Learn from both success and failure, says Bill Gates’ PA

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PAs need to work hard to be the very best at what they do and should carry out their role with wholehearted effort, earnestness, honesty, rigour and humility. This is the advice of Lauren Jiloty, (pictured) who previously worked for Senator Hillary Clinton and who is now the senior executive assistant to iconic entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates.

Lauren points out that as no two bosses are alike, so no two roles are either. “It is important to learn lessons from both success and failure and develop an appetite for learning new ways of doing things,” she comments. She highlights the fact that it’s not just a line manager who can teach you important lessons: “I have learned that the things I learn from colleagues and subordinates can be every bit as valuable as [those] from high-ranking managers.”

She also notes that her career so far has taught her how to think on her feet and stay a few steps ahead. “This is a continuous effort. Some days, I am four, five steps ahead of the curve. Some days two steps is as good as it gets.”

Asked what in her opinion are the three hallmarks of any good PA, Lauren singles out a positive attitude, responsiveness and talent, along with being “reliably reachable… I enjoy working with people who are always driven to improve.”

Lauren also comments on how the perception of the PA’s role has changed in the US since she started out, noting that management assistants are “no longer secretaries in a typing pool”. She goes on to say that today’s administrative professionals are “gatekeepers, accountants, auditors, spokespersons, publicists, counsellors, stylists, writers, negotiators and listeners.

“But most importantly, we are business partners,” continues Lauren. “There is so much trust between principal and EA, it’s understandable that many employers entrust their most confidential needs to them.”

Lauren explains how she began in the business: she started out in an entry-level position in a regional US Senate office and after two years was promoted to the Executive Office in Washington DC. Another year followed and then she applied for a vacancy within Senator Clinton’s Executive Office; she worked with the Senator for a further two and a half years when she became Secretary of State before being recruited for her present role in Seattle.

In her current job the biggest challenge she faces is “achieving balance”; she elaborates: “It’s elusive and rarely do I feel it is within reach, but I’m always chasing it… it comes with the territory, especially in this line of work.”

Looking ahead, Lauren feels that the role of the PA will become more essential than ever, as executives across all sectors of industry grow increasingly busy. “More and more companies are scaling up the role of PA to its proper place in their hierarchies.” She concludes with an acknowledgement of the importance of the assistant’s position: “When companies hire excellent administrators and then empower them, the return on investment is off the charts.”

Lauren Jiloty spoke at this year’s Executive Secretary LIVE. Visit executivesecretarylive.com for more information