Rhonda Scharf is a former EA turned professional speaker, trainer, and consultant. I know you’ll enjoy hearing from her in episode 46!

Rhonda Scharf Leader Assistant Episode 46

Rhonda and I talk about AI and the future of assistants, advice for public speaking, tips for executives looking for assistants, and much more. Enjoy our conversation!


There is nothing more tragic than someone who has sight, yet has no vision.

– Helen Keller

Rhonda Scharf Leader Assistant Podcast Episode 46

Insightful … humorous … entertaining … even contagious 🙂 … words that are often used to describe Rhonda Scharf. A speaker with the uncanny ability to look at the normal and see something quite different.

Rhonda will share some things she has learned to help you thrive in your work environment, emerging at the end of the day with a smile and a sense of accomplishment. She has been in your shoes and knows the path you walk. She is a former EA to a Senior VP, and has been sharing her knowledge with others admins for over 25 years.

She has earned her Certified Speaking Professional, The Spirit of CAPS award, and was inducted in the Speaking Hall of Fame in 2017. She is only one of two speakers worldwide with this trifecta of honors. Her natural warmth and sincerity are balanced by a healthy sense of the absurd, a combination that is useful in any situation.

Rhonda’s professional speaking career began at age two… when her mother would offer her 25 cents to be quiet for five minutes!


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Rhonda Scharf 0:00
Hi, my name is Rhonda Scharfand today’s leadership quote comes from Helen Keller. And there is nothing more tragic than someone who has sight yet has no vision.

Podcast Intro 0:11
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident game changing leader assistance.

Hi, it’s episode 46. Thank you so much for listening all along the old worker in the pirate play cards because the captain was standing on the deck.

Jeremy Burrows 0:35
Hey, leader assistance. Thanks for tuning in to Episode 46 of The Leader Assistant Podcast. It’s your host, Jeremy Burrows. This episode is very fun with Rhonda Scharf And I just wanted to say thank you to Rhonda because throughout this entire interview, my microphone was cutting in and out so she could barely understand what I was saying. And she still was able to make out my words and answer my questions. So I’m very, very thankful for her patience, and positive attitude during the technical difficulties. Thankfully, I recorded our tracks separately, so I was able to rerecord my questions so that you all don’t have to suffer through the cutting in and out of the audio. So thank God for technology, and audio production tools to allow me to present this episode. Nice and clean. So anyway, just want to say thanks to Rhonda for that. So I hope you enjoy our conversation. Be sure to check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/46 and enjoy the show. Hey, everyone, thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast today. I’m excited to be speaking with Rhonda Scharf. Rhonda, how are you doing?

Rhonda Scharf 2:00
I’m wonderful. And thank you very much for having me here. I’m just as excited to be here.

Jeremy Burrows 2:04
Why don’t you share a little bit about what you do and how you work with assistants.

Rhonda Scharf 2:10
Sure, so I am a professional speaker and trainer and I specialize in Administrative Professionals. I’ve been doing that for over 25 years. And I come from an admin background. So I started right out of college as a receptionist and worked my way up through the organization and became a very unqualified EA to Senior VP, and kind of did the Trial by Fire approach to learning on how to be an EA. And then in 1993, I started on the right track and I’ve been traveling around the world, helping assistants be better, like their job better, get more respect, and do all the things that encourage us to get up and go to work every day.

Jeremy Burrows 2:53
That’s awesome. So when and why did you become an executive assistant?

Rhonda Scharf 2:58
I became an assistant in 19. While part time when I was in high school, I was a receptionist at a local real estate office. And then I went to college and I studied nursing and I thought Yeah, no, that’s not for me. And I joke when I do my workshops, and that I didn’t have any compassion. So that meant the best job for me to be would be. And at the time it was the secretary. And, and so I started full time as a receptionist when I was 19. And, you know, do the math. And, and I worked my way up, like I said, and I ended up by transitioning into computers, you know, and if you think about in the early, mid 80s, nobody knew what computers were and I just, I don’t know, I guess my brain wrapped around them. And and I jumped into computer training and it just kind of evolved from there into training and speaking.

Jeremy Burrows 3:47
So what was your number one struggle as an assistant.

Rhonda Scharf 3:52
My number one struggle was probably keeping my mouth shut. I’ve I’ve always had this issue with my brain and my lips. They’re not connected at the same warp speed. And my lips work a little bit faster. And I think I was probably a little too outspoken. I would say that doesn’t make sense. Why are we doing it that way? I would challenge the way and I never got fired, which I should probably say right out of the gate. But I would say my number one struggle was me kind of an amusing air quotes here, knowing my place in the early 80s. And that I was always assuming that I had a seat at the table and I was always assuming that everybody wanted my point of view when perhaps they didn’t always

Jeremy Burrows 4:35
so if you were to describe the job of an assistant in one sentence, how would you do that?

