Melinda Vail-Goodnight is an accidental executive assistant who stayed by choice and has enjoyed over 14 years in the role, including the last 6 years at Southwest Airlines.
In this episode, Melinda talks about managing email, interruptions, and the various types of professional development available for assistants. Enjoy our conversation and be sure to fly Southwest once it’s safe to travel. 😉
Stop waiting for someone to ask you to do it, just go do it!
– Betty Mowery (Melinda’s Mom)
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Melinda Vail-Goodnight is an accidental executive assistant who stayed by choice. She built and sold homes for over 18 years, and then the housing market crash of 2007 and 2008 happened. Melinda had to reinvent herself and with a little help from her friends, she found the greatest career she never knew existed! She’s been an EA at Southwest Airlines for about 6 years.
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Melinda Vail-Goodnight 0:00
Hi, I’m Melinda Vail-Goodnight. Today’s leadership quote comes from my mom. Stop waiting for someone to ask you to do it and just do it.
Podcast Intro 0:12
The Leader Assistant Podcast exists to encourage and challenge assistants to become confident game changing leader assistant.
Jeremy Burrows 0:21
Thank you for listening to The Leader Assistant Podcast. Hey friends, thanks for tuning in, please check out the event schedule at leaderassistantlive.com. And we would love to see you at one of our upcoming events. All right, enjoy this episode. Hello, leader assistants. Thanks for tuning in to The Leader Assistant Podcast. It’s your host Jeremy Burrows. And today I’m very excited to speak with Melinda Vail-Goodnight. She is an executive assistant at Southwest Airlines. Melinda, how’s it going?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 0:50
It’s great this morning. Thanks for having me, Jeremy.
Jeremy Burrows 0:53
Yeah, and you’re in Dallas, is that right?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 0:56
I am in Dallas.
Jeremy Burrows 0:57
Awesome. So normally, I start off with a question about your very first job, but I’m going to actually do a different question and then jump back to that one. If you had a day where you could go, go and do anything in the world with unlimited resources, what would you do? And where would you go? And I’m gonna say, because I love southwest. And who could forget this commercial? I’m gonna say if you were free to move about the country, where would you go?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 1:26
Got it. I would go to I would love to hike the Swiss Alps. Southwest is not flying there yet, but who knows what the future holds.
Jeremy Burrows 1:40
So that’s your pitch to them. Right? That’s about it. Let’s get there. Awesome. Well, what was your very first job? And what skills did you learn that you still use today?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 1:51
I’m very first job was working in my aunt and uncle’s grocery store. I grew up in small town, nowhere Texas very small. In the grocery store was very small. But I learned to and I’m doing air quotes here cut meat, they had big sides of beef brought in. So I had to learn how to make hamburger cut steaks, cut ribs, all of that that entails selling meat. And what that taught me was I now don’t eat red meat. And accountability. My aunt was wonderful to me and teaching me that if I said I was going to do it, do it. Show up, be there, be accountable if you do something that is wrong, or you shouldn’t have done, just raise your hand and say, Hey, I did this. So accountability. She taught me that very young.
Jeremy Burrows 2:54
That’s great. So we talked before about your interesting career. kind of accidentally falling into the EA career. Could you tell us a little bit about your progression and when and why you became an EA.
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 3:08
You know, I came to the party kinda late but I got here as soon as possible. As I say. I built and sold homes here in the Metroplex in the DFW Metroplex for years. And loved it had a great time. But then 2007 happened, you couldn’t give a home away, and I needed to pay the bills, had to figure out what the next step in my life looked like. So I had to reinvent myself. Luckily, I had a friend who was a managing a staffing agency, she called and said, Hey, there’s a hospital close to you that needs an EA for six weeks. And I said, I don’t know what an EA is an executive assistant, they only need someone for six weeks. Now I knew I had had an assistant, but I didn’t really know what an assistant really did every day. And I said, you know, I’m not interested. And she was like, Okay, well, if you change your mind, it’s $26 an hour. And I was like, wait, what? Part time $26 an hour. Okay, I can do that. And long story short, that was the beginning of my career. It was in a hospital that my first leader afforded me the opportunity to learn to grow. It was an amazing opportunity to learn the ins and outs of medical staff in quality. And I supported a CNO a chief nursing officer also. So that was the beginning of my career.
