Melba Duncan has trained assistants since before I was an EA, so I am very grateful for the opportunity to interview her on the podcast.
One of the most life-changing articles I’ve ever read was Melba’s piece in a 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review called, The Case for Executive Assistants – which is still shared far and wide by EAs all over the world.
Then, the day I interviewed Melba for the show, she was featured in this Forbes article.
As I went back and edited this episode, I was blown away at how much wisdom Melba had shares during our brief conversation.
We cover a variety of topics including how to be innovative as an assistant, why assistants are crucial to an executive’s success, how executives can get more out of their assistants, what makes an assistant a leader, how to stay healthy and rest in the midst of a demanding role, tips for recruiting assistants, and more.
I trust you will be encouraged and challenged by our chat!
FOLLOW UP NOTE FROM MELBA
Thank you for the great questions that you posed, and for the opportunity to participate in your impressive program.
The question that I continue to ponder is, “for what are you most grateful?”
The most definitive answer is: Michelle Oosterwal.
Notwithstanding that she is my daughter, for which I am most grateful, I also acknowledge her contribution to The Duncan Group.
Michelle, as Partner, has brought our business to the levels we now experience. Her network is unmatched, as is her communication with the global business world.
Try not to become a man of success. Rather, become a man of value.
– Albert Einstein
CONNECT WITH MELBA
Melba J. Duncan is the Founder and President of The Duncan Group, Inc., a retained search and consulting firm. Since 1985, the firm has been advising CEOs and other corporate leaders regarding specialized senior management support resources. The firm operates internationally and offers expertise in the following practice areas: recruitment, organizational consulting, coaching and executive-level training for administrative staff, with a focus on C-Suite strategic assistants.
From 1976 to 1985, Ms. Duncan was Assistant to The Hon. Peter G. Peterson, Founder of The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Chairman Emeritus and Co-Founder of The Blackstone Group, former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb Incorporated, and former Secretary of Commerce to President Richard M. Nixon.
She is the author of How to Succeed in Business as an Executive Assistant and the classic, The New Executive Assistant: Advice for Succeeding as an Executive or Administrative Assistant. She has also authored numerous articles, including the now classic “The Case for Executive Assistants,” featured in the Harvard Business Review (May 2011).
In December 2014, her interview, “What Executive Assistants Know About Managing Up” was published in the Harvard Business Review. She has also authored numerous articles, including the now-classic “The Case for Executive Assistants,” Ms. Duncan’s upcoming book projects are Indispensability, an overview of career survival strategies in the new economy, and The Handbook of Assistants’ Best Practices, both scheduled for release in 2019.
Ms. Duncan is also Founder and CEO of the Duncan Leadership Institute, which offers a targeted curriculum solution for multiple tiers of administrative support staff. Institute faculty is headed by pioneers in executive education, Drs. Tom Ference, Norman Toy, and Joann Baney, Professors at Columbia University. Three educational programs are available: the Premier© Program for Senior-Level, C-Suite Executive Assistants, modeled on executive MBA programs; the Advanced© Role, Courses 1 and 2, offered on-site within the sponsoring corporation, and The New Executive Assistant Career BootCamp©, a rigorous, condensed, interactive and dynamic course, for mid- to upper-level executive assistants.
In March 2013, Ms. Duncan announced the launch of “On Point,” a weekly online radio talk show. The program’s compelling objective is to address workplace complexity and to offer a distinctive voice in defining the evolving role of 21st-century executive assistants, whose career achievements and collaboration skills propel them to the level of strategic business partner and executive life manager.
Ms. Duncan is a highly sought-after public speaker. She travels globally to address diverse audiences with a focus on the professional executive assistant and chief of staff as an acknowledged strategic business partner, with management, leadership and strategic support skills as the foundation for this transformed role.
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Melba Duncan 0:00
Hello, this is Melba Duncan, the leadership quote that I’d like to suggest, and one that I find to be very, very resourceful for any one of us who wants to remember what leadership means is the Albert Einstein quote, try not to become a man of success, rather become a man of value.
Podcast Intro 0:27
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become irreplaceable, Game Changing leader assistants.
Podcast Outro 0:39
Please review on iTunes.
