I’m so excited to publish my first interview and even more excited that it worked out to have my friend Phoenix Normand as my first guest on The Leader Assistant Podcast.
In this episode, Phoenix and I talk about artificial intelligence, being men in a role traditionally occupied by women, what we love about the executive assistant role, what executives can do to get more out of their assistants, and owning our mistakes.
Phoenix has been a C-suite Executive Assistant for 27 years. He’s worked in Banking, Retail, Technology, and most recently, Aerospace. He created his workshop TRIBE U after attending one-too-many expensive, large conferences where he was left feeling uninspired, unchallenged, and with a stack of business cards from EAs he’d likely never see again.
TRIBE U has quickly become one of the top resources for top performing EAs looking for effective education and community with other EAs at the top of the game. I attended TRIBE U in San Francisco and was blown away. I highly recommend you check it out.
Note: During our conversation, Phoenix recommends the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown (it is a great book).
“People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. . . . The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
QUOTE FROM ANOTHER ASSISTANT (JEREMY MENTIONED THIS QUOTE IN THE EPISODE)
As for being an Assistant – here’s what I define as being my favorite part.
An Assistant is a person who is behind the scenes leading and supporting the executive team through the good and bad times. They are always upbeat, assertive and know that in the darkness there is always light at the end of the tunnel. They are never afraid to take on new challenges, be adaptable to changes and take initiative to learn new things, since by trial and error is the only way to become even more skilled and talented – or as one states – become educated by experience.
They are not sensitive when it comes to critique and are able to have grace under pressure. Meaning, even if there’s chaos surrounding them, they are the eye of that storm – confident, calm and they see the solutions behind the issues. They are the Jack of All Trades – able to wear many hats and can manage multiple personalities and tasks that transpire from various situations. They nurture, give advice and be diplomatic when needed.
An Assistant is the combination of colleague, partner, teacher, friend, coach and leader.
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Jeremy Burrows 0:00
Welcome to the Leader Assistant Podcast, episode eight.
Phoenix Normand 0:04
Hi, this is Phoenix Normand and today’s leadership quote comes from Theodore Roosevelt, one of my favorites. People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader works in the open and the boss in covert, the leader leads and the boss drives.
Podcast Intro 0:24
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become irreplaceable, Game Changing leader assistant.
Jeremy Burrows 0:33
Phoenix Normand has been a C suite executive assistant for 27 years, he’s worked in banking, retail technology, and most recently aerospace. He created his workshop TribeU after attending one too many expensive large conferences and being left feeling uninspired, unchallenged and with a stack of business cards of EAs he’d likely never see again. Tribe U has quickly become one of the top resources for top performing EAs looking for effective education and community with other EAs at the top of the game. I had the pleasure of attending tribe you in San Francisco earlier this year and I was just blown away by the type of workshop and the quality of the workshop that Phoenix put together with the high caliber EAs in the room. So I’m excited to interview Phoenix today on the leader assistant podcast. So let’s jump right into the interview.
I’m super excited today to have Phoenix Normand on the show, Phoenix and I connected on LinkedIn, probably a year, year and a half ago. And he’s been very supportive and very encouraging of me in my EA coaching and EA blogging world. So it’s been really encouraging to get to know Phoenix and support him as much as I can as well. And so I will jump right in with Phoenix with a couple of personal questions to kind of get kick started. So Phoenix, why don’t you just just give a real quick snapshot about what, what you’re up to right now.
Phoenix Normand 2:24
Sure. Thank you, first of all for having me, Jeremy, I appreciate it. And congrats on the on the blog. It’s, you’re doing well, I’m impressed.
Jeremy Burrows 2:33
Phoenix Normand 2:35
So right now I’m working on a group, if you will, called tribe and tribe you so tribe is a personal tribe that I’m pulling together of what I consider to be some of the top executive assistants in the world. As well as EA advocates I’ve got of course you and and Al Hussein Madani on as well, which is great. And a couple of more Believe it or not in the works. And the concept around it is really just to, to bring together a group of people who are just as passionate about the role, and really passionate about where it can be versus where it is. And we get together we offer each other community, you know, we exchange tips and tricks and best recommendations and that sort of thing. But more than anything, we we sort of have just a the ability to sort of build one another up and to help each other, you know, gain more compensation, gain more competence, that sort of thing. And it’s something that I feel has been sort of missing in, in sort of the executive assistant realm for a number of years. There are versions of it clubs everywhere. But I think this is one way that we can sort of support one another, you know, 24/7 365, considering there are people from eight different countries on the private tribe. And then sorry, and then obviously tribe you is is my sort of traveling circus I like to call it where I’m sort of helping executive assistants really level up and answer those hard questions and really talk about the kind of crunchier topics just to really get people in the right mindset to, to have the competence to go to their bosses, ask for more compensation ask for you know, more needle moving work, that kind of thing where it’s, I don’t feel you really get that push in sort of large, large, competent settings, it’s easier to do it when you can look people in the eye and ask, you know, really tough questions and sort of in a cone of silence so it’s so far so good. It’s going it’s going really really well I’m really, really happy with how it’s going so far.