Rhonda Scharf 4:42
Wow. I would say probably the the the were the fuel in the tank of the car, and the car is a beautiful car. But if we don’t have any fuel, we don’t go anywhere. So I think that we make everything run. Awesome.

Jeremy Burrows 4:56
So what should an executive look for? When they are searching for interviewing and trying to hire an assistant,

Rhonda Scharf 5:06
I think they need to look for someone who has compatible personality skills in that you don’t want to be polar opposites personality wise. So if you want to walk by my desk and not say, Hello, that’s better be okay for me. And I better be able to walk by your desk and not say hello, or, you know, I really expect to Hello. So I think we need to be compatible personality wise, but I think we need to be opposites when it comes to how what our strengths are. So if I’m, if you’re really bad at details, I need to be really good at details. And if you’re really good with people, I need to be really good with tasks. So we need to be able to get along as a team, and we need to have a fully rounded skill set together.

Jeremy Burrows 5:50
What’s a tip you would give executives to help them empower and get more out of their assistant?

Rhonda Scharf 5:58
I think what they really need, and I talked about assistants needing to do the same thing back is they just need to ask a lot of questions like instead of assuming they know what an admin does, because let’s be honest, very few executives know when an admin does, they should be comfortable to say, how can you make this better? What should you be doing this? So you know, I need to get this done. What part of this makes sense for you to do? What part should you be doing? What part do you want to do? What part is your job? And what part should someone else be doing? Or should we should be outsourcing or whatever, I think they need to ask a lot of questions of their admins to see how they can really maximize their knowledge, their understanding their why they’re there. And like I said, I think that just most people don’t really understand what an assistant can do. So they don’t get everything out of them. And that’s why a lot of assistants get bored, or they they feel disrespected is that they’re not being maximized.

Jeremy Burrows 6:55
That’s great. So how can we help HR recruiters, other executives, other team members, as a whole value the role of an assistant?

Rhonda Scharf 7:08
Well, really, question, I think what we need to almost do is change the word support, because I think support to a certain degree implies invisible, you know, like a jock support, I don’t want you to be invisible, I think what we really need to do, and it will start with admins, it’ll move up to HR, and hopefully the executives fairly quickly. And that recognize that there I like the word partner. And we do need to be visible, we need to stop being invisible, we need to sit at the table put our opinion there. If that means we’re taking minutes at the same time, big deal, we’re amazing. We can do two things at the same time. But we need to recognize that we have a lot to value organizations, HR needs to recognize that and we need to be the job descriptions need to change and show that you’re more of a partner as opposed to a typist or a Travel Planner or Tetris player with your schedule. I think that that demeans the role and takes away the respect. And I think that if they start looking for that person who has the personality to be the partner at the table, then that will get much higher profile for everyone.

Jeremy Burrows 8:21
So for the assistants listening who don’t feel valued, or recognized or respected, what would you recommend they do?

Rhonda Scharf 8:30
The first thing I would I would advise them to do is when something is tasked to you or left on your desk, is to go back and say, Okay, I see you want me to do x, would you like me to do y as well, because I really can do that, you know, quite easily, or I’d like to do that, or that’s something I’m interested in. So if they’re not asking you what you should be doing or can be doing, we need to start offering to do it. Now I know that everybody’s cringing going, Oh my God, I don’t have time to do that. And I get that, I totally get that. But you’re never going to up your value in someone else’s eyes, if all they see you is doing little task work. So the little task work, we’re gonna have to figure out how to get it done, sadly, so that we can step up to some bigger stuff. So step up to the table and say, I see that you’re going to the board of directors meeting, I’d like to go, you know, here’s, here’s why I think I need to know, or here’s why I need access to your email, or here’s why I need to be part of this discussion. And to really just offer it not an aggressive way and say, You can’t do this without me. I mean, I don’t want you to be all you know, in their face. But to let them know, did you know that I can do this? And did you know that I can do that? I mean, I remember back in the days and I’m totally dating myself when Microsoft came out. And we had that that little paperclip guy, and he would pop up and say did you know and I remember looking at that going, I used to teach Microsoft and like I didn’t know that. That’s pretty cool. And I think we need to be that paperclip guy just on the side that says I can do that for you. Really great. Thank you. You made my life easier.

