Real Careers: Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha

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, Uganda, the USA and Wales, and now make our way back to Uganda to visit with Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha.

Lilian Kamanzi Mugisha is Executive Secretary to the Country Director of Amref Health Africa in Uganda. Here’s a look at her world.

An Early Start for this Family Person

My typical day starts at 4:30 a.m. I always wake up at this time to say my devotion, shower, clean my room and dress up. I rarely take tea but a do take a glass of hot water.  At 5:00 the alarm to wake the children goes off, and we go through the normal routine of preparing for school and work.

We use our family car to drop me off to work and the children to their various schools. and then we drive home together in the evening. This is done by my husband. Bless him. Who or what is on your commuting playlist/podcast?  As we leave in a hurry, we made a decision to say our morning prayers in the car on our way to our destinations because we are all present.  We are Christians, so prayer is a centre of almost everything we do. After that, we listen to the morning show on Sanyu FM 88.2. We love it; it provides general updates on different happenings in the country.

At the Office

Morning Routines: I pick up the newspapers and check the headlines for the lead stories so that I am abreast with the main happenings in the country. After that, I check the foreign news page so that I know what is happening elsewhere.

Primary Responsibilities: I ensure that the Country Director has all the supplies he needs, that his working environment is clean, all his meetings are booked in to his diary, and that all the documents he needs for all his meetings are ready. I follow up on all key action points for the rest of the managers who report directly to him, and I handle his travel, both local and international. I take minutes of all the meetings he chairs, and I support and coordinate all the Advisory Council meetings and senior management meetings.  I am in charge of all staff members’ travel and hotel reservations. I manage all special events such as fundraisers and leadership training for the senior management team, and also set up strategic meetings and vet all his guests.

Usually I begin with supervising the cleaners to ensure our work environment is clean. I review any pending work in the Country Director’s out tray and either forward it accordingly or prioritise and start working on those that need responses. At 8:30 every day we have a one on one meeting with my supervisor to review his action plan and his priorities; we call this meeting the Plans and Update meeting.  I then set up for any scheduled meetings, or give reminder calls to any partners he will be meeting.

I then respond to mail based on the need and availability of information, and of course there are  some  on the spot requests and other competing demands that I deal with along the way.

How long is your work day? I usually work eight to 10 hours a day. However, once in a while I may extend my day by an hour.

IMG_9639What might be a typical lunch?  I love Greek salads and hot dog salads. Most of the time, I have my lunch break at my desk as l listen to some music or an audio book. Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? If if I have a report or minutes to produce following a meeting held on a Friday afternoon, I will have them typed out so  that I can share them in time for the next meeting.

Dealing with Challenges

What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? Firefighting and spillover hatred, especially if management takes a decision that may not be favoured by the staff members – most times, they look at you as a key player in some decisions, which may not be the case. I try to handle all that professionally, though.

If you are a “yes” person all the time, you suffer burnout and are sometimes looked at as a mother hen

What do you most enjoy about your career? Every day comes with new challenges, and the networking aspect as well as the trust and confidence my supervisor has in me are what really drive my day.

On Saying “No”

It is not easy to say “no” and, truthfully, I struggled with that aspect for years.  If I said no, I would end up feeling guilty. Over the years I have learnt to say Yes to those things that I will give my best, and No to those things I do not have to do or can delegate elsewhere without feeling guilty.

The tip I have is that if you are a “yes” person all the time, you suffer burnout and sometimes you are looked at as a mother hen trying to ensure everything is done. You end up doing everything yourself.  Delegation is an art and science, so as a very busy Executive Secretary (ES), that is something you need to learn and manage well.

Lilian’s World

Map of worldI was born in Uganda, in one of the towns in the Eastern Region called Mbale. I live in the outskirts of the capital city, Kampala; this is in the Wakiso District. Sometimes I want to think I am both a city gal (because l love fast and easy access to places and facilities like the lib, malls and hotels) and a country girl. When it is time to take a break, I want to hear only the sweet sounds of the birds and the trees swaying their branches.

Away from the office, I write books or short children’s stories; I also meet with teenagers, and run a small community based organisation called Teenage Girls Forum. I like cooking for myself, friends and family.

How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? I go for a foot scrub/ pedicure and face scrub and visit a very nice restaurant, where I will have a hot cup of coffee or chocolate and, later, a Greek salad.