Jeremy Burrows 4:45
So what was it that kind of drew you in and kept you in the EA role? What did you love about that role?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 4:52
I think every day you learn something new. There is always something else. You’re you You’re doing this today, but tomorrow you may be doing something else. I started learning and reading policies, if you can imagine policies in hospital. There, it’s staggering the amount of policies that regulate that are regulated within a hospital setting. So it’s in the same way with Southwest and not necessarily policies. But it’s something new every day. It is never the same old, same old, never boring. You actually, actually, I would really appreciate a boring day, every now and then.
Jeremy Burrows 5:37
Yeah, my, my go to phrase on describing my job is there’s never a dull moment.
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 5:43
Definitely, definitely. That is so true.
Jeremy Burrows 5:48
So how did you end up at Southwest?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 5:53
A great question. I have learned that there is a statistic that says it’s easier to get into Harvard, be accepted in Harvard than getting a getting a job at Southwest. I had met someone that was serving on a board at the hospital where I was working. And she stopped me one day and after a meeting and said, Are you happy with your job, which I was miserably unhappy? I had changed leaders. And that’s a whole different program for you and I, but I said, Of course, I love it here. And she’s, you would be great at Southwest. Oh, you’re so kind. I appreciate that. But she planted a seed. And six weeks later, I think I emailed her and said, Hey, if there was ever any opportunity, I might be interested. Another month goes by she sends me an email with a job code in says if you’re serious, you need to apply right now. I applied interviewed got the job.
Jeremy Burrows 7:02
And is that the same role you have today?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 7:04
It is different leader. Same role. Nice.
Jeremy Burrows 7:07
Nice. So over your time as an Assistant, what’s one of the biggest mistakes you made? And what did you learn from making that mistake?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 7:17
Oh, I just love talking about this. When I was at the hospital, a board member came in, said and on a meeting one morning and after the meeting, it’s a roomful of nurses, everyone after the meeting, everyone is needing something from me, because I support the CNO, the chief nursing officer, and the board member actually asked me at that time, if she could get time with my leader, and I was like, of course you can. What day are you thinking? And she told me and I said, Yep, she has availability. I never put it on the calendar. I was surrounded by chaos. Talking to other people didn’t focus didn’t write it down. The day that she walked in two weeks later, I knew exactly why she was there. So if it had been anyone other than a board member, but she was gracious, she was kind. She. She It was It couldn’t have been any better for me, and went out of my way to make it happen that very day. And we worked it out. But that feeling of oh my gosh, that your heart just sinks and knowing that you’ve really just screwed up.
Jeremy Burrows 8:40
Yeah, I’ve been there. I’ve been there. Not a fun feeling.
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 8:44
Not a fun feeling at all.
Jeremy Burrows 8:46
So do you have any tips on managing an executive email inbox?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 8:54
You know, I think it’s so different per leader. Some leaders just want you to manage the heck out of it. Get rid of all the trash. Tell me what’s in there. Others and the reason I know this is I changed leaders this year in February. And my leader now is very on it. She is in her inbox all the time. And I think it’s also she’s never had an assistant and it’s that trust of oh my gosh, what she’s what is she going to do in my email? So we’re still building that trust, but tips I think getting rid of all the spam all the trash for them. That’s huge. Everyone I think does that but also trying to stay on top of it. How often do you look at it? How often do you have time to look at it? I actually schedule a morning and afternoon. So I go look at it at 10 o’clock and I go look at it at three o’clock. Talk. So that’s how I manage it right now.
Jeremy Burrows 10:04
That’s great. I love the scheduled time blocks for that.
