Suite and senior leaders. When she’s not acting as chaos coordinator in the office, she’s doing so at home with her 5 boys and husband.
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Amber Sullivan 0:00
Hi, I’m Amber Sullivan and today’s leadership quote comes from Peter Drucker and it is management is about doing things right leadership is about doing the right things
Podcast Intro 0:18
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident game changing leader assistants
Jeremy Burrows 0:33
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 goodie, we’ll 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 today is episode 194. You can check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/194 leaderassistant.com/194 And today I’m speaking with Amber Sullivan. Amber is executive administrative business lead at Trifecta nutrition. Amber, how’s it going? And what part of the world are you in?
Amber Sullivan 2:04
It’s going good. Thank you. I am in Sacramento, California. Currently in my office based out of downtown Sacramento.
Jeremy Burrows 2:12
Nice. Are you from that area?
Amber Sullivan 2:14
I am yeah, born and raised.
Jeremy Burrows 2:16
Nice. Nice. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s maybe a hobby that you enjoy? Maybe your favorite book or Netflix show right now? And do you have cats, dogs, kids? All the fun stuff?
Amber Sullivan 2:31
Yeah, um, so a hobby is probably, you know, my active hobby is definitely hiking. I love being outdoors. I love doing something physical that doesn’t feel like you’re doing something physical. I found that with hiking, you know, you’re working pretty much every muscle but you don’t feel it until after the fact. Whereas working out generally I get like 15 minutes in and I’m like, Yeah, that was great. We’re good year, we’re done. So I do love hiking. I also have five boys. So a lot of my free time, if you want to call it that is mainly managing their time and their activities, keeping busy with them. We also have a dog named Willow. She’s a beagle. She just turned two in September. So aside from myself, she’s the only other girl in the house and she’s my best friend.
Jeremy Burrows 3:31
Nice. What? So five boys. I have two boys. And I thought two boys was a lot. But what’s the age range?
Amber Sullivan 3:39
My youngest is three and my oldest is 14. He just started high school. So we are experiencing all of those teenage angst stuff. He’s actually trying out for high school basketball right now. He just had his first homecoming last weekend. So that’s definitely been an interesting transition for us. And then after him I have a 12 year old, a seven year old, a five year old and then a three year old.
Jeremy Burrows 4:10
Wow. So never a dull moment at home. Right?
Amber Sullivan 4:14
Never, never any downtime.
Jeremy Burrows 4:18
Cool. Well tell us about your career, how you got into, you know, rewind a little bit it says on your LinkedIn and your bio, you’ve got more than 15 years of executive support experience. So how’d you get into this career?
Amber Sullivan 4:34
Yeah, I mean, I want to say my first administrative like role was probably in high school when I started working the front desk at one of the local gyms. So it was kind of you know, receptions like back office stuff, you know, customer interaction and then from there I got a low level administrative role at the head. orders for a metal recycling company. It’s It’s across all of US and Canada, you may or may not have heard of it, but it’s called pickin pole. But metal recycling company auto recycling company. So that was probably my first deep dive into an administrative role I was there for, I think about four years or so. And that was probably the first time I truly had a manager that felt like it was someone worth working under. I still I mean, I started that job at 19. And to this day, I’ll be I’ll actually be 34 in a couple of weeks, and I still maintain a great relationship with her and I confide in her for work related stuff. So that was really like the the pivotal moment for me entering the administrative field. And then from there, I moved over to finance insurance with the Hartford Insurance Group. And I was the senior administrative, senior administrative assistant for the regional vice president there for the western region. I was there for about five years. And then there was just really no further growth opportunity within that role. So that’s when I transitioned to thrive in. And I supported the president of that division for a couple years. Unfortunately, that side of the business closed down and the office as a whole closed. And that’s what led me to my time with uplift Family Services with which is a, like a social services agency. They provide mental health services, addiction services, things like that to at risk youth. And there, I was the Administrative Manager for the Northern California region. So not only did I support the regional director, but I managed a team of eight to 10 administrative assistants, I oversaw probably eight different offices in the region. I developed and maintained administrative best practices, processes, things like that. So that was really a good deep dive for me. And my first step into like an official leadership role. So I gained a lot of experience under there. And then from there, I transitioned into the role that I’m in now supporting the co founders of Trifecta nutrition, which is the CEO and president of the company. So it’s, it’s been a heck of a ride.
Jeremy Burrows 7:59
Yeah, lots of lots of great experience in there. Let’s, let’s pull back the curtain a little bit on your experience leading a team of assistants. So was that something you volunteered for? Was that something they kind of just like, hey, you need to you need to manage this team? How did that come to be? And then what was maybe something that you could share with those listening, who also manage a team or would like to manage a team of assistants someday? As far as best practices?