 A dream holiday or travel adventure? That would be a family getaway in a national park such as Queen Elizabeth National Park or Masai Mara National Reserve.

Delegation is an art and a science

Education and Professional Development

They have given me the information I need to move in the right direction, and also built my confidence and network. Professional development has also opened doors for me in areas of mentorship and training, which I could not have done otherwise. My supervisor and other team members look at me differently, and I have developed my capacities for strategic thinking and management.

I belong to the Author’s forum network in Uganda, the International Vibrate group in Uganda and the Professional EAs network. I very closely follow the Executive Secretary magazine and the Effective Executive Assistant network. I am also a member of the Commonwealth Writers Club.



Preferred form(s) of social media? WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook

Your dream app, or software, to help you in your career? I have a list of apps I would love to have to make my work better.

  •  BlueJeans Network – Not every office is equipped with video conferencing tools. That’s when BlueJeans (a cross platform tool for video conferencing) comes in super handy.
  • Doodle – Schedule meetings that involve input from multiple folks. I am currently using Outlook scheduler, but I can do better.
  • Evernote – A perfect place for me to write my notes, tasks, workout routines, clip pages from the web, etc. What makes it great is that it syncs across multiple devices.
  • Expensify – This is an easy way to deal with expense reports. Snap pictures of receipts, upload or edit them if needed, and send the PDF to accounting.
  • Facebook Disconnect – A must have add-on because at times you do not want every one tracking your every move on the web.
  • FlightTrack – As Executive Assistants, we book a ton of travel. So I want to be on top of my game and prevent the fire drill that comes with a missed / late departure flight. I was told that this app helps provide the most accurate flight status. If I get it, I will consider adding the app to my executive’s phone.
  • Google Docs – Create light-weight spreadsheets, presentations, etc. and share them with multiple users without worrying about their MS Office versions.
  • Google Voice – Use one number for all your current phones, have voicemails transcribed on email and benefit from low international call rates. This is a must have.
  • OpenTable – Make restaurant reservations and earn points.
  • Spotify – Amazing music collection! Listen to tons of songs for free! I don’t know about you, but having classical music playing in the background helps me get in the zone. But this app is not yet available in East Africa, so I am waiting.
  • TaskRabbit – It seems great if you or your executive need help running some errands.
  • Wondershare – Convert PDFs to MS Word documents, unlock PDFs, etc. I must try it out.
  • Wunder list – I hear it’s good, so I will research and try it out.
  • Xobni – Contacts made easy! I am planning on trying this.
Awards and Recognition

When I was with my former employer, I was Best Performing Staff in Administration for two consecutive years.  I was also nominated by New Vision media group and UNFPA 2013, in the category of the Best 50 Working Women Who Mentor Teenagers.

Keep on top of your game and be a step ahead of the rest

Style and Substance

Toronto Style Copyright Shelagh DonnellyWhat is your go-to outfit to ensure confidence on an important day in the workplace? A well made line dress, most likely in brown. or a nude coloured skirt  and cream top

What one or two cosmetics would your purse or travel bag be empty without?  Hand lotion – a natural product –  and a lip butter cream

Heels or flats in the office? Heels – usually wedge shoes, as they are more comfortable for me and balance my body weight  For your commute? Flats- I actually carry a pair of rubber flats in my car  Favourite brands of shoes, whether you wear them or they’re on your wish list? Nine West, Devinity and Ispy

Preferred scent: Cerruti 1881 eau de toilette

What might we find in your desk drawer? My note book, a painkiller, keys, a hand lotion and my tab

Travel or travel planning advice? At the beginning of the year, have your international offices send the invitation letters for your supervisor, so that you can use them to process visa applications far in advance of any scheduled travel – especially if the supervisor is African, as it sometimes it takes longer to get a visa. You want to have all those visas in his/ her passport for key countries that s/he may visit.  Sometimes you may be lucky and the supervisor is given a two year visa for a given country.

  • Ensure your supervisor saves (bonus/credit) miles so that you can reduce travel costs, or s/he can utilise them for holidays. Always ensure they have travel medical insurance coverage.
  • Have all the contacts of the different airlines’ airport desks at hand, as you never know when you will need them.
  • Always have an e-copy of the supervisor’s ticket on his/her smartphone, and a hard copy in his/her jacket or laptop bag. Print out key contacts and Google maps for areas s/he will be visiting, and a profile of the main host of any meetings your supervisor will be attending.