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 10:09
Jeremy Burrows 10:10
Yeah. So you mentioned you’ve called your executives, leaders. Is that a Southwest culture thing? Absolutely. Interesting. So, so how would you, you know, this, this podcast is called the leader, Assistant? How would you kind of talk about the assistants? Do they do they talk about assistance as leaders do? Does that make sense?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 10:43
Yes, it does. And aren’t we fighting that battle? Everywhere, I think assistance. And I’m going to talk about what I know, in this very moment. We’re putting our hand up, we’re saying, hey, we want to play, we can do this job. We want to lead. We are leaders. We want to seat at the table, we want to voice at that table. And I think it’s not just Southwest Airlines, I think it’s any large company. I’ve had the opportunity to be at some admin awards to attend several on the West Coast and San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Uber, LinkedIn, Google, Maxim, there, we’re all fighting that battle. We’re all fighting for that position of, hey, I need you. I can do this. I have something to offer. So I don’t think it’s just Southwest Airlines. I think we are all there. I think Google has, and I may be wrong about this. have stopped using the words executive assistant, and US business partners in their competency models. So I love that.
Jeremy Burrows 12:09
Yeah. Yeah. So what do you think makes an assistant a leader?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 12:15
Standing up, you’ve got to stand up, you’ve got to say, I think there’s a great quote that says everything you want is just on the other side of fear. I think that assistants have to overcome that fear of voicing, what they know is right or their opinion. I think that for me, in this very moment, at Southwest, it’s standing up showing up. And here’s the other thing, you can get a seat at the table. But if you don’t handle it properly, you’re not going to be invited back. So how do you continue that? I think it’s building that relationship with your leader, having them learn to trust you had had them seek you out for for counsel or advice. And it’s hard. It’s It’s a day to day basis?
Jeremy Burrows 13:18
Yeah. So one of those things that I’ve I’ve seen and heard a lot about is, as far as standing up and and speaking up from the assistant role is something like professional development, and standing up for yourself and, you know, showing the ROI on professional development dollars from your company, if they don’t already provide that. How have you advocated to get training dollars for your professional development, whether it’s certifications or conferences? And, you know, how’s that gone in your career?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 14:00
I think we have not, because we asked not, when you make the case my leaders, and I’m, I’m gonna speak from for me, my leaders have always been very open to that. But I had to ask, they weren’t going to come to me and say, Oh, would you like to spend $1,500 and go to this conference, right? But my training dollars are built into my department’s trading dollars. So I advocated for myself and said, Hey, these are three conferences that I would like to attend a lot of spreadsheets. So these are the three conferences I’d like to do. These are the cost and this is what this is the ROI on each of these conferences. This is what I would gain. And this is how I think it would help us my leader and myself. Yeah, so I think it’s a great argument and I don’t really think it’s an argue I think it’s an Pasc.
Jeremy Burrows 15:02
Yeah. Awesome. So what about sort of certifications? There’s a variety of them for assistance. You got pace and CAAP, etc. Do you feel these certifications are worth the time and money and why or why not?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 15:21
Talk to me in April? I’m actually studying for cap right now. And I’m going to take the exam. I think it’s early April. I don’t know, I wish I knew. And just in the very beginning of this, but there, there is so much out there. And how, you know, how do you quantify it? How do you qualify it? What’s good? What’s bad? I don’t know. And I know, Southwest is looking at across the board, uh, bringing something in maybe, you know, how, what does that look like? I don’t know, talk to me in April, I’ll have a better understanding of cap then. I don’t know about pace. But Joan Berge out of Las Vegas has something also there. It looks really good. Also, I, to answer your question. I don’t know.
Jeremy Burrows 16:27
As you as you study for the CIP is that? Are you finding that some of the information that you’re, you know, studying for that test has been helpful?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 16:40
Some of it has, but some of it is very mundane. It’s an executive assistant does it every day all day? Um, so TBD? TBD Yes.