Amber Sullivan 8:29
Yeah, so the the position in itself was Administrative Manager or manager of Administrative Services. So going into it, I knew that I would be leading a team. I also, it’s funny, because, you know, we talk a lot about impostor syndrome. And you know, even in the Facebook groups, or the LinkedIn groups that I’m in for, you know, assistance and stuff like that. It’s something that we come across quite often. And even now, I struggle if I’m given a new task or project that I’ve never had before, I have that feeling of like, I don’t know if I’m the right person for this. So when I saw the job, and I read the job description, I definitely had that moment of, well, there’s no way they’re gonna hire me or they’re even going to call me because I had never been an official manager before that was never in my title. That was never something that could be verified. But I’ve had experience leading teams or being the person that people come to being a subject matter expert, being someone who’s just, you know, the go getter. So when I read the job description, I knew I had all of the experience, but I still wasn’t sure if I was qualified, that I took the leap. I applied for it. I had a couple rounds of interviews and you know, obviously they felt that I was qualified and again, even When I got the offer, I had moments of like, do I take it? Am I going to fail? Are they going to fire me as soon as I start, because they’re gonna see I’m not, I’m not qualified for this. So it was definitely fighting my own my own head and my doubts. But going into it, I really just kind of approached it as I have with every other role in terms of like, you know, come to me, if you need support come to me, if you get stuck, like, we’re a team, I’m here to help you. The new aspect for me was mainly just now in an official capacity, I am responsible for the success or failures of other people. And that was kind of overwhelming. So when it comes to leading a team or managing a team in an official capacity, my advice to others who are in that role, or who are thinking of wanting to be a people leader is just really, you know, be self aware, know, your limits know your capacity, and is that going to be something that’s too overwhelming for you to have the success and failures of other people riding on your shoulders? Because that was definitely I think my biggest learning curve in that role was just managing myself and how to best handle those situations.
Jeremy Burrows 11:25
That’s great. Yeah, thanks for sharing. And, you know, when you lead the team, did you ever have situations where I’m assuming that like, most of the people you lead were lateral? You know, like, they’re all on the same level? Roughly?
Amber Sullivan 11:42
Yeah, yeah. For the for the most part, I think out of out of my team, everyone, except one person was lateral. I had an administrative supervisor who was under me. And she had her own two staff that she managed, and they rolled up to her, but then the rest were all lateral levels and had the same structure.
Jeremy Burrows 12:04
Okay. Well, the reason I asked is, you know, a lot of times I talked to assistants who have teams and you know, there’s a little bit of frustration, discouragement, when it comes to hey, you know, I’ve got two people on my team that are they really get it. And they really understand that their strategic partners, their leaders, and then I’ve got to maybe one or two on my team, that’s just kind of, okay, just coasting and pages waiting for tasks to get assigned to them. How, you know, how do I get the people that don’t get it to get it? Did you ever run run across any of that? And how did you work through that?
Amber Sullivan 12:43
Yeah, I mean, I think in any environment, you’re going to have those two ends of the spectrum. It’s interesting that you say that, you know, when identifying people who they get it, they know, they identify what needs to be done, they do it, they’re two steps ahead. And then you have the people who aren’t necessarily falling behind. But they’re just they’re not taking that initiative, they’d rather wait until something is asked of them. And we’ve actually been leaning in on that at trifecta. And we’ve been creating management trainings about how to manage high performers, how to manage unengaged performers, how to like, balance the two. And I think for me, my, my biggest thing is, I’ve had to learn to be accepting of when other people on a personal level are fine, where they’re at, and they don’t like they don’t have that need or that ambition to do more, or climb the ladder, or, you know, whatever, however you want to phrase it, they’re fine, just coasting and being where they’re at. And for me, I’ve had to learn that if they are meeting their deliverables, and if they’re completing what we’re asking of them, and they’re fine doing that, I need to be fine with the fact that they’re okay with that, and then be there to support the others who do have that drive and ambition and are wanting more, and I need to put my energy in helping them achieve that because these other group of people don’t want that. And that’s fine. So I’m not going to push them to do more if they’re meeting expectations, and they’re fine with that I’m going to spend my energy helping this group of people exceed expectations, because that’s what they want to do.
Jeremy Burrows 14:30
Well, yeah, like I said, that I think that sometimes we think, Oh, well, you know, since I get it, and I’m proactive, and I’m a leader than everyone should be this way. But really, like you said, there, it’s fine. It’s often fine to be an individual contributor who does your job and, like you said, meets those expectations. It’s obviously different if they don’t meet the expectations, but if they’re meeting the expectations, then yeah, you’re right. I think it’s, you know, at some point, don’t waste him much time and energy on trying to get them to be something they’re not.