Jeremy Burrows 9:59
So you We talked a little bit about how assistants should come back and bring more tasks to the table that, hey, I can do this. And I can help with this. So let’s talk about artificial intelligence as it’s taking more tasks away from us. Yeah. What are your thoughts on AI and the future of assistants and what we can do to prepare for that future?

Rhonda Scharf 10:21
Yeah, Rhonda plug here, I’ve written a book and it’s called Alexa is stealing your job. And it’s all about artificial intelligence in the workplace. And I’m a big proponent of Alexa and our all artificial intelligence, whether it’s Jane, whether it’s Watson, whether it’s Cortana, or Siri, you know, all of those, I think they’re, they are what take away all those little tasks that we can do. So let’s be honest, Alexa for business can handle the schedule, they can handle the travel, they can handle the stuff that takes a ton of our job. And if we fight artificial intelligence, we’re going to find ourselves right out of a job. And so it’s to our benefit, to maximize all that’s available now. And to be on the cutting edge of AI. So that you do get that partnership role so that you do get the seat at the table. Because if they see us doing the tasks, and they realize the tasks can be done by $199 speaker, they’re gonna say, Hmm, where’s the business case for keeping you when I can get this done by a machine or I can get this done by talking to my computer. And so we have to be ahead of the curve and show them yeah, we can handle all that stuff. But I’d rather be doing other stuff or I provide so much more value to the other stuff. So I think AI is not only coming, it’s here. And I think that people that really resist it are going to be looking for a job, I tell the story in the book, and then I tell it in my workshops as well. How I got into training, as I mentioned earlier was as an IT trainer. So I transitioned from being an admin, to showing admins how to use DOS and turn on the computer and booted up and all that sort of stuff. And the company that I worked for had mandatory computer training, and it was WordPerfect way back in the days that beautiful blue and white screen and and I had a woman in there and her name was Hazel, and I’m not changing her names to protect the innocent because I’m pretty sure Hazel is no longer with us. Because back in the late 80s Hazel was way past the age of retirement. And she was the receptionist for the company that I worked for. So she worked in the front for a foyer, however you want to call it and so that big marble room and she she did switchboard at the same time. And so she had been there forever and felt that she didn’t need a computer. And so everybody was mandated to go to this training and she sat there with their arms crossed going, this is a total waste of money. This is a fad, this company is completely wasting their time. And because they made it mandatory on the second day of a five day training course if you can believe it. It took a whole day just to boot the computer. On the second day, she came back and she said No, I’m done. I’m gonna go home. And when they’re really when they realize that computers are just a fad, they’re going to call me back. And I say that that was Hazel’s first day of retirement. And people are saying the same thing with AI. They’re saying no, this is just a fad AIs are going to bots are going to take off like in a negative way like they did in the movies. And they’re going to come back to people and they’ll never they’ll never be able to do my job with a bot. Wrong. Like wrong. There’s a lot of your job. That’s the pocket. Most of us don’t really like it, it can be done. So we need to step step up so that we’re not Hazel.

Jeremy Burrows 13:27
Yeah, I definitely agree. 100% I worked for an artificial intelligence software company and my CEO. He says if you’re not automating, you’re going to be automated.

Rhonda Scharf 13:37
Absolutely. I 100% agree.

Jeremy Burrows 13:40
So how can assistants develop their skills, reskill develop new skills,

Rhonda Scharf 13:46
I think a lot of that has to do with attitude and being willing to learn. You know, I am at a lot of conferences and a lot of training. And I sort of asked people have you done this or that, and there’s still a certain segment of the population. And it does not have anything to do with age at all, that feels that if their company wants them to learn something, they will pay them to learn it. And if their company doesn’t want them to learn it, they won’t pay for the course. So the only type of training that they go to, is if the company pays for it. They never spend time on YouTube. They don’t listen to your podcast or my podcast or anybody else’s, you know, they’re like, I’m doing fine. And they live with their head in the ground. And I think what we need to do is be self sufficient. When I I lost my job in 1993. And I took a voluntary buyout, you know, they were changing some things around it was a recession. It was a real estate company. And they said, We need to cut bodies and I put my hand up and said I’ll be one of those bodies because I had hit my max at that company. And when it came time to look for another job, I realized that I was 100% qualified to work for the company that hired me, and I wasn’t necessarily qualified to work somewhere else. And I think what a lot of people do is they don’t invest in themselves whether that just reading a book from the library, or going on YouTube, where it’s free or listening to like all these podcasts or going on LinkedIn and reading all the articles, I think they sit in a place of denial, where their skills are good enough. And if it’s important enough, their company will teach them. And I think that’s a huge mistake. So they need to be self sufficient. And and a lot of admins Just don’t ask. I’m flabbergasted at how many of them when you say, is this your first training program? People have 20 years experience? Uh, yeah, I’ve never, I’ve never been to a workshop before. Mike, have you ever asked? No. Well, what’s the worst they’re gonna say? They might say no, but they’re not gonna say I’m firing you because you want to improve your skills. Right? So, yeah,

Jeremy Burrows 15:43
what’s one book or resource you would recommend assistance? Check out?