Jeremy Burrows 4:33
Yeah, that’s awesome. I, You know, I had the pleasure of meeting you in San Francisco and attending your tribe you workshop and just was very, very encouraged by it and very impressed with the participation and the high caliber of EAs that were in the room. And so I think you’ve got a got a good thing going and anybody listening that has a chance to To attend one of your workshops, definitely check it out.
Phoenix Normand 5:04
Jeremy Burrows 5:05
So what was your, before you’re an EA unless unless being an EA was your first job? What was your very first job?
Phoenix Normand 5:14
Oh my goodness, my very first job is I worked at a video store, video to go in Union City, California was my very first job. And, oddly enough, it taught me a lot I the funny thing is, I was laughing with this, or laughing about this with my mother just a little while ago. And we were talking about the things that kind of make us nervous or whatever else and the one thing that freaked me out was making change. We don’t even deal with cash anymore. But the one thing that used to freak me out was, I was always impressed at the grocery store or something like that, when you give someone a 20. And they are able to make the change and count it back to you. I didn’t understand the concept of counting it back. I was just kind of like, hand people a wad of cash and say here you go, I think that’s right. And my mom actually taught me how to count change back to customers. And, and I was so proud of that. And oddly enough, that was one of the things that it’s weird, it kind of was a segue into becoming an EA oddly enough, because not that we can’t change at all or deal with anything like that. But I enjoyed the sort of choreography around it all. And you know, someone giving you something and you having to give them something back and turn and do it in a way that made sense. And that sort of, you know, closed the loop. So oddly enough, it who knows counting change probably lead to my executive assistant days.
Jeremy Burrows 6:35
Yeah, I mean, you gotta keep track of the details. So
Phoenix Normand 6:37
Jeremy Burrows 6:38
Good skill. So, which companies have you been an assistant at? And then what what kind of titles Did you support?
Phoenix Normand 6:50
So for me, I started in investment banking, so I instantaneously started supporting, you know, managing directors, that’s everything from it’s funny, they do them sort of an umbrellas. So you have like a, like a managing director. And then of course, they have, you know, a ton of direct reports all the way down to a junior analyst role. So I felt like I pretty much supported anyone from a junior analyst, you know, to a director or to a VP all the way up to to the managing director. So that was pretty much 11 years of my life. And then I skipped over to retail and supported the president of the Levi’s Levi Strauss brand. And then from there, ended up in tech, where I supported sort of softly supported Jack Dorsey at Square supported the General Counsel and heads of two of their largest departments at the time, which was marketing and product. And a lot of the products obviously, that, that we built, in my time, there are now kind of ubiquitous throughout the world, including those you know, we went from that little square card reader to pretty much the the the point of sale machines that you see pretty much every feels like every coffee shop on the face of the planet, every small business has some sort of square POS on it, which is really, really, really cool. And then from there, most recently ended up working in aerospace, supporting the executives, excuse me, the CEO, who was building the next or is building the next commercial supersonic airliner, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. So getting from San Francisco to Tokyo in seven hours versus 14 or 15. Bring it on, please.
Jeremy Burrows 8:40
That would have been nice when I went to Hong Kong. That was
Phoenix Normand 8:43
Jeremy Burrows 8:44
That was a long flight.
Phoenix Normand 8:45
That’s a brutal trip, right?
Jeremy Burrows 8:46
So so you know aerospace retail very similar.
Phoenix Normand 8:53
Jeremy Burrows 8:54
So take taking a step back. Like why did you become an EA?
Phoenix Normand 8:59
I think for me, it was it was by chance. Like I get that a lot from executive assistants, especially when I asked him the same question and in tribe you like, how did you become an EA and a lot of people just kind of fell into it. I fell into it. I was in a typing pool which instantaneously dates me but I was working in a typing pool at Montgomery securities, my very first first real job job, and I ended up kind of happening into an administrative assistant role, one of one of the bankers there who was labeled as the Screamer. Like sort of summarily fired his executive assistant on the floor loudly enough for pretty much everyone to hear and kind of run scampering away from the man. And sure enough, he I had been typing a lot of his research reports, was copy editing them without his permission, but his writing was terrible and I absolutely refuse to let that go out of the department. So he came screaming in like shortly after he’d fired his assistant. And as you know, I was, you know, editing my stuff with a few choice words thrown out, of course. And, of course everyone points to me like he’s over there. Like we didn’t do it. That’s him. So they gave me up. And sure enough, he’s, he actually ended up liking what I had done and asked me, Hey, you know, you’ve been a typist, quote, unquote, you want to stay in this hellhole? Sorry, was that a bad word? Do you want to stay in this place? And he’s like, or do you want to be an admin? I’m like, I’ll try it. Why not? And I was off to the races after that.
Jeremy Burrows 10:37
Wow. That’s great. So what do you and what have you loved about the role of an assistant?