Jeremy Burrows 0:41
Hey, everybody, it’s episode 22. Hey, everyone. Thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast. This episode means a lot to me. I read an article in the Harvard Business Review several years ago, called the case for executive assistants. And it was all about how executive assistants save so much money for executives, and directly impact the bottom line. And the author of that article was Melba Duncan. So today’s episode, I’m super, super thrilled to interview Melba and share the conversation we had about assistants, executives, the partnership, how to recruit assistants, how to empower them. And it’s just very humbling to me that I was given the chance to talk with Melba several years after I read her article as a new assistant, and how encouraging she was back then via her words in the Harvard Business Review, and how encouraging she was in our conversation that I’m about to share with you. So Melba Duncan has been training assistants since before I was an EA. She’s the founder and president of the Duncan group, a retained search and consulting firm. She’s also author of a few books. So I will share all of her information and her full bio on the show notes at leaderassistant.com/22. But I wanted to jump right into the interview with Melba. Hey, everyone. Thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast. I’m super excited to have Melba Duncan on the show today. Hi, Melba.
Melba Duncan 2:29
Hello, it’s my privilege to be here. Thank you.
Jeremy Burrows 2:32
I know you’ve had a crazy day today, you just had your featured in an article in Forbes, which is very exciting to see, EA advocates such as yourself, Al-Husein Madhany and Bonnie Low-Kramen and Lucy Brazier as well were featured. So is it been a crazy day for you
Melba Duncan 2:52
It really has been. But it’s a very exciting day, because we are finally starting to be recognized as the individuals who are just persevering and driving the concept of business partnership for executive assistants to we want to raise the bar. And we want to educate globally, the world on what this role is, what it can be and where it is headed. So I am absolutely thrilled to be included in that conversation. And we all seem to have the same desire to see change brought to the concept. And I would say perception of what this role is, and actually educate individuals on what it can be and should be.
Jeremy Burrows 3:45
That’s great, very exciting times. So let’s kind of talk a little bit about you and go go back in time a little bit. When was your very first job? Or what was your very first job? And what skills have you learned? Or did you learn in that job that you still use today?
Melba Duncan 4:02
Interestingly, my very first assistant position was as the second assistant to Sanford C. Bernstein. And I was hired, I walked in and he said, Okay, so one thing you must do in six months, is pass the registered rep exam. I didn’t even know what that meant. I this was really my first step into the world of assisting and into the world of knowing that CEOs do not take the time to tell you what they mean or intend, you have to figure it out. So that meant that I had to pass the exam so that I could trade securities on the New York Stock Exchange, because he actually did the trading for the Sanford C Bernstein company, which is a discretionary firm. So he would send the orders down to the floor clerk and I would as well acknowledge and keep a record and Keep track of those orders that were put through. So that was the first position for me. And what I learned from that was, know what you don’t know. And when you don’t know something, just admit to it, and then figure out how to get the information you need. But also, when the challenge is put in front of us and be put in front of me, you have to, if you’re an assistant, you really rise to that level. And I literally memorized most of the information from the course that I took, and came back and said, I received, you know, a B plus he said, You didn’t get an A, I said, No, I have a B plus. So. So there were standards that were established by Sandy Bernstein. And he said to me, you never say you cannot do something, you say, I will get to it. So he taught me how to think differently and prepared me. And with his permission, absolutely endorsed the fact that I was asked to work with Peter Peterson, when he left the White House. And he said, I think this is a good opportunity for you. It’s a different world. And you’re going to learn an awful lot. But what I learned from Sandy was, you know, attention to detail, and know what you don’t know and find out because that also applied, especially to my work with Pete Peterson, who were at the White House in a global world in which he existed, I had to learn from beginning to end, what it meant to meet and greet individuals from different environments, different cultures, different levels of society, what that meant, and he included me in most of these meetings, so I was able to understand what he wanted to accomplish. So the learning in both of these environments was constant. And you know, and, you know, Saturday afternoon, I am there in my office. And I’m actually actually sitting there doing what needs to be done to be prepared for Monday morning, it was not anything I would talk about, I would just get it done. I never wanted to be caught without having as much information as possible. So working with these two gentleman was a wonderful, wonderful way to learn what the role of assisting can be, and how exciting it can be if you’re really well matched with someone, you have to like the person who you work with, you have to want the best for them. And that has to be a mutual response. And then you have a relationship that is unmatched. So that was my learning from both. And it was a great, great experiences, great experiences. And I’m very grateful for that.
