It always amazes me how absolutely incredible the positive attitudes and relentless way of those in the PA industry work time and time again. It has been an amazing series so far which is only going to get better and better and with the amazing Leeanne Adu being our featured PA this week I was taken by surprise to actually find the time I spent with Leeanne making me quite emotional.
Without further more, meet Leeanne Adu currently at Women In Sport. Funny, inspirational and incredibly motivated Leeanne is certainly now one of my role models and someone who I look forward to chatting with more in the future…
TAR: Firstly, happy Friday! Catching up with you has been a long time coming for us at The Assistant Room and on the PA Diaries! I’m not going introduce you, I am going to let yourself do that and give everyone who may not be familiar with you, a really good all round perespective as to who Leeanne Adu is and what she currently does…
LA: Well thanks for having me, I’ve been loving the series so I am really pleased to be featured. So, who am I? Currently I am almost a decade deep into my dream career. I became a PA after few years working as a Receptionist and HR Assistant.
I’ve always known I wanted to work in Administration and my main goal in life is honestly to make things easier for people to get on with what they need to.
My whole PA career has been in the public and charity sector. I’ve worked for organisations such as the Arts Council England, the British Library and wish ranting charity, Starlight Children’s Foundation. I am currently the Crew Leader (which is a snazzy way of saying EA and Office Manager) as a wonderful equality charity called Women in Sport.
In 2013 I won the UK’s biggest PA award, PA of the Year with Executive PA Magazine.
TAR: It certainly sounds like an absolutely mind blowing ten years that you have had so far and it’s great to see how you have transitioned from Receptionist and HR. Looking back at that period in time, how easy did you find the change and were there any particular areas which you can remember that you needed to focus on during this transition?
‘…my main goal in life is honestly to make things easier for people to get on with what they need to.’
LA: I left my role at Hobsons (a publisher of student guides) as they were unable to promote me in to a Team Secretary role and I knew that was where I wanted to be so I left for another Receptionist role. I think it was an easy mistake to make as a young person trying to find their feet in the world of work. You go for anything that looks attractive and pays more money.
Luckily within that organisation I was promoted into the HR Team which allowed me to develop more admin skills and gain a qualification.
This role coincided with a very dark period in my life which centred around depression and a difficult relationship. I forgot what it was that I really wanted to do with my career. It got to the point where I left that job very suddenly and decided to temp in order to get back on track. Which is how I ended up with my first PA role as PA to the HR Director and her team at the Arts Council England. What a baptism of fire. I knew nothing!
But I am a fast learner and more importantly I was really determined to do well with this. Even if I had to blag it a little bit.
The main problem with this route in the job was I was very easily pigeon holed into HR Departments and actually I really wanted to get away from that. So needing to be strong in what I wanted from a role was really key.
I also had to work so much on my self confidence. The skills around diary management and being organised come very quickly when you have to do it day in and day out. The skills around people management and learning to influence require more work.
A confidence and assertiveness course was invaluable for me
TAR: So not a particularly easy beginning by the sounds of it however hard work certainly pays off and as one of the most adored members of the PA community, you are a huge inspiration to existing and aspiring PA’s. Very quickly touching on the health aspect and how things outside of the working environment can influence your daily behaviour, I personally know how depression can be easily over looked by your colleagues and senior management.
If you had any words of wisdom for anyone going through something similar what advice would you give them?
LA: You know and I know how much of a difference our working environment can make to our mindset. I refuse to stay in a job where I am not happy. It took me being at the end of my tether to realise this but ever since then I have stuck fast to it. I think PAs are probably some of the most loyal people, the nature of our work is to support and nurture and look after others and we often feel bad taking time back to look after ourselves, but how can we be effective when we are not feeling our best?
Key things you can do to help yourself –
Make use of any employee assistance services your office provides. I was fortunate to be able to access counselling and medical care which probably saved my life.
Speak to your Line Manager or a friendly face in the organisation. This goes for anything in life. As it might be, if you don’t speak to someone then people won’t know you need help and following on from that, it is ok to ask for help. It’s hard, I know. PA’s are the ones who people go to for help, we don’t ask for it but this is important.