Phoenix Normand 10:46
I think, for me, I like the chess play. I’ve always been sort of strategic throughout my entire life. And I’ve just enjoyed making things work and not having an exact script to follow. And the one thing I found with being an administrative assistant, and then an executive assistant, is that no two days are the same. I’ve never, ever worked at a company where my Monday looked anything like my Tuesday, and my Tuesday looked nothing like my Thursday, it’s always been something a little different and a little more challenging, or, you know, just having to come at it from a little different, you know, dealing with different personalities to get to the same, the same conclusion, that kind of thing. And I just, I don’t know, I mean, I find that like, salivating at the thought of, you know, walking in every day and trying to figure it out. And it’s been that way for about 27 years now. So, yeah, I think that’s it just the sort of chess play and randomness of it all. It’s really kind of exciting to me.
Jeremy Burrows 11:47
Yeah, I agree. I think my it’s kind of been my motto is there’s never a dull moment. And I, you know, same same as you I don’t show up thinking of it’s going to be just like it was yesterday, or this is going to be just like last week, and it just keeps you on your toes and keeps things interesting.
Phoenix Normand 12:03
Exactly, exactly. And there aren’t many jobs in life, to be honest with you, as far as I found, that offer that sort of same randomness and the same Figure it out, if you will.
Jeremy Burrows 12:16
Phoenix Normand 12:16
a lot of them are just sort of very solo very focused. One Note things and I could not work like that I get bored so easily. So yeah, so it’s, it’s worked out perfect. For me, I think I literally from the jump fell into my calling. So
Jeremy Burrows 12:32
awesome. Well, let’s, let’s talk a little bit about artificial intelligence. As you know, I work for an artificial intelligence software company and get a little bit of inside scoop to the future. But what are your thoughts on AI? And what should assistants to do, to kind of prepare themselves for the future of work?
Phoenix Normand 12:56
I’m absolutely fascinated with AI. I mean, I’m fascinated pretty with much anything that even remotely sniffs of the Jetsons, I’ll be honest with you. So, you know, this whole AI talk, which I know scares a lot of people, or makes a lot of people sort of, you know, glass over. I’m all about it. I mean, I, I’m fully immersed, meaning I’ve already taken one course, I’m about two weeks into a three month course and deep learning. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s just so fascinating to me. And the funny thing is, I’ll give just a quick pivotal moment is the Google had, or they created an AI bot essentially, that, that they that they introduced in sort of like this big fanfare, press conference, if you will, where that particular bot, and you’ve probably seen this, probably many times, ended up you know, calling and making a hair appointment, and another one made a restaurant reservation, and just how perfectly done and how perfectly executed it was, including feel and texture of the voices, the the sort of almost, would you call it, just casualness of it. And the fact that the person on the other line had no idea that a bot was calling them, right? Blew my mind like bowl completely blew my mind and completely opened up, like all these new synapses, where I’m like, wow, this is going to be the thing very quickly. So, you know, to your question, you know, what do you think of AI? I mean, bring it on. I mean, I, I know the fear is that it’s going to start to, displacing people. And yes, that will happen. I mean, it’s no different than, you know, automation has displaced people for for decades, if not all over a century. But this is going to be in such a way where I don’t necessarily fear it. I think we now assistants have an opportunity to really, you know, dig in and learn about it and try to really understand the inner workings and understand really the purpose of it, as opposed to fearing the purpose of it, it’s not to displace us, it’s actually to enhance what we already do, and take away a lot of the sort of, you know, mundane, very, you know, work that humans have been doing forever, that we don’t really need to do anymore, like handed off to a bot and go do something much more, you know, exciting, much more needle moving. And that’s, that’s kind of how I approach this whole AI thing. I mean, I think we really, especially assistants, because we tend to be that, that, you know, I’m not only the biggest cheerleader, but also the sort of beta testers, for a lot of things that go on in the company, so if we can really embrace it, and really get, you know, get really intelligent about it, understand it and get a little bit deeper than surface level and our knowledge around it, then we can be the ones who helped to bring it to life and help to who knows, you know, who knows, train part of the company or, or at least advocate about, about what it can do and how much you know how much easier our lives can be once we do implement it? So,
Jeremy Burrows 16:05
yeah, so what would be, like just a very practical takeaway for assistants that you would say, hey, you know, do this one thing, in the next few weeks or a few months to really prepare yourself For AI?
