Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the USA and Wales, and now make our way to Uganda to visit with Florence Katono.
Mornings with Gabriella and Kolaiah
During schooling days, I usually get up at 5:30 a.m. for morning devotions and early morning school preparations. My daughters, Gabriella Kebirungi and Kolaiah Kemirembe, attend a school nearby. It takes us approximately 45 minutes to get ready. At 6:50 a.m., we hit the road for about 15 minutes before we get to their school. We make it a habit to pray for the day during the commute.
My commute is about 25 minutes (off peak) to 45 minutes (peak season). Fortunately, I have mastered all the short cuts, commonly known as panyas, to Kampala town. I drive a Toyota Spacio. I like it because of its low fuel consumption. However, I drive only during rainy seasons and schooling days. During holidays, I prefer to use public transport. Then, I make the most of the commute to read books and magazines. I remember reading a life changing story by Julie Perrine in “The Innovative Admin.”
Who or what is on your commuting playlist? In the mornings, I like to listen to the radio talk shows; that’s my way of relating with the world. My favourite local stations are Radio One and CBS FM. The latter has comic presenters. I laugh my way through the traffic and by the time I get to work, I am happy and energised. In the evenings, I listen to music by local Ugandan artists: Juliana Kanyomozi, Irene Namubiru, and Nwaji Winnie. During night drives, I listen to Hill Song, Lionel Richie, Toni Braxton and Whitney Houston.
What song or two are we likely to find you singing along to when driving, or if no one’s listening? Jesus take the Wheel – especially when I am exhausted; I pull back my chair, then sing my way home – and Katono tono by Winnie Ngwagi. It is a story about quality versus quantity in love. Winnie prefers to have small meaningful time with her lover, as opposed to having a lover who is always physically present but psychologically away.
At the Office
Morning Routines: On arrival at the office, I usually water my plant, a gift from my department. Watering it is like my signature into the new day. I then say hello to my colleagues and supervisors. That has helped me bond with them. This is followed by a brief discussion with my supervisor of the day’s appointments and priorities. I then update my to-do list from the previous evening, arrange my items for the working day and log onto my email – after which I skim through the newspapers (I mark stories of interest on leadership, to read in the evening with my brother Hannington). I usually have my tea between 9:00 and 10:00. I love African tea spiced with ginger.
Primary Responsibilities: I have recently moved from the Strategy Management and Quality Assurance Department to the Risk and Compliance Department. My primary responsibilities are scheduling appointments, formatting and proof reading reports, drafting correspondence, managing office imprest, arranging and coordinating meetings, receiving and making phone calls, handling stationery and consumables, arranging international and local travel, acting as a liaison between the Head of Department and team members, maintaining an efficient records management system, and responding to queries.
Aside from my role, I also serve as Strategy Champion for Administrative Assistants and as Publicity Secretary for BUAA, the Bank of Uganda Administrative Assistants Association.
How long is your work day? A typical day starts at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 5:00. There is no such thing as a typical day; every day comes with its own sunshine. It’s busiest when we have meetings. Personally, I prefer to stay a little longer to concentrate on any documentation and prepare my to-do list for the following day.
What might be a typical lunch? Where do you eat? Fortunately, my employer provides lunch and I am very grateful for that. My favourite dish is matooke (bananas) and ground nuts. I treasure the social aspect that comes with lunch breaks, as I get to interact with colleagues from other departments. If ever I go out for lunch (which is rare), I like the Amagara restaurant very close to my work place. I especially love their smoothies.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? I never carry work home. If I have pending assignments, I stay longer and complete them. I spend my home time with my family. However, I set up a small home office for private work. I love to read and write when the world is still. I do most of my writing there, especially over the weekend.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Being an Administrative Assistant, I can hardly predict what my day will be like. When I have set out to do A, the day turns out with C. The uncertainty gets disturbing at times. However, I have learnt to adjust my energies accordingly.
I find that some people look down on the administrative role, and that is one of my biggest challenges in the corporate world.
