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“I Have Never Nor Will Ever Be a Subordinate”—A Conversation with an OfficeNinjas Ambassador

Read the Full #NinjaLeadership Series:
Intro | Joanne Linden | Melissa Smith | Crystal Le | Takeaways

As we quietly chip away at what being a leader means, we had the chance to talk to Joanne Linden about what leadership means for longstanding admins. But what about for admins who are in the middle of their career? How can they make an impact or a change?

That’s why we spoke to OfficeNinjas Ambassador Leader and resident Gen-Xer Melissa Smith, a forward-thinking admin with an entrepreneurial drive and spirit known for speaking her mind and championing her fellow admins. By voicing her opinions with care and consideration everyday, we just knew that her thoughts on admins and leadership, changing perspective, and self-improvement would be insightful. And she didn’t disappoint!

OfficeNinjas: What does being a leader mean to you?

Melissa Smith: Being a leader is about serving. When you give with the right motives, it really does come back to you. I’m inspired to help others and see them grow and achieve their goals.

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ON: What are some important traits of an admin being a leader? What characteristics inspire respect and trust?

MS: “Willingness to help,” sums it up. Even if you don’t know how you can be of assistance, use what you do know to help. I’m not your go-to gal for tech questions, but I know someone who is. I’m not the best with spreadsheets, but I know someone who is. Helping others is the action behind the words and your actions are what people will remember. Make your actions count and you’ll earn the trust and respect of others.

ON: In some cases, admins are looked at simply as subordinates. Why do you feel it’s important for admin professionals to take on leadership roles in their organizations and/or professional network?

MS: It’s extremely important to take on leadership roles because we need to have our perspective shared. How many times have you been given notice about a new plan or system that’s being rolled out and no one on the admin team was consulted? You immediately start pointing out the potential or immediate issues—how this could have been fixed from the beginning if an admin had joined the team.

If you’re being shut out or run into obstacles to join a leadership team, ask to be part of an “evangelist group.” Most companies are now aware that in order to get a “buy in,” they need to have people who can champion the product or system even when you run into the inevitable snags. By volunteering for one of these groups, you’ll immediately make yourself a leader.

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ON: What advice can you give to fellow admins on how to change the perspective that admins and leadership are not mutually exclusive?

MS: Someone referred to me as a subordinate recently and I quickly, but politely, interrupted him and told him I have never—nor will I ever be—a subordinate. He quickly retracted and said that I was “unique.” If you want to be a leader as an admin, take your unique qualities and exploit them. For instance, if you don’t know what truly makes you unique, start by listening to the things in the office that everyone complains about doing that you actually love doing and begin peeling back the layers to find why you love doing it.

Who else could possibly know how great you are? You’re the best cheerleader for yourself and you have to let people know that through your actions.

ON: What do admins bring to the table that make them great leaders in their organizations and/or professional network?

MS: Admins bring organization. I love hearing someone come up with an idea and then wondering how in the world they are going to implement it. I sometimes wonder with them. We are the people that connect the dots, the ones who take the ideas and make them a reality. Then an admin speaks up and says he/she has the solution. Problem solved!

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ON: What have been your greatest rewards from being a leader in this profession?

MS: Seeing others achieve their goals. When someone first takes an Executive or leadership role it’s because they have a vision/ or goal of how they can make a difference. It’s so easy to get consumed with things like reporting, compliance hitting the “numbers”; I keep them focused on their real purpose. When they achieve what they want, I know I had a part in that and the feeling is awesome. Can you say “win-win”?

ON: Just curious—do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert? Do you find that either/or has affected you as a leader?

MS: I used to consider myself an introvert. I put limitations on myself that held me back and I wasn’t working to my potential. Being an introvert doesn’t have to be limiting if that is really the person you are.

But as it turns out, I realized I was a closeted extrovert. Talking to strangers and striking up conversations anywhere possible has allowed me to meet the most interesting people. When I hear what interesting things the introvert is working on I can introduce him/her to someone else that shares a similar background or has a similar vision. Putting the right people together, at the right time, for the right purposes to get the best results is what a great leader does.

It was actually OfficeNinjas that gave me my first platform to explore options outside of my own office. Now that I’m fully being myself, the effects are all so positive.

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ON: What tips would you give to other admins in your generation?

MS: In life and business, no matter how happy or how much you love something, you need a support team for the tough times. Choose a good support team—one that offers unpaid and unsolicited advice—and they will come. Just the other night, I was at an event and the speaker said something really amazing: “If the shoe fits, share it.” That’s why I appreciate OfficeNinjas so much—it gives us the place to share best practices, information about new products, how other ninjas are surviving and thriving. It’s a reminder that you’re not alone in the admin world—there’s always another Office Ninja in stealth mode ready to arrive on the scene when you need one.

Thanks so much to Melissa Smith for our wonderful conversation. We’re so appreciative of the work she’s done as an OfficeNinjas Ambassador Leader and her constant encouragement and networking with fellow admins to stand up for themselves and for the work they do. We know that any (current or future) office is lucky to have her as a leader.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on leadership throughout the series. Use the hashtag #NinjaLeadership on your Tweets and posts about the leadership series to add your genius voice to the conversation!

What’s the quality you value most in an inspiring leader? Let us know in the comments or by using #NinjaLeadership!


  1. Very well articulated Melissa! I agree that leadership is an important quality that all OfficeNinjas need to be successful. I am always seeking opportunities at work to develop leadership skills.

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