Phoenix Normand 16:21
I think, one of the a couple of things, like, for instance, I did it in a recent classes, you know, download google assistant, that’s the easiest thing you can do. It’s free, you know, it’s free learning, it’s the way I look at it. And the reason I say that is, I, the idea is, it’s a free app, it’s something that you can sort of, you know, ask a million questions, and, you know, make your questions really intense and make them really, you know, multi legged, and anything just to get an an idea of how good AI is, and that sort of very rudimentary version of it, of course, but it will allow you to really get comfortable with it and think about, you know, the extent that you can actually use it and add, you know, add it to your day to day processes. We did sort of an example in class recently, where I said, you know, hey, Google, you know, tell me the GDP of like, Mongolia or something like that. And obviously, that’s not something we have to deal with on a daily basis, but, you know, then we sort of broke it out. And I’m like, Okay, well, hey, Google, tell me what the, you know, the top five flights from Denver to Los Angeles are told me the cheapest flights from Denver to San Diego. What, what, you know, visas as do you need for the country a, Country B, country C, and just doing this and showing people in class, this is where we are now, like, you didn’t even have this loaded on your machine. But instead of you doing physical, you know, Google searches with physical keystrokes, you can speak into the phone that you use every single day, all day long, and, and literally get this information, bank it somewhere, and, and move on, you know, to other to other, you know, more important tasks. And it I think it finally clicked like, oh, wow, I can already do this. Second thing is, you know, take a class, there are amazing online learning institutions out there, for instance, the classes that I’m taking or through Coursera, you know, where you just pop on, pay 50 bucks, and you can get that probably written off by your company, because it’s, it’s, it’s continued education, and just take a class. One class that I took was supposed to take three weeks, I did it in two days. It’s you know, if you can devote the time, then by all means you can do it. And so I’d say again, don’t fear it. Jump in with both feet. And you’ll see it’s it’s a lot less scary once you do
Jeremy Burrows 18:45
love it. Totally agree. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Phoenix Normand 18:51
You probably could’ve.
Jeremy Burrows 18:53
So what about let’s, let’s talk a little bit for a couple minutes about, you know, you and I are men, and there was a US Census. I think it’s from 2006 to 2010. The stats were that only 4% of assistants were men.
Phoenix Normand 19:12
Jeremy Burrows 19:12
So do you have any thoughts or observations from your time as a male assistant in a world of female dominated Assistants?
Phoenix Normand 19:22
I do. Um, you know, when I started, I was a unicorn. I mean, I started back in the, you know, the sort of late Well, actually, because it was late 90s Right. around .com 1.0 and I think I was the only male assistant in all of Montgomery securities at the time. And it was, again, kind of by attrition, but it turned out to be kind of a good thing for me because it allowed me to sort of stay under the radar like people didn’t really take me seriously anyway, especially the sort of female majority of executive assistants until I really started digging in and getting you know, really getting my teeth into the role Asking questions and performing at a level that a lot of people weren’t at the time. And then it sort of clicked. Like, for a lot of people, it really wasn’t a gender thing, there really was no big deal, it was just a matter of, you know, can you get it done, that’s all I care about. And everything was kind of turn and burn at the time. So I don’t think my gender even entered into the conversation. So but where it did start to become a thing, if you will, I think is more is more recently than ever, is the fact that more men are entering entering the role. And I haven’t really experienced any sort of, you know, misconduct or, you know, backbiting and fighting and all this other stuff, I, I’ll be honest with you, I’ve dealt with a lot of sabotage in my career. For instance, I’ll just a quick thing, when I worked at Levi Strauss, you know, I started there as a contractor, that’s really the only way you could get in, I ended up working for someone, killed it, because that’s kind of what I do, and, you know, within six months, I was supporting the president of the brand. There were, there were assistants there, females, specifically, who had worked there for many, many, many, many years, who thought they were kind of next in line, or at least would be up for the role. But I, I ended up getting it, you know, and I had just gotten off of being a contractor. And by them hiring me, I ended up that was my first permanent role. So as you can imagine, I mean, my back was full of knife, the holes, and everything else. And then unfortunately, it did become this weird, you know, sort of he versus she thing, which I thought I thought was kind of ridiculous. To be honest with you, it was really bad effort. But inevitably, that’s that’s kind of what it evolved into. And I see it a lot. Now even. For instance, and I’m sorry, I don’t want to go over time here. But I chatted about this in a couple of my classes. And, for instance, the class that I just had a female executive assistant, just kind of said, the, I don’t want to offend you. But, you know, it still kind of bums me out that you are the advocate for us, meaning us being women, who we still kind of dominate this role. And I have to admit, I agree, I find it I always say I find it annoying, that I have to be the one sort of out out on, you know, in the public eye and beating the drum and kicking down doors and everything else. Yeah, but the reason I do it is because, you know, I I’m hoping that I’m paying that privilege forward, because I’m a dude, let’s be honest, I, I do get certain advantages, especially from other dudes. But you know, what I also think is, it’s easier for me to sort of put my neck on the chopping block, than it is for a lot of women who aren’t necessarily taught to be, you know, gangster like me, if you will, or to, you know, to really speak out of turn or to really, you know, beat the drum, because let’s be honest, they get labeled things that just aren’t fair. By having, you know, a strong opinion by having, you know, pointed questions, that sort of thing. So, yes, I get away with it, I admit it, a lot of the posts that I post on LinkedIn, most women would never post just because it would instantaneously you know, bring this this ire from people and it’s sad that we’re still in you know, we were in 2019 And that’s, that’s still a thing. But at the same time, I’m like, Please obsolete me forward to be obsoleted because I really want women to sort of stand in their power and really understand that they not only do they matter, they’re a force and what I think I’m helping to build is this this wave of energy and, and competence and competence and, and accountability, if you will, that gets women to the point where they’re just like, you know, what, enough I’m not going to be you know, you know underutilized I’m not going to be under compensated I’m not going to allow people to you know, make these excuses about why they won’t give me a raise this sort of thing and I’m already seeing that happen. And I’m you know, from the tribe even and you’ve probably witnessed this, you’re already seeing some people really develop especially female really develop into these, you know, amazing authoritative well spoken well prepared people who will eventually kind of take the reins hopefully from me hopefully from you a little bit as well. And really didn’t really do it and really make make make some change.