Jeremy Burrows 7:42
So when you were younger, did you ever imagine or even know that being an assistant was a career opportunity?
Melba Duncan 7:52
No, I, you know, I, I grew up in an environment where my father went to McGill University was a scientist, my mother was a nurse. So I come out of that, that level of education and thinking, and the the person in the school who really would sit down and speak with us, and I was pretty much a straight A student. And I said, she said to me, Well, you know, you could be a nurse’s aide, and you know, that stays in my mind to this day. And I thought, no, no, that is not what I’m going to do. And so I decided to get a position. And I ended up landing a position at Bernstein and company, frankly, I started out as the receptionist there. And I learned a little bit and then he came out one day and he said, is it I need a second person in my office And you’re it. he never asked whether you’re like, whether you agreed or not. You just said you’re it? And I said okay, so No, and I didn’t even think about a higher level of education. I was in many ways, sort of disappointed with that with that comment. But I decided I will find my own way. And you know, we never do others help us. But I just pursued this. And then I decided you know what I like it. I like the challenge of not knowing what’s going to happen next. And that to me, is the assistant position. I love that. And I love being able to anticipate and just kept moving forward.
Jeremy Burrows 9:23
So what was the just said you love being able to anticipate, figure out what’s next. What What else did you love about the role of an assistant
Melba Duncan 9:32
that you are in you really could add value. But it’s not about who I am as the assistant it’s, I’m here to help someone else to be great. That’s ultimately what I came away with working for Pete Peterson and Sandy. I’m here to make sure that what you need, if I am able to repair it and make sure it’s appropriate. Then I will get it done. So I like cuz the fact that that individuals that I reported to actually look to me, in many ways to figure things out and get them done, that’s what I love most about that role. And when I made a mistake, you know, as I did it one day, I said to him, I know I told you, it was 10. But it’s 10 15. He said, You know, you can’t buy securities 15 minutes late, I said, I understand that. I mean, I just remember these things. I said, I understand that, and I apologize. And so owning what you’ve done, and you know, you feel as though the world is coming to an end, I’m making it sound very lighthearted, no, but certainly terrified. Because there’s certain types of mistakes that I think now that I know what the role is, that you you need to be careful not to make. So attention to detail was something that I learned there and never forgot. And I would read sentences backwards, to make sure I didn’t have and then we use typewriters, I didn’t have a typographical mistake, in anything, I’d read things backwards before I handed them in. So it’s, it’s, again, the diligence that this role requires, and the focus and the caring, I think you learn a lot about who you are, as a person, and who you can be in terms of your intellect. And that’s what I love about most what I love about the work, I still, I think of every client, as a CEO, and I’m reporting to that person, even though it’s Yes, I’m on assignment. And I’m working on a business, a very different business model. But nevertheless, that’s my client, I have to make sure I understand temperament, pace, behavior, response timing, somebody says, I have three minutes, make sure it’s only three minutes, not four. So you know, you’ll learn to be exact. And by nature, maybe that’s why I was anyway.
Jeremy Burrows 12:01
So why is an assistant, you’ve talked a little bit about this already. But why is an assistant crucial to the success of an executive
Melba Duncan 12:12
because in many ways, and Assistant personifies that executive, but is able to take away from that person, if you have the relationship. And you can explain to that executive, what you are able to do and manage, you have to let someone know what you know. The reality is that that executive finds himself or herself with a level of freedom for functions that they do not necessarily need to manage. And the trust factor then becomes integral to that relationship. So educating executives and what you’re able to take away being clearly articulate, and what you’re able to do, and showing that you understand how to ease tense moments, how to get the facts, the way they should be presented, how to double check every single date, detail, understands skills, distraction, all those things. When you take those impediments away from executives, they are now free to manage what they need to be doing. And executive, in my opinion, with the appropriate assistant should never have to ask, Where am I going next? That person, if they see, they notice that the executive may have forgotten that, oh, you have a meeting in three minutes while you’re standing at the door, and you’re saying I’ll walk you to the room. Humor, humor is also essential in this role. So it is allowing executives to do what they should be doing. And as much as you can take away from that executive to free that person’s time. Here’s what you have, you have that turns into bottom line. Because if an executive is able to manage much more than he or she saw it, because you have an aide who was able to take on more and more responsibility. Well guess what you can do more for the business and for yourself. So it impacts the bottom line. So freeing executives, I think is critical and being able to manage you know, flawlessly. I like that word flawlessly manage schedules and contingency plans. Make sure an executive never has to ask where am I going next. But you also understand the temperament of that person. And timing is essential. And how you get things done is essential. So it’s freeing executives to do what they should be doing and enabling them to expand within their roles while you are also expanding in yours.
