And The Winner is: Introducing Inspiring PA Award Winner Leeanne Graham
Posted: 4th Mar 2016 | Share this Article:
Hot on the heels of the Oscars! It is currently film and TV awards season. Cornerstone42 felt it was only right to honour our talent in the PA and EA profession.
This is a great opportunity to read and learn from former PA award winners about their PA journeys past, present and future and the defining moment when they decided to enter for ‘that’ award.
I am delighted to introduce Leeanne Graham. In 2013 Leeanne won the Executive PA Magazine’s PA of the Year award, an opportunity which she has used to help build her professional brand, inspire and educate Assistants throughout the profession. Working on campaigns such as #PAPromise with Avery UK and speaking at various industry events such as Office* and PA Life Magazine’s EXECsec Summit. Leeanne has also been a spokesperson for the sector speaking to media such as the BBC on news and updates in the PA industry.
Tell us about your journey on becoming a PA?
From Greeter in Asda to receptionist in a dodgy backstreet gym and HR Administrator in a trading firm. I have been working since I was 16 years old. I didn’t go to university, I don’t know what I would have even wanted to study. I always knew I wanted to work in an office and knew I wanted to help people get the job done. After a period where I was very unhappy with my life and career, I took some time out and started again as a Temp PA. One short term contract led to two years in the role and I haven’t looked back. When I go and do my talks, I’m very open and honest about my journey with depression and lack of confidence it always amazes me how many people feel exactly the same and have been in the same boat. Becoming a PA is the best thing I could have ever done.
What are your main responsibilities?
I am currently titled “Crew Leader”. It’s not a traditional PA or Office Manager role. Although I have a lot of diary management and I look after our very busy Chief Executive, my role is to make sure the team are being effective and able to do their jobs. Take away the things that hold up their day and ensure they feel capable. It’s looking at potential gaps and filling them. I also make sure we have an office that runs as slickly as possible at all times. My boss calls me an anchor. I help steady the ship.
Tell us about this particular award and why you were nominated?
The award I won was the Executive PA Magazine PA of the Year Award for 2013. It is one of the biggest and well known PA awards. I nominated myself as a test against some goals I had set myself a year earlier. I wanted to be as successful as I could be in my job. I was also nominated by a colleague, I remember finding out about the awards and calling around the office “Who’s going to nominate me for this then?” Only to have everyone duck their head down behind their computer screens. It was the only awards I was aware of at the time.
Describe to us the process what did it entail?
The nomination process was an application form asking about me, my role and my relationship with my boss as well as my aspirations for my career and the future. Nominees were then whittled down to a long list of 40 where we had to submit our CV’s to the judging panel. This was then whittled down to the top 20 PAs in the country who were invited for a telephone interview. My interview took place whilst I was on a work away day at London Zoo! Finally the last six candidates were invited to a face to face interview and had to give a presentation to a panel of five judges on the role of the Modern PA. Winners were announced later that evening at a stunning gala dinner.
Did you tell anyone you had entered, in particular any of your work colleagues, what was their reaction? – if your answer is no, why not?
I didn’t tell anyone I had entered. It was more for me to give myself an idea of how I felt I was doing in my role. Several years earlier I was approached at the Office* show and asked to consider applying but I wasn’t confident enough in myself to apply. At the point I entered I just wanted to write down everything I had done and see it there in front of me.
And the winner is: talk us through those exciting moments when you heard your name being announced?
Well I actually spent a lot of time drinking wine at the dinner as I was certain I wouldn’t win. When the MC was announcing the runner ups I was even more certain that the winner wouldn’t be me. It was only after he mentioned things I had put in my application and had said in my interview that I finally clocked on. Pure shock and disbelief and a moment of fear as I realised that I had to get up on stage but total joy at winning. Everything went in slow motion as I walked up on stage trying not to cry and fall over. It is a moment I’ll never forget.
Do you think winning this award has impacted on your career as a PA?
The impact on my career has been amazing. It’s given me an opportunity to put my voice out there. To push myself and to gain confidence in my ability to do my job and change my life. I’ve been able to tell my story and hopefully inspire others to push themselves and better their careers. ON a personal level it’s helped me really grow my confidence, self-esteem and cement what I want from my career. It’s made me realise just how passionate I am about what I do and helping others become passionate as well. We all have so much to give and I love seeing myself and others blossom.
What do you enjoy most about being a PA?
The relationship management side of things. Being that go to person. Being able to get things done and helping others have success in what they are doing. It can be a background role at times but knowing that people really value what I do for them really brightens my day.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
Getting things wrong. I’m not great at getting things wrong and can often beat myself up if I feel I am not reaching my own high standards. This can lead to shying away from asking for help which is key in a role like this. It is ok to say no, it is ok to stop and take some time to figure things out and it definitely ok to ask for help.
What gets you out of bed in the morning what motivates you?
A job that I love with fantastic people. Being able to come into the office, help people to have a great working day and to learn and push through my challenges. If I am not challenging myself, then what’s the point? I don’t want to become stagnant. I want to be the best person I can be.
You really are a champion and a voice of the PA industry, what do you see that others perhaps do not?
I don’t feel like a champion, so thank you. I do believe that it is up to us to create our own happiness, to build great relationships and to push ourselves to where we want to go. If you don’t like your job then do all you can to make it better, or move yourself on. We are in control of our lives, even when it doesn’t feel like it, so we are the only ones who can make it better. I love seeing people around me being passionate and inspiring others. So many of my PA friends are just the most amazing people and I just like to encourage them and have them encourage me. Does that make sense?
The PA awards industry seems to be booming, what advice would you give to a fellow PA who is considering entering for an award.
Be clear on what it is you are trying to achieve by entering and pick your award wisely. There are lots around and pick the one you feel most passionate about. Sometimes just the act of entering the awards is enough to make you feel like you’ve won because you have the chance to really reflect on all your successes and this is something you need to remember if you are not shortlisted. Not winning doesn’t mean anything apart from the fact you need to keep trying.
How relevant is networking in our industry?
Networking is so important. Being a PA can be really lonely and often PA’s can be left out of training budgets. Networking is a great way to meet new peers and colleagues, upskill, build a little black book of useful contacts and more importantly a group of friends. So many of my closest friends are PA’s and that wouldn’t be true if it wasn’t for networking. It can be super scary to get out there and meet new people, and it can be tiring after a hard day at work but it can also be one of the most rewarding things you can do. Internal or external networking is so key in our profession. I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone.
What’s next for you?
Learning more and more about my role. Gaining business experience. Pushing myself as far as possible. Encouraging other PA’s. I have my first international speaking engagements booked for this year in Belfast and Barcelona. I’m so nervous but so excited. This is totally out of my comfort zone, but as the quote states ‘life begins at the end of your comfort zone’. Working with my peers as a non-Executive Director on the National Advisory Board for the brand new and profession changing Executive and Personal Assistants Association. We are going to shake up our profession and create great things and lastly getting married in the summer. Planning a wedding is a full time job in itself. I can’t wait to get married to my Chris who is an amazing support system in my life.
Thank you Leeanne and congratulations on your pending nuptials!
Cornerstone42 is a boutique Executive Assistant Talent Match Agency launching 1st April 2016. Founded by Executive Assistant Vivien Edwards further details at https://www.cornerstone42.com, email contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter: @cornerstone42_
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