Jeremy Burrows 24:34
Yeah, you know, I had connected with a EA in on LinkedIn. And I was just asking her, what, you know what her favorite part about being an assistant was, and she wrote this, like, two or three paragraph masterpiece of what an assistant was, and I was just like, this is this is mind blowing. Like I don’t think I don’t I’ve never written I’ve certainly never written anything like this and let alone heard it and I was like, you know, what do you write? Do you have a blog? Like what? Right? You’re putting stuff out? And she’s like, Well, I do poetry and whatnot. But so anyway, I was like, Well, you know, let’s talk because I’d love to share this snippet. Right? And, you know, get your voice out there, because this is just crazy. Good. So anyway, yeah, it’s, I agree, I’m totally excited to support and do whatever I can to help and encourage other women that want to, you know, start their own EA coaching service, or start their own conference, or whatever it is, like, you know, we’re in this together, and we all want the same thing we want EAs to be respected and compensated fairly and, yeah. So there’s no reason to fight and bicker and try to, you know, play Game of Thrones on this thing.
Phoenix Normand 26:05
Jeremy Burrows 26:05
So anyway, if you, let’s go to a couple more questions, if you got a few more minutes. So what how would you describe the job of an assistance, or of an assistant in one, one or two sentences?
Phoenix Normand 26:21
Hmm. That’s interesting, I’d say really, it boils down to, you know, I want use an expletive, but I think you will understand the word I’m going to use, you know, make things happen. Yeah, called our dot, dot, dot gracefully. I still believe that there’s an expectation among ourselves, but then also among our executives, of things, just happening, things just working, you know, things happening seamlessly, without any drama without really any conversation, and they just, things just work. And I believe the best of us, still kind of follow that as, almost as a mantra, you know, doing what we can, you know, I hate that whole phrase, you know, calm from chaos thing, because who wants to step into chaos anyway, but I liked the concept of, you know, making sure that the water on the surface is clear, even though Mount Vesuvius might be erupting underneath the water, right? I love what I do, and kind of how I approached the role is making sure that the water appears perfectly clear and glassy, on the surface, and doing everything that I can to make sure that you know, I can mitigate the disruption, etc, below the surface, so that my boss can really kind of focus on the thing, the things that he or she does well, and that moves the needle forward and, you know, helps to build a company helps to basically put even more money in all of our buckets, if it’s, I take great responsibility with that. Because if I’m able to create that sort of calm, glassy surface, and I know for a fact that they also feel calm, and able to really ideate at a level that doesn’t include all of the anxiety and, and sort of stresses and, you know, multiple voices, etc, that we’re dealing with. I was born to do this as far as I’m concerned. So I’m used to dealing with, quote, unquote, chaos. But if I’m able to create an environment for someone else that allows them to, again, be their best selves and to do their best work, then that’s, I think, essentially why I was hired and what I you know, what I always aspire to on a daily basis.
Jeremy Burrows 28:37
That’s great. Awesome. Well, do you have any crazy stories from your, from your career as an assistant, you know, PG 13.
Phoenix Normand 28:47
Anything I can tell? that’ll, that’ll clear the Apple Apple centers?
Jeremy Burrows 28:53
Yeah, just remember, this is a public podcasts.
Phoenix Normand 28:56
And children may be listening.
Just kidding. I have many, as you can imagine, in fact, I’m writing a book with many of those in there. I probably say the craziest thing. Wow, I don’t want to tell that one I was a little too Animal House. I probably say one of the craziest things, Oddly enough. It’s not a happy story. It was kind of a sad story, but, but it was one of kind of one of my proudest moments. So I at the time was working kind of like a hybrid EA and corporate event manager, and I was on a gig in Los Cabos Mexico. And when I was there, it was when JFK Jr’s plane went down. And one of the passengers on the plane was JFK. Junior’s, I think fiance. I don’t know if they were married at the time, or they weren’t. It was her sister Lauren, and Lauren was actually supposed to come to my event. And as you can imagine, we were there, I think they were flying her somewhere. And she was actualy supposed to hop a plane and then fly to Cabo to be to be at our at our event. So as you can imagine, getting the news, right, as I land, you know, I think a day, possibly two days before the event was set to begin. And her also being a part of, you know, the investment bank that we were kind of celebrating who would actually help do the deal with us. It, we didn’t really want to cancel the event, obviously, it was, but it was one of those things where I had to sort of scramble. one I had to scramble to, to, you know, kind of do a little damage control, make sure, of course, everyone was still you know, from that, that particular group was still going to be able to make it to the event, do whatever I could to sort of make their trips easier. So yes, I even stepped in on their travel plans, that sort of thing, just to make sure that the people who are kind of, you know, grieving, investment bankers are weird, though, they don’t grieve the same way, the rest of us grieve. Strange. You know, so all that said, I was able to sort of, you know, pull all of that together and get pretty much everyone there. There, I had to fly a couple people back because they had to attend her her funeral. So they left you know, they came in literally for a day, and then they flew right back out. So I took care of all of that. One of them, you know, needed a helicopter to get from one point to another point, that kind of thing. So, it, it was a lot of Mount Vesuvius underneath the surface. But on the surface, it was very, very clear, it was super respectful. We even did sort of a for the bankers that remained we did sort of like something to memorialize Lauren, she was a young, young banker, but it all it all sort of worked out. But for me, it was I’m a cancer. So I tend to be a little emotional, and especially around death or anything like that I go the extra mile to make sure that people are sort of taken care of, and, you know, preferably, there are very few tears, if any, oddly enough, the memorial thing that I did brought a lot of tears so that it felt good, but also kind of bad at the same time. Bad drink more something else. Yeah. So I’d say that was one of the craziest things because everything happened in in, in like, God, it’s felt like it was in warp speed. Like, we get the news. And then I had to rush and get all of these holidays, preparations sort of handled and, and also make sure that people you know, felt okay, so it was it was crazy. It was emotional, and it was exhausting. And I cannot wait to get home and hug every one of my parents and you know, all of my friends and everything else. So yeah, so I think that was probably the craziest sorry, it wasn’t a it wasn’t a fun story.