Jeremy Burrows 15:00
Let’s speak to the executives for a second, what’s what’s one tip that you would give executives to help them empower and get more ROI out of their assistants
Melba Duncan 15:13
share their intentions. Sit down with that assistant, and say this is, these are my plans, these are my goals, this is what I want to achieve. And say to that executive assistant, tell me what within the scope of what we have just discussed, are you able to take from me and manage, so demonstrating what you know is essential to that executive. But without that communication, and without sharing the key responsibilities that the executive must manage, regardless of what level that individual happens to be, in any organization, taking the time to advance your assistant into the role of higher level responsibility is, I think, an absolute absolute function for a good manager, that’s a great manager. But on the other hand, for the assistant is to say, here’s what I’m able to do, I still have 10 emails that have come in, by the way, I think, if you trust your assistant, you should share your emails. I have I saw 10 emails, I’ve drafted three responses, see what you think you have just educated that executive in what you’re able to do. And by sharing information managers of the world, by sharing information, you are educating that assistant into the business that you’re in. So you don’t have someone just sitting there doing function after function after function. They are all related. And once assistants understand, they know how to move forward, the right assistance, you can’t stop that person. They really are one of the most intelligent individuals on this planet, because no one teaches you anything, you have to learn it. And you’ll learn it the hard way.
Jeremy Burrows 17:05
Okay, switching back to assistants. So you just mentioned how, you know, if an if an executive trusts their assistant, they’ve got to let them into their email inbox. So I’ve been talking to assistants from all over the world. And they they’ve been hearing a common theme, unfortunately, where they are saying that their their executive either has control issues where they don’t want to give up control of their inbox, or they don’t respect or trust them enough to let them into that world. So right, what would you say to the assistants that want to step up and do more and manage? They’re, you know, simple thing like managing their, their inbox, but their executive won’t even consider it?
Melba Duncan 17:53
Well, I think you have to teach that executive what you know, again, no one knows what you know, they know what you don’t know. But no one knows what you know. So if I wanted to say to Pete Peterson, I can answer three or four of these emails, I would have to demonstrate that. Now. There’s some executives who keep their heads down, we have to understand, the first thing you learn when you accept a position with someone is to know who that person is, and who that person can become, when things go wrong. Because we’re all the same. We’re all one way. And when things go wrong, we become in most instances, somebody else. So understanding how to reach that person, sometimes through humor. Sometimes through you know, I will say, I’m going to walk with you to the men’s room, because I have three questions that I must have answered, in order to be able to book your calendar to make sure your calendar is correct. And so you do things in a way that shows that executive, that you’re not doing it for personal power, you’re doing it to help that individual to be better at what they do. But you have to show what you’re able to do. And if someone doesn’t want to pay attention, I know a lot of executives in many ways as we speak about control issues, showing that person how much you care about them, and about the work and about their livelihood. Because what this is what that role is, once you show that person, you can then say, okay, I can take this from you, and this from you and this for me, what do you think? And how would you like me to make that happen? Here’s what I think. And a lot of times assistants have responsibility for calendar decisions, not all the time. But if you do, that’s a great opportunity. Because you once you understand what’s important to that executive, you can then say well, Melba Duncan is asked to be on your calendar You’re on Tuesday. But I also know that on Saturday, she’s attending a function where you will be. And I’ve arranged for you to have a five minute conversation with her. So I’ve saved you that time on your calendar. That’s the kind of thinking that demonstrates to that executive, one that you’re capable of having that kind of strategic way of looking at time, which we cannot manage, we cannot control, we manage it. And we don’t even manage it, actually, we work with time, we are guided by time. So knowing that, that that’s a focus for you, educates that executive. So I think it’s the responsibility, unfortunately, of the assistant to really educate that executive, or those executives, who really feel that they don’t need someone to help them. Or though they don’t want to take the time, you have to make it happen. Make it happen. Here’s a cup of coffee. And while I’m here, I have a question for you. So are you are you walking Are you working out to get something? I’m going to follow you because I have a question for you. But you do it with in a light hearted way. And it comes back to really like being the person you work with.