Amber Sullivan 15:03
Yeah, I think and I think when you do that, it just leads to frustration for both of you. Because as the person trying to get them to get it and do more, you’re frustrated that that’s not happening. And then they’re probably feeling frustrated in terms of like, I’m just here to do my job, just let me do my job and go home. And even though you know, you’re I maybe don’t operate that way, we have to be understanding and accepting of the fact that other people do operate that way. And if they are okay with it, then who are we to say, we’re not okay with it?
Jeremy Burrows 15:39
Yeah. So okay, so you manage teams, you’ve got all this great experience, essentially taming the chaos at work? How do you? How have you with five boys at home? How have you kind of balanced the demands of the fast paced chaos at home? With the fast pace, chaos at work? So I know some people they put on their chaos taming hat, if you will, at work, and then they get home? They’re just like, Yeah, whatever. I’m, I obtained the chaos enough today. I’m just gonna let I’m just gonna do the bare minimum. But yeah, what? How has that worked with you, for you? And you know, this last 14 years or so being a mom?
Amber Sullivan 16:31
Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely a balancing act. It’s definitely a matter of finding routine. And sticking to that as much as possible. I’m fortunate enough that I have an amazing husband two is equally invested in the family as I am. He’s probably even more so. You know, his favorite thing in the world is being a dad. So I’m, I’m lucky in the sense that he’s got a flexible schedule that allows him to pick up the slack when my workload is being too demanding of me. I’m also fortunate enough that, you know, I find employers who are understanding of, you know, work is important to me, and it’s a focus, but at the end of the day, like, my kids are my main concern at all times. So I know people who try to avoid speaking about their family or their personal lives in the interview process, because they don’t want to be ruled out because of, you know, they have kids or don’t have kids, or whatever the reason is, but for me, my approach has always been very upfront, in the interview process in, you know, outlining, like, Hey, I have five kids, they’re in sports, they have extracurriculars, there’s gonna be times one of them is sick. And it takes two weeks before I’m back in the office, because it takes that long to run through the entire household, or, I have to jet out because there’s football practice, and my husband can’t make it in time. You know, like, I’m, I’m very upfront, and here’s what you can expect from me. And if you can handle that, then I promise you, I will bring value to you. And the reason I do that is because I don’t want there to be any surprises. And I need to maintain that expectation. Because when the time comes, I want to be able to say, Look, I told you that this might come up, or this is what I needed. And you said you were okay with that. So you need to be okay with that. And, and if I am ruled out of the candidate pool because of that, and employers are saying, Yeah, this, this woman needs a lot of flexibility, or she’s got her hands full, or whatever the case may be, then, obviously, it’s not a good match for us to the core. So I’d rather find that out up front than after the fact. And it’s really, it’s really funny to talk about that because I interviewed for my role that I’m in now, back in August of 2018. And at the time, my, my fourth child was just over a year old. My husband and I were contemplating having one more or not, this opportunity came up. I started the interview process for it again, was very upfront about here’s my life. And I remember telling my husband and Trifecta at the time had just signed their deal with the UFC. So there was going to be a lot of travel, a lot of sponsorship stuff, so they were going to need me a lot. And so I remember telling my husband, if I get this job, we’re not having another baby because I don’t, I don’t want to throw a wrench in all of that they’re going to need me I don’t want to take time away. So if I get this job we’re done. That’s the sign that we’re done. So unfortunately, at the time, it just wasn’t a good match between what they needed commitment wise and like I needed to be promised for flexibility. And so we didn’t go through with it. And then my husband and I were like, okay, cool, like, Let’s have another baby, here’s our sign. And then sure enough, three years later, in August of 2021, I’m starting my job with that company. And, you know, they, they were filling the position again, they said that they had spent a few months interviewing people, they just weren’t finding the right match. So they said, Okay, let’s go through, like, Who have we interviewed before that we really liked, maybe we should reach out. So the recruiter that was here at the time reached out to me, and she was like, Hey, how’s your life? What you’ve been up to? What are you needing? And so I was like, Okay, well, we’re done having kids now. Like, my youngest is two things are open a little bit more. Let’s go for it. And so here I am, and I hit my one year mark this past August. Wow.
Jeremy Burrows 20:57
Yeah, I was gonna, I was gonna ask, did they say, did they call you up and say, We know you have four kids, but we think we could make it work. And you’re like, actually, I have five now.
