Becoming Exceptional: Establishing Vision and Direction

It can be difficult to be a proactive, rather than a reactive assistant, without a clear vision and sense of direction

A few years ago, I was the new kid on the block when I joined a team of inspired people doing wonderful things. Inspired people, working under the terms of three different collective agreements (four, if you counted the one governing my boss’ terms of employment) that I needed to quickly understand and correctly apply. As an assistant, my responsibilities also included supervision of the support staff, most of whom were older than me.

A piece of cake, yes? Well, there were some lovely people in this skilled and dedicated group; I stay in touch to this day with some of them. The challenge lay in the fact that, as one administrator put it, there were some deeply entrenched interpersonal issues amongst some of the staff.

As with many assistants or office managers, staff supervision was only one of my responsibilities but it consumed a disproportionate amount of time and energy.

Our thoughts create our reality; where we put our focus is the direction we tend to go – Peter McWilliams

In the first few months, it seemed there were spot fires to be extinguished almost weekly. At times, even while implementing team building strategies and striving to minimise disruption to those who were consistently contributing in a positive manner, I felt more like a referee than a colleague working toward shared goals. Only a fool would not see that these “interpersonal issues” were impacting the larger group.

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction – John F. Kennedy

All this effort was underway, mind, as I was endeavouring to settle into the other aspects of the position. I use the term endeavouring because, as anyone who’s been in a similar situation knows, something has to give. Paper piles were mounting ’round my desk, and it was a struggle to meet some deadlines. Despite best intentions, it was clear that I needed to shift, and soon, from a reactive mode to one that was increasingly proactive.

A sense of direction enables us to move from a reactive mode to one that is proactive

In other words, I needed to clear my own way through the fog of others’ discontent and articulate the direction in which we would move. Together. I’d already incorporated a practice of rotating leadership of staff meetings amongst the team, but now it was time to build a shared focus. While sparing you the details, I latched on to some issues and invited the staff to work with me to develop goals and strategies to resolve them. As part of the process, we met, as a team, with others amongst the larger group to hear their concerns and perspectives.

Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favour – Brian Tracy
Now, while I grew up loving a good fairy tale, I’ll not tell you we had a happy-ever ending. Things did improve, though – for the staffers, and our colleagues at large. The focused investment of time and goodwill in developing goals and a (mostly!) shared vision as to how people wanted to function, in a collegial manner, also enabled me to perform more effectively in other aspects of my role.

Identifying and Managing Challenges Obscuring Your Vision and Sense of DirectionJericho Beach Copyright Shelagh Donnelly

In my early days in the position above, I allowed the challenges around me to limit my sense of direction. Even once we’ve established a clear performance plan or path to success, we can all slip. Engaging in a bit of reflection – to be distinguished from navel gazing! – may help assess whether you’ve been letting challenges distract from your vision for success in your role.

Reflection can take various forms: journaling, regular goal setting and reviews, and clear-eyed conversation with a trusted colleague or mentor. Consider various approaches, and see what works for you.

You may also be interested in …

Exceptional Assistants: How Do They Become That Way? (

Journaling As Career Development (

Ready to Begin Journaling? Here’s a Template (

Introvert, Extrovert or … Ambivert? Know Yourself, and Those Around You (

4 Comments on “Becoming Exceptional: Establishing Vision and Direction

  1. Pingback: Becoming Exceptional: Speaking Truth to Power | Exceptional EA

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