Inspirational reads? The Effective Executive Assistant; A Guide to Creating Long‐Term Career Success, by Chrissy Scivicque and What Colour is your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles

Challenge yourself and think out of the box

Role models or mentors?

  • My current supervisor – He is a believer in one’s achievement. He pushes you to go beyond the norm in growing and developing yourself, and he gives you all the guidance you need to succeed.
  • Suzette – a former EA, and now a renowned  professional EA and leadership trainer based in South Africa. Suzette trained me and has continued to mentor me.

Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Being invited to share my experience as an Executive Secretary at different EA summits and networking groups, and training other Secretaries within East Africa and West Africa. I have also been key in raising funds for a cause for my organisation, in which we collected close to 273,000,000 Ugandan shillings ($108,000 CAD, or 53,838 GBP).

Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? I am set to move into managerial circles and I am working on it. Ensuring I accomplish excellent grades on my MBA, and also taking a short course in Communication Management – I want to get into communication management as a strategic role in an organisation, or set up a consultancy firm. I also want to write a book entitled Memoire of the Executive Secretary.  I have already started on it, and hope to have it ready in September 2016.

Enjoy all the roles you fill

Lessons Learned

What bit of insight would have been most helpful to you in the early stages of your career? Seeking out volunteer work when I was still a teenager would have given me greater insights on what to expect in the working world.

What are a couple of valuable early conversation topics you recommend an assistant initiate when beginning work with a new executive/principal?

  • What are the most important things for me to accomplish in the coming weeks?
  • What would a successful first six months look like for me in this role?
  • What recent history of the department or upcoming plans should I be aware of?
  • How do you prefer to communicate? Do you prefer email or talking in person? Do you like to talk about things as they come up, or do you prefer that I save things up for a weekly meeting?
  • What types of things do you prefer to be consulted on? Given final approval on? What kinds of things do you prefer that I handle on my own?
  • Are there any pitfalls that you’ve seen people fall into when they’re learning this job? Is there anything I should be especially aware of?

Professional development has opened doors in areas of mentorship and training

Your most effective time management strategy? Prioritising is my most effective time management strategy.

  • Planning: Daily, weekly, and long range planning are essential if I am to accomplish the maximum amount of work in the most efficient way possible. The first step I have always done is to identify and list the tasks that must be completed. I use the well known “ABC” time management system to assign priorities to the various tasks.  I will share the ABC system that I think most of us use.
  • The “A” priorities are of primary concern and must be undertaken at a particular time. Examples of “A” priority work includes preparing letters that must be included in a particular mail pickup, completing material for the supervisor’s ten o’clock meeting, or making a plane reservation for the supervisor’s urgent trip to a branch office later in the day. Taking minutes at a staff meeting is an example of an “A” priority task that does not involve urgency, but is one that must be performed at a particular time of the day.
  • The “B” priorities are of secondary importance, but they should be completed as soon as the “A” tasks have been accomplished. Most of the daily tasks I must perform are of the “B” type and include routine tasks such as opening and processing the mail, and transcribing dictation.
  • The “C” priorities are of low importance. They should be completed during “slack” periods. Updating the files is an example of “C” priority task.

Remember to take care of yourself

Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? Enjoy all the roles you fill. If you are a mother, a working lady and a wife, balance the three to ensure none is left wanting – because if one is not fully cared for, it will hurt all your other efforts. Remember to take care of yourself. Look nice , smell sweet and work hard, smart and well.

Balance all the roles you fill in your life; if one is not fully cared for, it will hurt all your other efforts

Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: I am here to support you as your strategic partner, to ensure you shine professionally and deliver on all your assignments. For this to happen, you need to give me the opportunity to fully support you professionally and to allow time for face to face meetings to ensure we do not drop the ball. Your trust is very vital and critical for me to perform.

For those interested in promotion: Believe you can be better than you are now; challenge yourself and think out of the box. Be modern and move with the dynamics that come with the job. Keep on top of your game and be a step ahead of the rest, even your supervisor. Think on your feet and, when you face a challenge, always present your supervisor at least two solutions of your thinking. Give him/her a choice to start with, and you will be a valuable member of the team.


… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Lilian 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.