Jeremy Burrows 32:40
Yeah, so let’s let’s close with kind of a vulnerable one. What was the biggest mistake you made as an assistant? And what did you learn from the experience?
Phoenix Normand 32:53
Um, I’d say
Jeremy Burrows 32:55
or one of the biggest mistakes, I’m sure you’ve made a few mistakes,
Phoenix Normand 32:58
I’ve made a few. Oddly enough, I haven’t made any, like crazy ones that have like, you know, cost the company millions of dollars or anything like that. They’ve all typically been, you know, mistakes that I’ve made with my bosses. And one of the biggest ones was actually most recently, probably happened pretty recently. I ended up teaching a class, I’ll make it quick. I taught a class in, in Sydney, Australia, literally left the class, got on a plane and flew from Sydney to the UK. Now, if you know that, that’s pretty much a 24 hour flight. So, you know, we flew from, I think, Sydney to Abu Dhabi. There was a layover in Abu Dhabi and then from Abu Dhabi to the UK. And then the I, the second I hit the UK I had to go to work the next morning. So there was like, you know, time to sort of, hopefully grab some Z’s or whatever else cuz way different times I’m, well, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to really sleep because I my, my clock was just thrown, my circadian rhythm was completely off. So I basically powered through with no sleep on Monday, did fine. And what it was is I was meeting my boss, oddly enough, at this humongous airline conference. It’s like one of the biggest one that they do essentially. Once every other year, I believe this one it is. And since we were a brand new company and also doing supersonic travel, and like everybody was, you know, on us, like all the press that it was just press day press day press day, so I was able to sort of function quite well on Monday, then, you know, we finish up I go back to the hotel. I think I’m gonna get some sleep. I still can’t sleep for some reason. So long story short, I ended up staying awake until about 3am The next morning, and then I thought, Okay, I’ve got to get some sleep or I’m literally gonna pass out so I’m like, okay, set your alarm, set my alarms, I thought and I ended up waking up Due to the sound of my phone like levitating because it was being blown up, it was my boss saying, Where are you? Not in those words? I’m like, I’m in my room. Why? And he’s like, we were supposed to leave 30 minutes ago, and I’m meeting with Boeing in about 30 minutes. There’s no way I’m going to make it. What is going on? I overslept. Wow, heard my phone and didn’t hear my phone. So the single biggest meeting that the whole conference was really kind of built around. I made my boss miss. Wow. So that was the big mistake. However, true to executive assistant form. You know, I instantaneously got on the phone, I called the assistant who was the head of Boeing. I’m like, Okay. Do you have any other blocks where I can get, you know, squeeze my boss, and I’m sorry, I told her the whole story. And one thing I love about assistants when we’re desperate, we show up for each other. And she could tell I was like, almost in tears, because I’m like, Well, I’m basically fired. So at least let me get him this, you know, get him somehow
Jeremy Burrows 36:01
on the way out
Phoenix Normand 36:02
Exactly. I think at least get this meeting so that so that he can fire me and not completely flame me if I ever asked for a recommendation. So I was able to find another time. It was like about an hour and a half later, I called him back, he ended up taking an Uber and I finally got to got to the event. He didn’t talk to me for pretty much all of it. And, and then he did make his meeting, which led to another meeting and then another meeting. And so it’ll it oddly enough, it all worked out. But by far, that was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made as executive assistant. And I was so annoyed that it had to happen. While we’re in the you know, in the UK, and it was my birthday on top of all that.
Jeremy Burrows 36:45
Well, that’s fun. That’s fun. Yeah. What, uh, what? What did you learn from that in the sense of, How did you deal with that with your boss?