Jeremy Burrows 21:13
I like that I walk my boss to his car frequently, so that we’re on the third floor, and we go down the steps. So I’m able to, I’m able to get quite a quite a bit done in that, you know, three minute walk to his car. So that’s right,
Melba Duncan 21:27
and you know, and you’re prepared. Because you know that, you know, that’s going to happen, I have these questions I must get answered, you know, and I used to do that I used to walk up to the car, because he would call me and say I can’t find the car and et cetera, et cetera. And I saw that as an option to get answers that I would ordinarily would not be able to get without going back and forth, and back and forth. And walking him to the car, you know, so we do these things, because we understand who the person is. And we can read body language. Not now. Okay, I’ll come back. Yeah, so what also was humorous and great respect. Great respect.
Jeremy Burrows 22:10
So what made you decide to start training assistants? And, and also training executives, what where was that shift? And when did you kind of wake up and think you know, what, I need to train and help and coach assistants for the rest of my life, essentially.
Melba Duncan 22:30
I have taken that on and I intend to continue doing it. I think it comes up, it comes to us, because two things, one, the clients we work with, regardless of where they are, we work globally, will tell us exactly who they are, and what they expect. So the position descriptions that we would create, based on those communications seem to me to be at a much higher level than the assistance we were able to detect in the workplace. And I don’t know that it wasn’t that they didn’t have the talent for they weren’t aware of what this role it could entail. And so we decided, and I’m sat down with the professors from Columbia University. And I said, and these are the individuals who actually educate executives, executives in economics at Columbia, and I said, you know, you educate these managers, I work with individuals who support these managers. And so in my opinion, I want to see courses that, in fact, will enable assistants to somewhat understand what executives know, of course, they’re not going to have a full course. And it’s a six day program. But it is a very high level. So it’s, it’s getting assistance to see themselves on the other side of the road. And so you do they have the professors in many ways, do a lot of they have preliminary reading material that they must do. We have case studies that must be analyzed. They do roundtable discussions with their participants in the room. So you’re getting a sense of what it is like to think along the lines of being an executive. And there’s economics in the program. And of course, there’s cultural understanding globally, etc. But I wanted, I saw a lot of ambiguity in the thinking of the assistant world. And I think a lot of individuals, a lot of companies still hold on to what I consider to be an old fashioned perspective and what this role is. So we now look at and you know, our team, we look at how do we educate assistants to realize they are in a profession. This is not a job, it’s a profession. And that is a vital role. And there has to be discipline, and the ability to learn and respond to change. And how do you know what all that means. If one, your written communication skills are inadequate, and your actual face to face communication skills are inadequate, we need to make sure you have the confidence to sit at a table and understand what is being said, and know what your responsibility is, for the determinations that are being made. So, to me, I just saw the actions of, in many ways, the professional perspective of the role of assisting. And I thought there are so many smart, smart people out there who do this work, I mean, really smart individuals, and they don’t necessarily have these advanced degrees. I know in today’s world, it seems to be a higher demand. But what you learn in being an assistant is how to utilize common sense. And most people don’t have it, and good judgment. And most people don’t have that. And of course, you have to have a good personality. You know, you can’t teach judgment, you have a habit or you don’t. And so to me these these credentials, and the leadership aspect and the management aspects, and the business partnership relationship aspect of what it is we we drive home to assistants and executives, because I’ll say to an executive, I let me describe for you who you need. And he or she will say, Melba, are you telling me you can find someone who can do what you’ve just said? I said absolutely. Absolutely. And it doesn’t mean that you have to only walk the walk of being an assistant, there are individuals who come from different backgrounds, and we’re interested in them, as well. As long as the attitude is right. The attitude has to be right.