Take a sick day. You mental health is still health and if you need a day under the duvet to recover, then do it.
‘I think PAs are probably some of the most loyal people, the nature of our work is to support and nurture and look after others and we often feel bad taking time back to look after ourselves, but how can we be effective when we are not feeling our best.’
TAR: Excellent advice on a subject that 100% needs more attention. Mental health in the workplace is something that we all need to understand is as important as physical health and raising awareness of that fact is vital for us all to move forward and make a positive difference to how we are able to conduct ourselves in the office.
Taking all of that into consideration and really embracing the idea that ‘me time’ is as important as the time you dedicate to those you support, how do you manage to detach yourself from what is always undoubtedly a very busy day and the demands from the office? I know that you are a running fanatic and strongly pursue this passion outside of work..
LA: My favourite thing to do to decompress is to have an evening watching my favourite TV shows. I binge watch Hollyoaks, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away with Murder. An evening on the sofa with my husband and some wine makes most things better.
Running as you mentioned is also a massive part of my life. I only started running in late 2012 and I soon realised that no matter how slow I was, I can cover amazing distances. It’s all a mindset. Running has made me understand that I can do anything I put my mind to. Anything.
I try to exercise at least every other day but also don’t beat myself up when it doesn’t happen, because let’s be honest, life can take over, but I know how much good it does my mind and my body to get out there and push myself.
Oh and sleep. If I need a whole day in bed, then I am going to do it. Cancel all the plans, I have a date with my duvet.
TAR: So, lets look at your current role and one which definitely follows a trend as your career has been spent in the public and charity sector. This is an area I personally always wanted to move into however never really saw my opportunity to do so. Run us through what a normal day for Leeanne Adu is like or at least your normal jobs are as the awesome Crew Leader…
‘Running has made me understand that I can do anything I put my mind to. Anything.’
LA: So we are a very small organisation of just 11 staff and my job here is to really look after the team and make sure they are able to do their jobs.
Main duties are the usual around diary management and ensuring the CEO is looked after. General office management but I also work very closely with our Head of Finance and Operations to take on some basic book keeping and finance duties, HR and people management.
I run the logistical side of our events, which might be booking a venue for a workshop or ensuring one of our flagship events goes without a hitch.
I am currently managing the logistics for our International Women’s Day event taking place on the 8th March and this involves ensuring guests are signed up to the correct part of the day, the venue set up, ensuring we have enough staff to look after our guests and all the other bits that come with putting on a great event.
There is also a pastoral element to my role. My job description describes it as an anchor for the team. With so much work and so few people it’s important that staff feel they have someone to talk to and someone who is looking after their needs to I try to do that as much as possible.
I am certainly kept busy here that’s for sure.
TAR: Sounds fantastic and the organisation sounds like an absolute joy to work for! So with everything going on coming at you from many different angles, how do you keep a balance between your priorities and what advice would you give to someone perhaps coming into a role with similar expectations? You described your earlier experience going from HR into a PA role as a baptism of fire which I cannot think of a more apt way of describing this job!!
LA: This has absolutely been my hardest role and busiest role to date. And I do make mistakes. When I am not sure of something I can occasionally bury my head but I have learnt that it’s really not the way to deal with things.
I’ve really opened up the lines of communication between me and my CEO. I have a line manager who manages me on a day-to-day basis but I also ensure that catch ups with my CEO are not just about the diary (as I find that’s the first thing to slip for me) but also about how we work together. I try hard to find out where her stress points are so I can stay on top of them.
‘My job description describes it as an anchor for the team. With so much work and so few people it’s important that staff feel they have someone to talk to and someone who is looking after their needs to I try to do that as much as possible.’
It really is about knowing your boss and knowing what they need. Happy CEO, happy company…
Learning the art of tactfully saying no and also recognising that as much as I want people to have a good working life, I can not do their job for them. I think my biggest problem is not enabling the team to do things for themselves. Feeling that I am being helpful and it is quicker if I just do it for them. Great at the time but it bites me on the bum then they don’t learn how to do it for themselves.