Jeremy Burrows 16:57
What about degrees? You know, an MBA, for example? Do you have thoughts on education?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 17:05
I that’s that’s where I think it. That’s where the rubber meets the road. I think it has to be a higher education. I think there needs to be some sort of degree, Debbie gross. Did some really great work out at UCSC in California, putting together a program. I don’t know about the other parts of the country. But here where I live in North Texas, there’s nothing at a higher level. There’s a business administration degree there’s an MBA, but for the Assistant, where you need business writing, business documentation, interpersonal communications, public speaking, debate, speaking. There’s so much that at a higher level a degree would help. Yeah.
Jeremy Burrows 18:01
Awesome. So what about let’s talk about the executives for a second, maybe talk to the executives, and the leaders. In your your case? What’s one tip you would give your leaders to help them get more out of their assistants or out of you?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 18:17
I’m a big proponent, and I know you are to have the weekly check in. And my leader and I if we don’t have that face to face, which we do most 99% of the time. I’m emailing her because she’s on her email. I’m emailing her questions. I’m emailing her thoughts. This is what next week is looking like, what do you think about this? But the other thing is, listen, it’s hard to tell an executive or a leader. I just need you to listen to me for just a second because they’re being bombarded. But 10 hours a day, they’re being bombarded by their schedule. Other leaders, other executives meetings. I need 10 minutes. I need you to listen to me. So that sounds very simplistic. It’s very hard sometimes. Yeah.
Jeremy Burrows 19:19
How about you mentioned you know, when you were talking about your mistake of not writing that event down or putting it on the calendar with the board member? What you mentioned, there was a lot of interruptions, it was just kind of a crazy day, what’s your best tip or trick for managing constant interruptions?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 19:39
I’ve learned to say no, a lot. I support a department not only do I support a leader in my department, but I support my department. So learning to say no learning to Can I get back to you? Can you give me 10 minutes instead of I’ve tried to be the people pleaser, and just take everything on. That was my biggest problem. And sometimes it still is my biggest problems is to think that I can support the world. And I can’t, to know my limits. And to just say, No, but I can get back to you in 30 minutes.
Jeremy Burrows 20:22
That’s great. So if you could snap your fingers and instantly give all assistance, more of something, what would it be?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 20:31
Man? vulnerability, being vulnerable, being able to raise your hand and say, I don’t know, somewhere along the way, EAS and I’ll speak for myself, maybe everyone is not this way. I have been I have put it upon myself that I need to be subject matter expert on everything. So it’s not the case, we’re not being vulnerable, being able to ask the question to say, I don’t understand. To raise your hand, I need help. Can you help me with this? I think somewhere along the way, we’ve lost that ability, or we see it as a weakness, and help. Helping asking for help sometimes can be the smartest thing we can do.
Jeremy Burrows 21:29
100% agree. So what is something that if you if an assistant called you today or tomorrow and said, I’m not being respected in my role? What’s something that you would share? or encourage them with?
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 21:49
Depending on Are they not being respected by their leader? Are they not being respected by a team member? I think we all face that at some point in time. And I’ll speak for me, I’ma confront her. I had much rather had the conversation than to feel bad and waste energy on something that may or may not be the case. So the first piece of advice, I would say, if it’s a team member, go to them have the conversation. I know it’s hard. I know. It’s uncomfortable. It can be awkward. But so is feeling less than if it’s your later, same thing. Go in close the door, and just let them know how you’re feeling. And sometimes I think we put it I think we create some things in our mind. That may not be their art maybe. But I think having the courage to have the conversation. is definitely the very is the is a good start.
Jeremy Burrows 22:55
Yeah. Yeah. All right. Well, Melinda, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with us and really appreciate your insight and wisdom. And is there somewhere we can find you online and support, support you and connect and say hi to you,
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 23:12
LinkedIn, everybody, come and join me on LinkedIn. And that’s the best place to be my Twitter handle is Melville.
Jeremy Burrows 23:19
Awesome. Well, I’ll share those links in the show notes and thanks so much again, and we’ll talk soon.
Melinda Vail-Goodnight 23:26
Thanks, Jeremy. I had a great time. Keep doing what you’re doing.
Unknown Speaker 23:39
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