Jeremy Burrows 26:58
So let’s talk about recruiting for a second. So you specialize, your team specializes in recruiting these world class assistants for your clients? What are some you’ve talked a little bit about the traits, But what are some practical questions that you ask the executives before you try to go out and find them an assistant?
Melba Duncan 27:20
Tell me who you are? And also tell me who have you ever worked with an assistant before? Where it’s been a success? And or a failure? And give me the circumstances around both of those? Tell me if you are willing to share information? Or do you prefer someone who likes to really find information out on their own? Tell me if you’d like to have occasional meetings with your assistants so that that individual knows what you expect? Tell me about the family circumstance? Are you expecting this assistant to manage family needs as well, because that changes the role in some instances, although to me are an executive life manager. So whatever happens in the executives life, you are involved in it. But if you want a personal assistant that is very different than a senior level, executive assistant manager level type individual that we work with. So I tried to understand and in some instances, I’ve met with the wife, well, Melba, could you have lunch with my wife? Absolutely. And I tell you, I get more information from that communication than I will get from the executive himself. And the opposite is equally true. But executives who really fail and I say this all the time, when you come to us know that I’m suggesting that we hire, that you hire someone who will be for you, a business partner, not someone who fetches and carries, you may do that. But you are actually thinking along the lines of your expectations, it is a vital role. So it’s again, we get to know those executives more and more as we present backgrounds, and explain to the executive why we have selected certain individuals and then we hear their response. Or the feedback that we will get from the executive after they’ve interviewed a candidate will also enable us to know Okay, let’s not send that person again, that type of person, that’s not going to work. So let’s move on. So everything an executive says to us in this process is as relevant to us and maybe more so. That in terms of when we assess assistants as well. So it is for me they staying a step ahead, is not what I try to do with clients. I try to work at the same pace as they are or as they submit to how we need them to respond. So it is, you know, to make companies who know how to hire our are in assistance at the level where we work is, in many ways still need to be educated to let these individuals, first of all change titles, that’s number one. But let the individuals work in a way that allows them to demonstrate leadership and communication skills because you have to have those things, they have to be evident for us. So that’s, you know, we, we close the circle. And it’s interesting in the team will say, Oh, this is the right person. And why is because the person has worked with an individual who has somewhat the same temperament. By the way, everything we do is hugely confidential. So when I learned about a client or an assistant, I do not share, I those are just information values for us. And I’ll say no, don’t you dare send this person because this person is argumentative. And you know, there are some executives who are yes, and no individuals, that’s it. And others like to talk forever. So you have to really know who to send. And if in fact, someone lacks the maturity, that comes out as well. And it’s can be in the executive side, or the support side.
Jeremy Burrows 31:14
So you mentioned being a leader, what makes an assistant a leader?
Melba Duncan 31:20
you demonstrate, and you share your knowledge, obviously, paying close attention to confidentiality. But a leader is someone who demonstrates different levels of skills, and shares that knowledge with others. It’s not that I say to someone, I’m a leader, that does not make me a leader, you need, what you do is you exemplify the qualities of strength, collaboration, empathy, which I think is essential for this role, as well. And carrying in always, if I see, to me a leader, in the support staff level is someone who notices someone who may look a little down during the day, and you take two minutes, and you walk over and say, Is there something I can do? Or by the way, team, I know, I’ve just learned how to do this? Does anyone need some help in that? Or, by the way team? Can you help me with something, so there’s a way to show that you care about helping others that to me is leadership and helping others to be even better than you might be. And these relationships are lasting, I belong to the seraphic society. And that I’ve been a member of that, since I worked with Pete Peterson. And this is comprised of, I think we’re about 100 or so senior level, executive assistants, each person must work for a CEO must be approved. And as they call it, the secret society. But the reality of this is that everyone in that room and we have an event, they’re all leaders in their own way. Because there are others in their organizations who may not have reached the level where they are and their role. And they’ve taken on the responsibility for, for guiding others in how to be great in this role. So that, to me, is leadership is helping others to be great. And not be afraid of competition. That’s, that to me, doesn’t work.
