Olivia O’Toole is the Director of Operations for the Jim Black Group. A real estate team in Millbury, MA. Olivia and her boss Jim are now teaming up to coach real estate teams on how to build powerful Admin/Owner partnerships. Check out our podcast interview to learn more about her journey from assistant to partner.
Olivia is passionate about encouraging administrators to advocate for their place at the table. She knows first-hand how much untapped talent exists in the admin community and she wants more businesses to experience the growth and freedom that comes from encouraging talented admins to step fully into their leadership potential.
This article is for your lead admin as much as it is for you. If your executive assistant or director of operations isn’t taking on the leadership role you hoped they would, maybe they are waiting for your invitation to join them at the leadership table.
It starts at an early age: a group of kids is playing in the sandbox at the playground, and another stands a few feet away, looking longingly at the laughing children in the sand. The lone child would love nothing more than to join the others in building and then destroying piles of sand.
But the invitation doesn’t come, and after a few minutes the child walks away and goes to swing by themselves, feeling sad and left out.
As the child walks away, the group watches him go and one of the children wonders out loud why that kid didn’t come play with them. It would have been fun to have a fourth.
As adults, many people pay out the same patterns in their lives; waiting for invitations and feeling left out rather than asking to join, or not even considering the possibility that they might have something valuable to bring to the table at all.
If you are one of those people, here is something you need to know: the only person keeping you away from that table is you. This is something that I did to myself for years in my career growing from Assistant to Director of Operations, before figuring out a few things that made all the difference:
• More often than not, I wasn’t invited to join a group or conversation simply because it didn’t occur to the people in the group, and NOT because they did not want me there. Once I got done feeling resentful for being excluded and worked up the nerve to ask to be included, they were more than happy to have me! Sometimes they didn’t think I was interested until I asked.
• People do not know what value I have to offer until I offer it. Waiting to be recognized for the value that you can bring to a conversation or organization is a great way to build frustration and get nowhere. As long as you are waiting to be invited to show your value, you are not showing your value!
• Not every table is for me. There were times I would take issue with being left out of a table, only to find once I worked my way in that it wasn’t one I even wanted to be a part of. Be clear on the difference between wanting to be at a table because your ego wants it and wanting to be there because there is value there for you and value you can bring.
• For me, sometimes the thing that made me want to be included was a fear of being left behind or left out. When I was able to switch my focus to what was actually going to move me forward, I realized that there were plenty of tables I wasn’t even interested in.
• As the quote at the beginning of the article says, if there isn’t a seat for you at the table, it’s ok to bring your own. The less you wait on other people to give you permission, the more you are able to grow and achieve.
And, interestingly, I have found that the better I get at bringing over my own chair and joining the tables I want to be at, the more I have been invited to other tables and offered a chair. (Remember that showing value thing? Once you show people what you can bring to the table, they are going to want you at their other tables too.)
I’ll admit, sometimes it’s not as easy as just pulling up a chair. There are tables at which a seat has to be earned. There was a time I would have looked at those tables and seen them and the people seated at them as beyond me, and not even tried. Now I know that while some people may be further ahead in their journey than I am, nobody is beyond me. And as long as I am willing to put in the work, there is no table I cannot earn a place at.
At the end of the day, the only person who can decide how far you will go and how much you will grow is you. And a large part of what determines that is what tables you are sitting at, and what conversations you are having. Stop waiting for someone else to tell you where you should be sitting, and most of all please do not let anyone (including yourself!) tell you that you don’t belong.
Take a seat, it’s time to do some big things.