Rhonda Scharf 15:49
Wow, that’s unfair to put that down to one book, because, of course, I’d want to, you know, talk about mine. But mine. I’m joking. But you know, I don’t think it’s I think that the resource is, is probably LinkedIn, in that there’s so much out there. And so many people think that LinkedIn is about looking for another job. And it’s not, it’s about connections, I mean, your your next best job comes from somebody you know, not from an ad online. So I would say the biggest resource is to become active in LinkedIn, get connected with people that are outside your, your comfort zone, listen to the people you disagree with, listen to the people that you agree with, and start reading all the stuff that’s out there.

Jeremy Burrows 16:30
100% agree. I mean, that’s how we got connected. Yeah, absolutely. 100%. So if you could snap your fingers and instantly give all assistance more of something. What would that be?

Rhonda Scharf 16:44
I you know that the the melty part of me says I want to give you a balls. But that doesn’t mean I want to make you a man, I want to give you all and it’s not confidence either, because I’m not sure that confidence is what we’re lacking. I think chutzpah, something along those lines is I want you to have the skill to be able to say, What the hell, I’m going to ask this, I’m going to do this. And it’s I guess it’s the hotspot, it’s the the nerve to say, I want to do this, or I can do this, or I should do this. And to find the voice that you hear the voice in your head. I know you do. I want the voice to come outside.

Jeremy Burrows 17:20
So speaking of voice, you do a lot of public speaking, training, coaching for assistants, I know there assistants listening who desire to speak and train assistants as well get into public speaking and coaching. What would you recommend for those listening?

Rhonda Scharf 17:42
You know what, ask. It’s incredible. So I do speak at a lot of training events. And almost every one of them that I go to now, there is a section where we do a round table of learning, like tell each share your best tips. And that is almost always led by another admin. And so go to the organizer and say, Look, I’d like to go to your conference or I’m going your conference. Is there anything I can do? Can I introduce someone can I lead a roundtable discussion at your work, start arranging lunch and learns or like everybody bring their lunch and sit down and say, Okay, I listened to Jeremy’s podcast this week, let’s listen to it together. And let’s talk about it and lead the conversation and just put yourself out there, I think, for those and I’ve seen, because I’ve been around forever. And that sounds worse than it is. But I’ve seen a lot of people who’ve been, you know, behind the desk, who step out, and now they’re out there speaking full time. And they’re saying, you know, I just, I just put myself out there, I was willing to risk I was willing to do something less than perfectly the first time and get better every time. And I just asked, and it’s incredible what you get just by asking.

Jeremy Burrows 18:46
So what’s your best tip for public speaking?

Rhonda Scharf 18:52
Be natural, be yourself. The way that we’re having this conversation now is exactly how I do my public speaking as well. I don’t have notes in front of me, that doesn’t mean I’m not prepared. I’m completely prepared. I just want to be conversational. And so for people that have a memorized, you know, here’s my speech, that’s not going to land properly. But people that are willing to have a conversation with the people in the room. And when I’m in a room full of admins, you know, I’m one of you. And so I’m not better than you and you’re not better than I am. We’re all equal. So I’m having a conversation with my peers. And I think that’s your biggest tip.

Jeremy Burrows 19:25
So in preparation, do you write out word for word, your speech? Or how do you kind of outline it and prep ahead of time?

Rhonda Scharf 19:36
So yes, I do actually. So when I’m doing a new keynote, so sort of think of the big rah rah thing in a very large group, I write it out and I actually I craft it out and I know what my transitions and my points and my statistics and all that sort of stuff are I then it sounds really bizarre, but I will record myself reading the first five minutes into my app on my phone, and I just listened to like the radio over and over and over again. And once I have that five minutes, I’m comfortable with the rest of the five, the first five minutes is when people are really nervous. So I have no problem with people crafting out their entire speech that they want, and reading it and getting really comfortable with it. And then when you’re when you’re delivering it, you can have like little punch notes for you in front of you, I have a I’ll have like a little post it note, I was gonna say cue card. But again, that dates me but a little post it note that sort of has my main points or some statistics that I really, really want to remember. And it leads me to the next thing, so that when you get into the groove, and you start those first couple of minutes, your brain goes, Oh, I know where I’m going. And then it’s able to continue to go, I want you to know your content, not memorize your content. And that makes you a much better speaker.