Phoenix Normand 36:57
Funny thing is we ended up going out. We had to, we stayed in the same hotel. So we took you know, a car, we always took the car, both to and from the event together. And of course, I was, you know, since he wasn’t talking to me, I was kind of like, sick to my stomach for the entire day. And then we had to, we had to go back. So I made sure that of course, everything was seamless. Everything was perfect. But we ended up finding, we took a detour and it’s like, Hey, let’s go have a drink. And I was like, oh, Lord, I’m gonna get fired now. So all right, at least they’ll be a little bit of a buzz to get fired with. And we sat down, we just talked to him. He goes, okay. We’re only gonna talk about this once what the heck happened? And I told him, I’m like, you know, I overdid it. I flying, you know, transatlanticly, and, you know, I didn’t have any sleep. I swear, I set my alarm. I think I probably slept through it. You know, it’s, I don’t know what else to tell you. I really am sorry. I mean, I know this was like the biggest meeting ever. I did my best to sort of cover up the tracks. And he goes, No, no, to your credit, you were able to get me in. So that was really the most important thing. But he’s like, this makes me I won’t lie. This makes me kind of worry about you. I mean, are you going to be able to do this? You were doing something was extracurricular and it affected me. And, and I completely agreed. I told him, I’m like, You’re exactly right. I thought I could do it. I thought I was Superman. But you know, I’m almost 50. And I have to admit my own faults at some point. And this was not the way I wanted to figure that out for myself. But you know, I trust me now, I completely understand how this can’t happen again, and I and I’m like, Please don’t fire me. But I totally understand if you have to. He’s like, shut up. I’m not gonna fire you, I just don’t want this ever to happen again. And I’m like it wont I assure you, worst mistake of my entire career. And yeah, I feel a lot worse, and I’m beating myself up a lot worse inside than you ever could. So please know that. And we were fine after that, oddly enough.
Jeremy Burrows 38:49
that’s awesome. So there’s something very something very humbling about admitting you screwed up.
Phoenix Normand 38:56
That’s the best thing to do, though. I mean, had I like a billion excuses or trying to play it off, as you know, well, well, then you shouldn’t have asked me to come from you know, that just it doesn’t fly. If you make a mistake, just own it, own up to it and you know, do the best that you can to, to fix it and make it go away.
Jeremy Burrows 39:15
awesome. Well, what’s I am going to ask you one more. I know I said that was the last question. What what’s one tip that you would give executives to help them get more out of their assistant?
Phoenix Normand 39:31
I’d say have a little bit more trust that we actually know a lot more than you think we know. I think a lot of executive assistants, especially when they’re at this level, I’m at my level at your level. We’ve been through a lot. We’ve we’ve probably worked in a different industry. We’ve probably seen way more oddly enough than a lot of executives that we support I’ve seen you know and I think that gets lost in translation somehow. I’ve lived a pretty fantastic life. I’ve lived in you know five different countries. I’ve I’ve traveled to probably 20 which means I know travel like you would not believe I might, my itineraries are seamless, I should have been a travel agent, I’m sure I would have made a lot more. You know, it’s I’ve had experiences, both within work and outside of work, just, you know, from, from who I am as a person, I mean, I used to be a professional singer and I toured the world as a singer, and was able to sort of see that side, the entertainment business side, as well as the travel side, as well as the management of groups and hotel stays, and all of that. So I think what executives kind of failed to realize is that we see things and a much, you know, larger vision, and with a different sort of view and a different sort of empathy than they do. And that kind of experience and that kind of, you know, visibility and reach especially, I mean, think about the tribe that I’ve created, you know, we have this, these connections that anything we don’t know, we can probably find out in record time. And I think executives, first of all, don’t realize it and, and most importantly, they don’t exploit that. They instead think that we, you know, get coffee and keep the calendar clean. And, you know, book travel, when those are things we can do in our sleep literally, we think in much larger terms, like a lot of the sort of real business aspects, a lot of the strategic work, a lot of the sort of interpersonal communications within the team, all of that stuff we actually handle, they just don’t know it. And we don’t have advocate to on our own behalf enough to let them know that that’s what we do. It’s not in our job description, therefore, it doesn’t exist in their eyes. But, you know, we know for a fact that we actually do it, and that we’re not compensated for it, that actually our desire almost isn’t necessarily to be compensated, it’s really just to be validated that we know it, we’re handling it. And, and we have their respect. So, you know, to your question, I think executives really need to really listen. And, and, and really ask questions of their executive assistants and give them you know, more needle moving work and give them projects and help, you know, offer tutelage and mentorship and of course corrects and all of that and, and have faith that we’ll figure it out. We may not know exactly, you know, what they know, we didn’t go to the same, you know, high price schools and all of that, but we actually know a lot. And I think it’s, I think it’s time that executives at least acknowledge it, or at least, you know, poke around and see how much we know. And I think they’d been really, really surprised to, to see that, you know, where, or force we’re some smart kids?
Jeremy Burrows 42:35
That’s awesome. Yeah, I agree. Definitely. I’ve seen a lot of executives, you know, they’re like, Okay, well, what, you know, my assistant that really doesn’t do enough, or whatever it was like, Well, do you trust them? Right? Do do, actually, you know, ask them for their help. Ask
Phoenix Normand 42:51
for their opinion.