Professional networks are a good platform; they provide learning opportunities and networking, and bring like minds together
What do you most enjoy about your career? I love the interaction with different people. It’s the people element that drew me to this role. If I can make a difference in somebody’s life, I try and do so. I learnt that from Ms. Juliet Walusimbi, a colleague at the Bank. She tries to assist as much as she can. I also like the variety – report writing, travel arrangements, event management – that comes with the job. Our menu is very rich. At the Bank, we have a three year rotation policy. I have personally supported executives in Security, Communications, Strategy Management and Quality Assurance Departments, and currently Risk and Compliance. I enjoyed working for each of them. The rotation makes me an all-rounder, as I get to understand the business of the Bank.
Most importantly, I like the fact that the administrative role is like servant leadership. All the effort and sacrifices are made to make another (the executive) shine.
On Saying “No”
First, I have made every member of our team a friend. When I say no to them, they understand that I am not able to help at the time. I have also learnt to be firm in my decision. One of my mentors, Mrs. Winnie Bisamaza, taught me to be straightforward with people. She says one should only say yes when they can help; it’s frustrating to give a green light, only for the other person to later discover you meant a red one.
Always try to be a notch higher
I was born in Mukono District, about 22 Km (almost 14 miles) from Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. Growing up in the countryside was fun. Everything grew in plenty: the food, animals, flowers, and fruits. In addition, we had plenty of space to play. We grew up on a large family estate surrounded by close relatives. All children from the four families gathered in one home and played till they tired. I have very fond memories with my siblings: Happy, Polly, Noela and Hannington Katono. Katono is our family name; it means the small one. We took the name after our father, who also took it after his father, James Ssemwanga Katono (R.I.P).
At the heart, I am a country girl. I love the peace and quiet that the country gives, and the songs of the birds. I remember imitating the night and day birds while I grew up. Staying in the country is relating with nature. I remember the thick tree branches and stumps that scared us at night. Some of their shadows were as big as human beings. However, the city is too busy and crowded. There is hardly time to relate with nature.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I sit down and enjoy a banana smoothie and tuna sandwich. Those are my feel-good foods. After tough days, I also go for salsa dances to shake off the stress.
A dream holiday or travel adventure? I would love to go to Paris, France one day.
Education and Professional Development
Education: I pursued a Bachelor’s of Secretarial Studies and a Masters of Business Administration (Human Resource Management). Professional development not only improves one’s confidence, but also enables one to understand the technicalities of business. It also gives one a broader spectrum to life. I encourage assistants to enroll for educational courses to enhance their skills.
Professional development improves one’s confidence and gives a broader spectrum to life
Peer and Professional Associations: Locally, I belong to the Bank of Uganda Administrative Assistants Association (BUAA), and to National Association of Administrative Professionals (NASAP). Internationally, I belong to the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) and to Professional Association for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants (PAFSA).
I am currently the Vice President of BUAA. I have also served in different capacities, such as Strategy Champion, Publicity Secretary and Committee Member. I have also formed an online PA network, Proudly Admin Uganda. Professional networks are a good platform; they provide learning opportunities and networking, and bring like minds together.
Preferred form(s) of social media? I love Facebook. It helps me connect with friends and family. I love it mainly because I am verbose. Facebook allows me to state how I feel in a sentence, paragraph or a book.
Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? Google Calendars helps me stay on top of appointments. I also love Kindle as I get to download books cheaply and sometimes freely.
Awards and Recognition
Internationally, I was recognised as Personal Assistant of the Year by Pitman Training, London. It is one of my greatest achievements. The award was an inspiration for many assistants, especially African Assistants. In my former department, I was recognised as employee of the month on three occasions.
Style and Substance
What is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? I love beautifully cut business suits. They make a big statement about one’s confidence and personality. When I get a chance to travel, I buy some. “If you feel beautiful on the inside, it radiates on the outside.”
What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without? My purse always has lip gloss and lipstick. I have about four types in there. Most of them are by Victoria’s Secret.
Heels or flats in the office? I love heels, but it really depends on the day. For busy days, I wear pumps to ease the back and forth movements. However, on regular days, I love my heels on. For your commute? I park a distance away from the Bank, so I wear pumps during my commute and then change to heels on arrival.
Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? I am not into brands and designers. As long as something gives me the wow feeling, I am good to go. My favourite pair of shoes is a black shoe lined with a gold finish. They were given to me as a gift from a good friend. I feel very happy, comfortable and confident wearing them.
Preferred scent: I love Vera Wang perfumes and Body by Victoria’s Secret.
