Getting Tangled Up Managing Unrealistic Expectations

My EA Career

Last week I wrote a blog post ruminating on how Executive Assistants are the human equivalent of a Slinky.

Bouncing forward

The idea came to me because I had recently delivered a virtual presentation talking about how you as an Executive Assistant need to lead from where you are and not just bounce back but bounce forward out of Covid-19 lockdown. It’s tough and it takes resilience. The Slinky epitomises optimistically bouncing forward. 

I was excited about my Slinky Mindset metaphor and dispatched my youngest daughter to take a video of a Slinky going down our front stairs. I was looking forward to using to promote my blog post on social media.

Unfortunately it wasn’t so simple.

We gave up after a number of failed attempts to get Slinky to ‘walk’ down the steps. It was when we resorted to searching YouTube for videos of others achieving that we realised what the problem was. Our Slinky was too simply too small to do what we were expecting of it. 

For those of you who feel inclined to give this trick a go, our tip is that navigating stairs requires a larger Slinky.  Ours had a diameter a meagre 4cm or 1.5 inches. Thank me later!

Managing expectations takes skill and practise

Reflecting on this failed trick did give me an insight into how Executive Assistants share something else with the Slinky. The stair scenario illustrated why having realistic expectations is so important. Executive Assistants that I coach, train and mentor consistently struggle to manage unrealistic expectations and helping them navigate this is something I focus on. 

There’s plenty of resources to assist managers and leaders to communicate expectations to staff. I just wish more managers paid attention to it.

My focus is on enabling YOU to be proactive in getting the clarity from your manager so you can be efficient AND effective. In my coaching and training, I use a framework called the 3Ps which stands for priorities, preferences and pet peeves to assist my clients in getting the RIGHT information from your manager. 

Using the 3Ps

Knowing your manager’s 3Ps enables you as the Executive Assistant to prioritise your time and energy into the right areas. But acquiring this insight takes another of my favourite Power Skills: effective communication. It’s about asking the right questions. Seeking clarification and providing feedback when there’s a mismatch between what’s been stated and what your noticing is actually happening or is being focused on.

This is what indispensable assistants excel at and it takes assertiveness and resilience. In other words a Slinky Mindset. Having an accurate understanding of the 3Ps allows you as the EA to clearly understand your manager’s expectations. The 3Ps also serve as a tool for managing unrealistic expectations.

When you find yourself dealing with a mismatch, what you’ve documented as the priorities and the preferences in particular can be useful to reference back to your manager. Respectfully of course but mirroring their own words back to them.

A takeaway for managers

Managers also have a takeaway from my Slinky stair experience. It would have been unfair and unhelpful of me to be annoyed or frustrated with my little Slinky not performing to my expectations. It couldn’t help that it wasn’t fit for the purpose. In the same way, managers and leaders need to demonstrate self-awareness in interacting with their EAs. Sadly I see many examples where this doesn’t happen.

We are human beings, not human doings and I know that you can get just as tangled up as a Slinky when you’re being stretched beyond your capacity. Having unrealistic expectations imposed on you causes stress and unhappiness.

I haven’t given up on my ambitions to video a Slinky navigating our front steps. I’ll be off to the toy store to acquire one that can handle the task and will look forward to sharing it on my social media channels. 

In the meantime, Tell me what other things cause you to get tangled up?

Liz Van Vliet

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Liz Van Vliet, The Linchpin Assistant

Meet Liz

I work with Executive Assistants and Administrative Assistants to deliver the confidence, consistency and career development that transforms them into thriving Linchpin Assistants. 

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