Jeremy Burrows 20:45
So can you share your most embarrassing moment as a speaker?

Rhonda Scharf 20:48
Oh, and it’s, it’s embarrassing. Because I’m very conversational, you get caught up in the conversation and your your head is again, my head, my lips are not connected, right. So sometimes my lips are way further ahead. And my lips tripped on some letters. And the word that came out was not the word that I intended to say. And it did start with the letter F. And at that moment, I just about died. So while that is probably way more common to hear from a speaker now and and I, you know, I would never drop the F bomb in the front of a room. It was this was a bunch of years ago when you didn’t even say, you know, some of the words that I’ve said today, you know, and and it was so and I just about died, I thought the floor was going to open up and drop me and eat me alive and the whole room. Absolutely. Probably the biggest laugh I’ve ever had in my life. Everybody got what happened and what? That was not what I was trying to say. And it was hilariously funny. But one of those funny moments I choose not to repeat. Yeah.

Jeremy Burrows 21:56
How important is it for assistants to be good at public speaking. So I’ve worked with a couple of really good public speakers that have taught me a lot. And even though I’m an introvert, I’ve put myself out there and done more public speaking, and gotten opportunities to do do that. But what would you say to assistants listening who are like I could never speak in public, I can never be good at it. How would you encourage them?

Rhonda Scharf 22:27
I think the challenge is the word. Good. I think if we change that, how important is it for assistants to be willing to speak in public, I think that’s really important. I don’t think you need to be really good, I think you need to be willing to do it. And if you’re willing to do it, you’re just going to naturally get better. Because you realize, you know, each time that you do it, you haven’t died. And if you do die, well, then that’s the last time you do it. So you’re not going to die. And so you have to be willing. So as long as you’re willing to stand up and say, you know, welcome everybody to the meeting, I’d like to let everyone know, the coffee is about you know, whatever you want to say I don’t care if it’s that simple. Or to be willing to walk up to a stranger and say, Hi, my name is Rhonda, I’m the EA to you know, it’s just it’s the willingness it’s not the skill. I think that there’s a misconception on what it means to be good at public speaking. And if you’re comfortable, and you’re natural, and you’re having a conversation, you’re awesome at public speaking. And that’s a willingness skill. It’s not, it’s not it’s not some really great thing that you learned on how to, you know, emote in public, you know, it’s, it really is just the willingness to open your mouth and use those words that you know how to do.

Jeremy Burrows 23:36
Awesome. So what makes an assistant a leader?

Rhonda Scharf 23:42
I think what makes an assistant a leader is an attitude. And I’ve heard you know, other people speak about servant leadership. And a leader is really your attitude and how you’re working with other people. So you know, if you want to get you know, into the stereotypical stuff, a leader doesn’t say go a leader says let’s go. And so as an assistant leader, we want to be let’s go we’re a team, we’re going together. So whether I’m leading my friends, other admins, my executive, I think what makes an assistant a leader is the willingness to walk beside others, as opposed to behind others or in front of others.

Jeremy Burrows 24:22
I love it. Great tips. So Rhonda, thanks so much for being on the show. How can we support what you’re up to and where can we find you online?

Speaker 1 24:31
Well, I’m all over the place online. So if you if you’re on LinkedIn, if you’re on Twitter if you’re on Facebook, it’s at RhondaScharf all one word. My Facebook page has On The Right Track the name of the company Rhonda Scharfon On The Right Track, you’ll find me everywhere and just connect with me and just say hey Rhonda, I heard you on Jeremy’s podcast and thank you and and and I appreciate anytime somebody says I heard about you here or there I should be pretty easy to find. And so just type in Rhonda Scharf SchARF Randah with an H scarf with an H. And you will find me and I look forward to connecting with everyone.

Jeremy Burrows 25:08
Awesome. We’ll all share those links in the show notes and people can reach out. And yeah, thanks again and we’ll talk soon. Thank you. Thank you Rhonda for a great show. And thank you all for listening. Thank you to my son Weston for reading the joke at the beginning, check out the show notes at leaderassistant.com/46 also join our Slack community at Slack.leaderassistant.com leave a review on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts and I appreciate your support.

Podcast Intro 25:53
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