What might we find in your desk drawer? Hahahaha, everything! In one compartment I keep a personal folder and another for training events I have attended. In another, I keep books, articles and magazines. In the third, I keep varnish remover, needle and thread, a nail file, stickers, magazines and candy. I told you, everything!
Inspirational reads? I have read books from by inspiring female writers: The Innovative Admin by Julie Perrine, Be the Ultimate Assistant by Bonnie-Low Kramen, Finding your Joy by Bonnie St. John. I recommend that all assistants read them.
Role models or mentors? My father, Mr. Moses Katono, is my first mentor. He taught me to always aim higher. In his words, “Always be a notch higher than your counterparts; it will give you an advantage over them”. Ms. Jessica Namukwana, my first supervisor, mentored me into this profession. She taught me to be a solution provider and always stretch (think outside the normal). My other mentors include Winnie Bisamaza, Juliet Walusimbi, Julie Perrine, Winnie Kamuya, Bonnie Low-Kramen, and Lucy Brazier. I seek guidance from them.
What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Identify your role models: I identified the best and stuck around them. I soon found my way. I attest to a quote by Wole Soyinka: “And I believe the best learning process of any kind of craft is to look at the work of others.”
Like my father says, always try to be a notch higher: It gives me an advantage. I enrolled for my MBA when I was 25 years old. At the time, I competed favourably with many people. Seek the opportunity: It is told that when a woman has eight out of 10 qualifications needed for an opportunity, she would most likely ignore the opportunity … as opposed to a man, who would apply even when he meets two out of 10 qualifications. I tried to seize every opportunity until my application landed in the hands of the right employer. Network: I joined associations such as NASAP as a young assistant, and learnt a lot from senior assistants.
Your most effective time management strategy? Be organised. A few minutes of organizing saves the day. Everything at its time. That’s how I have managed to strike a balance between a busy personal and career life. One thing at a time. I used to think that having all work assignments spread out on my computer was being efficient. However, I have learnt that if you just concentrate on one at a time, you would be able to accomplish more. Automate. Vickie Sokol believes that assistants spend late hours in the office because of the failure to use technology optimally, like rushing to send a meeting reminder at 7:00 a.m. instead of using the delay delivery option. Know your prime time. It’s best to understand when one’s energies are highest. I am a nocturnal animal. I usually love to do things when the world is silent.
Career mums think 10 steps ahead
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Take things a day at a time! It’s a process moving away from the baby and transitioning into life. Career mums should take it gradually. Tune in. Most people are physically present, yet psychologically absent. When you tune in, everything falls into place. Be organised. Mums think five steps ahead. Career mums think 10 steps ahead. You don’t schedule meetings on baby’s immunisation day. The children are the motivation. I hang a photograph of my daughters in my office. It helps me push on during tough times.
Most admins equate years of experience to progress; be bold and choose career progression
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: The executive-assistant relationship is a partnership. That’s the one that should be worked on first; everything else will flow. Good communication is important. Many times executives think things and do not communicate them. It’s important to communicate even the flimsiest of things. I would also advise forming a strategic partnership. If an executive gives the assistant support and values the assistant’s efforts, s/he would do anything to make the executive shine.
Volunteer as a means of exposing your skills and demonstrating your potential
For those interested in promotion: Most admins usually count years of experience and, in a way, equate it to progress. I encourage my colleagues to take a bold decision and choose career progression.
Invest in your career. It may not pay off immediately but, when it does, it pays handsomely. Most companies do not invest in training for their assistants. In this case, I encourage assistants to open a training fund and save (say) $100 per month. It may take longer, but you still get there.
Volunteer. Competition in the career world is very stiff. For one to expose their skills, it would be wise for them to volunteer. It’s the best way of making others know your potential.
Seize opportunities; they could be all you ever needed. Find role models and mentors.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Florence referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.
- NASAP – National Association of Administrative Professionals
- PAFSA – Professional Association for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants
- Proudly Admin Uganda
- Lucy Brazier – Executive Secretary Magazine
- Bonnie Low-Kramen – Be The Ultimate Assistant (web) and book
- Julie Perrine – All Things Admin and The Innovative Admin
- Vickie Sokol Evans – Red Cape Company
- Bonnie St. John – Live Your Joy