Jeremy Burrows 33:24
So you published a book called The New Executive Assistant, a few years ago, I’m not gonna say what year. But there was a phrase on the cover that said, you know, keep pace with the technology revolution. And that’s, you know, this was this was a few years ago that this book was published. But anybody that’s, you know, has has a heartbeat knows that artificial intelligence. And you know, the future of work is such a hot topic, and it’s still in the news today. So first of all, you were very prophetic, and saw the future, and that statement on your on your book. But if you want to write a new edition of this book today, what’s one new chapter that you would add to it?
Melba Duncan 34:17
Learn how to be innovative. Because technology is not going to replace this function. It’s not going to replace human beings actually. I don’t believe so. At least not in my lifetime. But certainly learn how to utilize technology to use you and use your intelligence and how to utilize technology. Now, there are companies where we go in and we work with support staff, and we educate support staff and how to learn what they know, know what they know, know what they don’t know. And to me, it’s looking at the technology aspect that we’re everyone It’s sort of in a in a in a with a blank stare. And I say, Well, why can’t you devise your own systems? Why can’t you design a follow up system? Yes, of course, it exists in many ways. But what how you work at your desk, and this was some of the comments I would hear Melba some of what we were using doesn’t doesn’t work, because it is not how the executive needs information, then create your own. No one stops you from doing that. I’m not suggesting you try to get that into a public market. But certainly utilizing and being innovative technology drives that. And to me, that’s the most exciting part of the change in the world today, is that you are being forced to think in other ways. And if you can’t find the information you need, guess what that means you haven’t spent enough time looking for it, because it’s there. So curiosity, innovation, and again, real self reliance. And knowing that your thinking is you know what? success matters. And I’m not going to stop until I get the answer to this. Technology makes us far more innovative than we can ever think. And creativity at the assistant level, is what makes assistants fabulous, the creative, you know, you can come up with an answer in a moment, just to protect someone else’s, a concern. That’s who assistants can be. So use that same level of thinking, and know that authenticity is a reality. But also create the environment that you need, using your innovation and using your technology, go home and figure out how to write a program that you need how to communicate with the executive in a way that he or she likes to receive information, it may not be an email, it may be a series of notes in a certain way, it may be a spreadsheet, create all those things that respond to how the executive wants to receive information. Now, I’m not dismissing what exists as the normal process. But I’m saying at your desk. In today’s world, there are different personalities and ways to exchange information, create your own systems, and there’s a joy in that is a joy in that.
Jeremy Burrows 37:25
It’s great. So if you could snap your fingers and instantly give all assistants more of something, what would it be?
Melba Duncan 37:34
Compensation. I you know, and I don’t even I that came right out because I’m thinking these are individuals who work very hard, and who are silent in many ways about what it is they do every single day. You know what, unless you’re an assistant, you really don’t know what these individuals do and what they are capable of. So to me, compensation really has to be revisited, these boundaries And these guidelines based on I think, antiquated position descriptions are no longer functional. And what will happen is that you will stop attracting the best individuals into this profession. Because we have individuals who come to us with MBAs and JD degrees, et cetera, et cetera, and they are top level assistants, they need to be paid well. Why not? You’re asking someone to work 24, I say 24, eight, but 24/7 You’re always working no matter where you are, and what you’re doing. So pay this individual, pay these individuals, and you will get outstanding performance. And you will also keep a profession really, really moving forward.
Jeremy Burrows 38:58
So you say 24/7, and I know that there are certain roles that are literally you’re on call and then some maybe not on call, but you’re you’re still you’re you know, you’re ready. If there’s something that comes up, how do you balance and how do you encourage assistants and executives both to balance the work hard to be available, be you know, ready for change and ready for fixing things and figuring things out at any moment versus resting and taking a break and staying healthy?
