The Truth About My Job: Diana Brandl

Diana Brandl, former senior executive assistant to top management is now a freelance author, runs her own blog (The Socialista Projects), gives workshops, and speaks at national and international conferences. In our column "The truth about my job" she reveals some secrets

by Natascha Zeljko | 24 Nov, 2018
The truth about my job: Diana Brandl, former senior executive assistant to top management

The rumour

There is this classic picture of the secretary: she serves coffee, makes sure that the boss is doing well, possibly fixes his tie. And, of course, she is called in to dictate. Even I learned shorthand during my training as a European correspondent in 2000. Multilingual, nonetheless. And, of course, this image has been cemented by the film industry; the good old Miss Moneypenny, who adores James Bond and tries to manage his everyday life. There are certainly colleagues who are still attached to this job description and who sometimes act in this way. But now a new generation is coming with completely different job profiles. You can see that in the term itself— these are no longer “secretaries”, but “management assistants”. Rightly so, because we also belong in “management”.

The truth

We are the managers behind the managers, and today we are managing much more than in the past because the requirements have changed dramatically. Of course, digitalization has also reached the office. In the working world 4.0, the assistant must be just as fit as everyone else in the company. And especially when a company goes through digital transformation, the assistant can be a wonderful sparring partner. That’s why it’s so important to deal with technologies and innovations focusing on new work society and digital leadership. There is also a bit of ownership involved, and you have to want it.

There are people who claim that in five or ten years there won’t be any more assistants because these jobs will be done by Siri, Alexa and Cortana. One thing is certain: the assistant role will change massively. Now is the time to grow from a multitasker into an expert. It is no longer only the admin and organizing activities that are demanded of you, but much more strategic-operational skills. I see myself as a pioneer in this field because I live digitalization. I’ve always had very innovative bosses and had to make sure I could keep up. I find topics like IoT and artificial intelligence super exciting. What an impact this has on my workplace! I have been working with Siri for years. In my workshops I demonstrate live how I work with Siri and demonstrate how much Siri does for me, because I dictate all my whatsapps and emails and don’t even write them myself anymore when on the road.

Not everyone has to know all the apps and tools, but you should be open to the basics, and many colleagues feel the same way. They are enthusiastic about digital tools and say, “I want to digitalize my boss.” You wouldn’t believe how many bosses out there are still analogue! They can’t even manage to set the “Out of Office” function themselves. They have their emails and calendar printed out.

I would like to see more male colleagues; from time to time you see them at assistant congresses. There are two groups: those who stand by their role as secretaries or assistants. And then there are the others who explain to you, “Well, actually I’m more of a speaker or the project manager”. They don’t want anything to do with this title.

I would say to younger women: being an assistant is one of the greatest jobs ever! An assistant is a guide in so many important situations: she’s a feel-good manager, a mentor, a mediator, a coach, and sometimes she’s a kind of babysitter. Serving the occasional cup of coffee belongs there, too. Still, I always say: don’t consider yourself above this task. If you give the boss a coffee because he/she is stressed out, meaningful conversations arise in such moments. Use the influence and power that you have. Be cheeky and flirt with it.

And that closes the circle to digitization: that’s exactly why our job will continue in the future. Because we are the emotionally intelligent leaders. And no Alexa can do that, no Siri can do that—they can’t see if the boss got up on the wrong side of the bed and is having a bad day. They can’t judge these situations properly.



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