Amber Sullivan 21:06
I know, when when the recruiter called. And she said, you know, she had mentioned something about like, oh, you know, last few talks you had you had all the kids and this and that was like, oh, yeah, I’ve had one more since then. She’s like, like bunnies tails. And then when I was interviewing with Greg and Liz, our co founders, my, my CEO, and President when I was interviewing with them for the second time, and Greg had mentioned, he’s like, Yeah, didn’t Don’t you have like a lot of kids. And I was like, Yeah, but I have one more since we last met. And he’s just like, he’s wrong. There’s clearly something wrong with me.
Jeremy Burrows 21:45
Wow. Oh, man. Yeah. So I was telling you before we started recording, I’m one of four, three boys, and the oldest three boys and a girl. And then I have to myself, but my, I love being I love being part of a big family. And most of my friends that are older, they’re like, you know, the biggest regret we had is that we didn’t have more kids now that we’re older, and we didn’t have more kids, you know, it’s like people like, Oh, you’re that’s crazy. How many? How many kids? But then yeah, you talk to older people, you’re like, Man, I wish I would have had more kids, because it’s just,
Amber Sullivan 22:21
that’s, yeah, that. And it’s funny because I’m, I’m one of four, I’m the second oldest, two boys, two girls, my husband is the youngest of six. So he I mean, there’s a 25 year difference between him and his oldest brother. So both of us having, you know, fairly large families, at least by today’s standards, like we both kind of always knew that we would have larger families than most people, especially by today’s standards. And when we were contemplating having number five, it literally was a year long discussion. Mainly because I it took me a year to convince myself to do it. I, I was more so of the mindset of I want another child, I just don’t want another baby. And unless we adopt a child, like we have to go through the baby process. So it’s more of me just like convincing myself You can do this. You’ve done it four times. But then at the end of the day, I just remember I sat down with my husband, and he said, you know, we will never regret having another child, but we might regret not having another one. Or we might regret putting it off for years and years before we decide to pull the trigger. So it’s like, what the hell go for it like it is. It’s already chaos. It’s for kids. Like let’s one more it just adds to the noise a little bit. But then COVID happened when my youngest was like nine months old and everything shut down and, and kids were home from school and everything was just, you know, isolated and chaotic. And I just I remember sitting in the living room one day and it’s probably like, week three of the lockdown and everyone’s stir crazy. Everyone’s tired of each other the baby’s crying. And I remember looking at my husband, I was like, remember what I said, we already have four. What’s one more like a lot. One more is a lot. We messed up. This is ridiculous. Why did we do this to ourselves? He’s like, it’s okay.
Jeremy Burrows 24:28
Like, okay, well, but,
Amber Sullivan 24:30
but it’s great. He’s, I mean, he turned three in June. So he’s talking, he’s active. He’s definitely got his own personality and opinions. So he is now entering the stage that I wanted to fast forward to if I could have so now we’re crawling out of the needy toddler infant stuff and moving into preschool and now we’re entering the phase where it’s like alright, I’m glad we did this.
Jeremy Burrows 24:58
Nice. Awesome Well, Amber, thanks so much for being on the show and sharing a little bit of your story and insight. What what’s one thing that you’d like to tell the assistants listening, maybe a challenge or an encouragement? What’s one takeaway that you want them to take out of this episode?
Amber Sullivan 25:19
I would say, you know, trust in yourself the way that you trust in your counterparts. You know, we are a band, we are a tribe assistants around the world. We lean on each other, we give each other words of encouragement. And for me, I think it’s really just when you’re having those moments of doubt, or impostor syndrome, or burnout or whatever the challenge might be. Give yourself the same pep talk you would give your counterpart if they were coming to you. And really just believe in it when you’re telling it to yourself, because that’s going to be your biggest leg up is to just remind yourself of all the things you’re capable of, and all of the things that you’ve gotten through. And just really, you know, you can get through this to
Jeremy Burrows 26:11
well said great way to finish. How can people reach out and say hi, if they want to get connected?
Amber Sullivan 26:16
Yeah, I am on Facebook. Amber Sullivan. I’m based out of Sacramento, you can find me I’m also on LinkedIn. I’m on Instagram, Amber_Sullivan 316. So feel free to just reach out.
Jeremy Burrows 26:35
Great, well, I’ll put all those links in the show notes so people can find you. Again, the show notes will be leader assistant.com/one Nine for leaderassistant.com/194 ever. Thank you so much. Best of luck to you with your career and your awesome family. And we’ll talk soon.
Amber Sullivan 26:57
Awesome thanks Jeremy. Have a great night
Podcast Intro 27:09
please live you on Apple podcast.
Unknown Speaker 27:19