Jeremy Burrows 42:52
Ask them for their opinion, ask them to help you make a decision. Or ask them to make a decision. Right? You know,
Phoenix Normand 43:00
I love that.
Jeremy Burrows 43:01
You got to trust so cool. Well, what’s, what’s one book or resource that you would recommend all assistants check out?
Phoenix Normand 43:11
My big one. And you probably know this is it’s called the book it’s called Essentialism by McEwan. Gotta keep forgot his first Grant. Right. Yeah. Yeah. And the reason I say that is, I believe, if we boil things down, I for me, I found that book incredibly empowering. Because, you know, one of the biggest, the biggest sort of tenants he espouses in the book is getting comfortable with the word no, and getting comfortable with saying no, even to people in power. For instance, I stopped attending meetings, because I read that book, and I’m like, This meeting was worthless, I’m not going, I just wouldn’t show up for the meeting, you know, like, give me the give me the Cliff’s Notes version, I don’t need to sit in a meeting for, you know, 45 minutes with, you know, basically in silence, because you’re not going to call on me, I’m not going to be asked for anything. So why wouldn’t I spend time doing work and get a Cliff’s Notes version from you guys via the notes that someone’s taking, instead of, you know, sitting there wasting my and company time. So one thing I again, that I love about that book, as it gets you in a different mindset, it gets you out of this sort of sheep mentality, if you will. And it almost sort of empowers you to make better decisions and to, to do only the things that are essential, like cut out all the chaff cut out all of the sort of worthless, non, you know, compesateable, you know, BS, and really just focus on the things that move the needle, things that work, things that you know, that really can get things done and, and create an outcome that you’re trying to create in exponentially faster time than wasting time doing things you really don’t want to do. And it applies both to you know, the work that you do when you go to the office every day, as well as in your personal life. Like that was one of the things about saying no is you know, being invited wedding you really don’t want to go, do you know anybody there? So I was like, No, you know, I’d much rather spend time with my kids. Or I’d rather spend time learning something as opposed to going to a wedding sitting there eating crap food, with a bunch of people at a table I’ve never met probably will never speak to again, you know what I mean? So I just think the book, you know, really kind of shook me in such a way where it’s like, oh, okay, this makes sense. And I followed, I pretty much followed it ever since. And I literally hand that out as Christmas presents every year, just because I think a lot of people really, really dig it. And when they really read it, and then they start kind of applying some of the things that he talks about their life changes in some way, you know?
Jeremy Burrows 45:41
Yeah, I agree with your point about empowering people, you know, I read it, and then I read it with my wife, or listen to the audiobook with my wife while we were on vacation, which is good time to listen to that book. But like, you know, it’s like, empowers you to say no, and empowers you to oh, you know what? I don’t have to be a jerk about it. But I don’t have to say yes, all the time.
Phoenix Normand 46:02
Exactly. And I think people respect people who have the ability to say, No, I love someone. It’s like, no, you gotta look at them. Like, wait, I’m sorry, what? You’re not doing what everyone else is doing. And that would be a no, and they’re perfectly competent. And, and sort of saying it like that is hot to me, as opposed to that sort of waff leaping, which is really big in business right now. The the whole maybe phenomenon, like, I hate that I think I saw that on one of the calendar invite applications or something where they give you a yes, no, maybe who, who on earth wants to live a life of maybe, right? You know, give me yes or no, real simple. And so
Jeremy Burrows 46:43
cool. Well, Phoenix, thanks so much for your time. Really, really grateful for, again, your support over the last year or two and just hopping on my podcast for my very first podcast interview that I’m excited for
Phoenix Normand 46:57
So honored, by the way. Thank you.
Jeremy Burrows 47:00
So you know, you said you’ve got a book coming out soon, and then you’ve got the tribe you. And then you’ve got the online community. So where can we find you? Where can those listening find you online? And what would be the best thing to do if they wanted to reach out to you?
Phoenix Normand 47:19
Oh, sure. I think for me, I pretty much live on LinkedIn, I won’t lie. My life is literally on LinkedIn. So I write I feels like a million articles there, all with some good information. So you know, definitely connect to connect with me on LinkedIn and read everything. Because there’s always some tips and tricks in there. Phoenixnormand.com is where you’ll find I do some personal coaching as well to both executive assistants, And my new jam is first time CEOs. And they’re usually pre IPO, you know, series A Series B type CEOs. So I you can find me there and book sessions as well. And other than that, you can find me on this, my tribe thismytride.com. And that’s where you will find information about the both the private tribe as well as the tribal workshops that I teach around the world. So those are my three places.
Jeremy Burrows 48:13
Awesome. Well, I’ll put all those links on the show notes as well so people can easily find you. But yeah, thanks again, man. And we’ll look forward to seeing you soon. And yeah, thanks so much.
Phoenix Normand 48:29
Absolutely. Thank you so much, Jeremy and congratulations again.
Check out this week’s show notes at leaderassistant.com/8.