TAR: I find that it’s definitely a misconception for coming into the world of being a PA that they have to be pin point perfect but as you as many of our colleagues say, we’re human! It’s ok to make mistakes and yes they happen!
LA: My biggest mistake when making a mistake is not ‘fessing’ up. I made a mistake not long after starting here and then fixed it but was so worried that I didn’t tell my CEO, who of course found out. Hiding it was worse than the actual problem. So much of our relationship is about trust and for a brief period I had breached that.
Now I try to always be upfront and honest, but if I make a mistake I always try to bring the solution too. Yes, I cocked up, but here is how I am fixing it.
TAR: So taking our conversation down a different direction, PA of the Year winner at the Executive PA Awards…WOW! Talk us through the process and how the nomination initially came about…
LA: Yes! 2013/14 was such an epic year for me professionally speaking.
I’d been in my role for about a year and before I’d joined I’d set some very specific goals for myself and my development. One of these included being as successful as possible in my role and career.
I’d heard about the awards a few years before but didn’t think I’d be good enough to even think about entering. When I heard about them in 2013 I was at the point where I was asking what success looked like for me. I actually had no intention of entering but thought at least if I filled in the nomination form I could have a measure of how well I’d done.
‘…if I make a mistake I always try to bring the solution too. Yes, I cocked up, but here is how I am fixing it.’
The form asked questions about my jobs and aspirations and relationship with my boss. Having stepped into my first senior PA position I’d done a lot of work to raise the profile of my CEO after his previous PA had struggled.
Filling in the form really showed me how much I had done and how far I’d come. Also how much I loved my job. In a moment of madness I hit send on the form about an hour before the deadline.
Vetting, telephone interviews and panel presentations later I’d somehow won it.
It was my first public presentation ever. I used Prezzi which I don’t think has ever really taken off lol
TAR: And you won very deservedly! How do you feel that winning the award has affected our career and what would you say to those who perhaps feel like they would like to enter similar awards but don’t have the confidence to do so…
LA: Thank you. After all this time it is still a shock to me that I won and it has had a massive impact not just on my career but my confidence as well. Career wise, there is a kudos that comes with winning an award like that. People realise how important my career is to me and also that this is a profession that should be taken seriously.
It has led to job offers for me, speaking engagements across the country and even in Europe as well as a new found respect from colleagues. It has given me a voice to champion the profession and helped me reach out to people who have felt siloed in their roles.
In terms of building confidence. I would just say that the best thing about entering and winning the awards for me was knowing that by completing the nomination for this award I was able to demonstrate all my successes to myself. Something we often forget to do.
That on its own was a massive confidence boost. So fill in the form, because whatever you put on there will show how well you’re doing.
‘People realise how important my career is to me and also that this is a profession that should be taken seriously.’
TAR: Recognition to everyone in the industry is very much lacking in the wider working community so its fantastic that you have had so many opportunities to really showcase not only the role of the PA and what it means but your own personal skills.
I have jsut one more question for you and that is that if you were to look back to yourself starting in the role of PA, what words od advice would you give yourself knowing the obstacles that you faced on your way to where you currently are in life both personal and business
LA: That is a tough one. To stay strong in my choices. Sometimes I have felt I am doing the wrong thing but my gut knows what it’s doing more than my head does.
Ask the questions when you are not sure and when people tell you, you’re too happy, ignore them (real life thing).
TAR: Best power dressing outfit?
LA: To make an impression – I have a bright orange M & S tailored dress, together with black blazer and heels.
TAR: Biggest guilty pleasure?
LA: I can’t choose between JLS or Hollyoaks!
TAR: The best way to treat yourself?
LA: With self love. All my favourite things, exercise, buying a new outfit, wine, cake. Whatever the heart needs at that time.
TAR: Who would play you in a movie?
LA: Beyonce obviously!
TAR: Your biggest inspiration?
LA: I have a very close circle of friends who push themselves to the limits constantly and if they didnt, I wouldn’t.
TAR: Your favourite quote to get you through a tough week?
LA: My colleague is always telling me to take good feelings and bottle them up to use when I need them. So “take the good feelings and save them for the bad days”
TAR: Three words to describe you?
LA: Tall, excited, weird