Melba Duncan 39:32
Well, you know, I say and I’ll answer this I follow you how you’ve just ended the question and that is the most important person is yourself. Health. Physical Fitness is mental health, fitness and mental agility. So taking care of yourself first is essential. And that means you have to know how to say No, we all have boundaries in some way. And for me, Sunday mornings was not I was not available. Now, if a crisis happened, I’m not suggesting I wouldn’t be available. But as a general product, Day weekend, you can call me any other time. But between eight and one on Sundays, I’m not available. And believe it or not, you educate executives, to know what’s important to you, you set your boundaries. Now, there are many assistants who have young families that they need to take care of, these are all established conversations before you accept the position. And you’ll still get calls in the evening because that’s part of the role. But the abuse of that relationship, or the abuse of that power, is something that the assistant must control and manage. This is when I’m available, this is when I’m not, you know, and you really have if you have the best attitude, and that person you support knows that you will do whatever is required to make things happen according to what he or she needs, then you can say I cannot be available on Saturday, or on Sunday. But I will get back to you Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoon, and you do that. But you have to draw that very, very, very distinct line, that gives you some your own space. That gives you your own opportunities to feel good about yourself. Because this row takes a lot from who you are, you’re giving up a lot of who you are to help somebody else. So you need to make sure you take care of yourself as well and your family. So I’m very, very, very, very, how do I stand? I want to stay strict. This is not a good word. But I do get concerned when executives say you know, we’re gonna need someone on a Saturday to run errands, et cetera. And I’ll say really wide, what does it have to be on a Saturday? And what are the errands? And why can’t we get someone else to do that? So we don’t, you know, we’re very careful, I listen carefully to who the executives are. And I listened carefully to who assistants are. And I say, Do you have the confidence to say no, I cannot do it. I will. I will get it done on Monday morning. I will come in earlier on Monday morning to get it done. You’ll have it by Monday afternoon. But I cannot do it over the weekend. I said,
Jeremy Burrows 42:36
Melba Duncan 42:36
Jeremy Burrows 42:38
So what are you grateful for?
Melba Duncan 42:43
My life. I’m grateful for having been in a world, I’m continuing to be in a world where most individuals I won’t I don’t say I won’t say don’t have access, That’s not true. But for someone such as a Melba Duncan, to be able to have the communication, and to get to meet the individuals I meet both from the CEO level, and the assistant level and to be in a world that where things are changing. And driving change is what we do. I I think for me, this is the greatest gift I could have. I also have a wonderful family and great grandchildren. And that’s also my other greatest gift. But I think being able to do this work and to think we’ve done something really worthwhile for this profession. And demanding standards be changed to allow for individuals who do this work to grow and expand to meet who they are. Because to me I’m looking at the pathway from senior level assistant to chief of staff why not? You don’t end and you know, chief of staff, I know that that’s a has been around for a while. But I’m looking at the assistant who spent years understanding the business, the personality, the products, the the communication, and you take that knowledge and now you move into that’s why we do these courses as well. management, leadership, direction, strategy, all that same person, if you choose it, you don’t have to. But that’s the pathway that I see for this role. So to me, I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be able to meet with the best individuals on this planet and learn from them. Because everyone I speak with and learn. I learned something new. I now walk out and grab my little notebook and write down a thought and say, oh my goodness, I didn’t even think about that. That’s brilliant. So I learn from all these individuals. So I’m very, very grateful. I’ve had a lot of gifts in my life.
Jeremy Burrows 44:52
That’s great. Well, Melba, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate you taking time out of your day to talk with us and My listeners are really appreciative of the work you’re doing for the assistant industry. And where can we find you online? And how can we support what you’re doing?
Melba Duncan 45:08
Well, it’s my email offices Melba@Duncangroupinc.com. And then we have the Duncan Leadership Institute, which I think we’re now connected, we’ve connected it to the Duncan Group website. So if you go online, the Duncan Group website, you can connect with us there. And of course, we’re running this program in August, and we’re filling it now. And ironically, we have assistants from Abu Dhabi, who are coming to this or attending this program. Because we went, we went to Abu Dhabi, and we did some training there. And they are now coming to follow through on this program, because they see the benefit of it. So this is again, to me, that’s where I get my energy. You know, I say, Okay, we’re on the right track. So we can be reached through our website, certainly through my email.
Jeremy Burrows 46:00
Great, well, I’ll share those links on the show notes so everybody can get those easily and click the links, and check out Melba on LinkedIn as well. And really support what she’s doing if you haven’t already. But yeah, thanks again, Melba. And I really look forward to talking again soon and meeting you in person one day.
Melba Duncan 46:18
It’ll be wonderful. That will be a wonderful gift. Thank you. Thank you so very much.
Jeremy Burrows 46:24
All right. We’ll talk soon. Take care.
Podcast Outro 46:36
All my data in a review on iTunes. Go bulls.com