A Conversation with Joanne Linden, Silicon Valley’s All-Star Chief Executive Assistant

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

Who better to start our leadership series than an Admin from the generation who runs the world? As a Baby Boomer with over 30 years of experience as a Chief Executive Assistant in Silicon Valley, Joanne Linden has a background working with some of the most successful startups and billion-dollar corporations in the world. She’s considered a trailblazing pioneer for professional Administrators who helped developed the first certificate program for Administrative Professionals in Silicon Valley. A founder and board member of Administrative Center of Excellence (ACE), she is the co-author of a self-published book with Linda McFarland, Sitting on a File Cabinet, Naked, With a Gun: True Stories of Silicon Valley CEO Assistants.

We chatted with Joanne Linden to talk shop about leadership in an admin world and to tap her infinite amount of wealth and wisdom for other professionals in the admin world.

OfficeNinjas: In our work culture, Admins are sometimes looked at as subordinates. What do Admins bring to the table that make them great leaders in their organizations and/or professional network?

JL: There are many aspects to leadership—being a good leader, being a good manager and being good at whatever you do. With over 30 years as an Executive Assistant, I’ve been fortunate that my career has allowed me to work with some of the most brilliant executive leaders in Silicon Valley. Anyone can be a leader, but few are good at it.

In my experience, the people that are respected EA leaders continually strive to stay at the top by constantly acting on self-improvement ideas. They are open to new viewpoints in the way you work or communicate, they start developing strategies with their executive on goals that benefit both careers, benefit their executive, and their personal life.

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ON: What does being a leader mean to you? What are some important traits of an Admin being a leader?

JL: There are a number of elements that make up Executive Assistants leadership skills. You have to be up-to-date with the latest office software offerings, technology savvy, and—above all else—be detail oriented.

Certainly one of the more significant honors an EA can receive from their executive is that of a trusted advisor and partner in the office. This honor is earned and can take many years of working together to form that type of bond.

Mostly, I look to EAs that lead by example, who are passionate about their careers and are making a significant difference for administrative professionals training and development through EA community outreach. EA leaders like Joan Burge, founder of Office Dynamics and creator of the Star Achievement Series®. Her passion, drive and commitment to our discipline is an inspiration to thousands of administrative professionals worldwide. Other EA leadership examples are right here in Silicon Valley, and continually inspire me such as Debbie Gross of Cisco, Linda McFarland of Sophos, Bonnie Savage of Avaya and Cookie Won of Intuit, to name a few.

ON: Why do you feel it’s important for Admin Professionals to take on leadership roles in their organizations and/or professional network?

JL: Over the years I’ve asked numerous Administrative Professionals why they choose this discipline for a lifetime career. Over 60% responded they got into this field as a stop-gap measure to make money, but they had no intention to be “just an admin.” 100% of the people I’ve asked that question also responded they are so glad they “lucked” into a wonderful career. It’s up to us to break the cycle of how administrators are viewed and the best way to do that is for us to step up.

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ON: Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert? How does that affect you as a leader?

JL: I am an introvert. For me, it’s been a struggle at times, being in a room full of people, yet too shy to speak up. But one of the best compliments I have received is that I’m a good listener. It’s a trait of introverts, who have an ability to quietly process their thoughts, humility, a calm and collected demeanor, and make meaningful connections. When you think about this, they are all great traits that make for great leaders.

However, it’s tough being an introvert, and I remember a time when it was almost paralyzing, especially in a business meeting where I was expected to talk. Surrounded in a room filled with top management and executives, I’m sitting and listening, really hoping I wasn’t being noticed and most certainly hoping not to be called on to speak. If you haven’t gone through this emotion, let me just say there is lots of anxiety happening.

What helped me to somewhat overcome this shy type of behavior was to look to my peers for inspiration and guidance. I joined Executive Assistant communities such as International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), Silicon Valley Catalysts Association (SVCA), and Administrative Center of Excellence™ (ACE) along with public speaking groups like Dale Carnegie Training and Toastmasters.

ON: What do you think made you a better leader in your career?

JL: The best example I can share that helped me become a leader is coauthoring my book, Sitting on a File Cabinet, Naked with a Gun: True Stories of Silicon Valley CEO Assistants. The project took four years and an enormous amount of collaboration, listening and compromise to complete. In the end, this book helped in developing my confidence to speak at numerous book launching venues in front of hundreds of people. The book is now in its seventh reprint and considered a success in the world of self-publishing.

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ON: What can admins looking to take on leadership roles do?

JL: First and foremost, you’ll have to change how you think and feel about yourself to change the way your executive or co-workers think about you. Do a reality check and truly evaluate your abilities, attitude, and communication skills. Be honest with yourself and you’ll discover areas that need improvement.

Whether you are an admin looking to be promoted or an EA working for the CEO of a company, I’m a proponent for continuing education as it offers a myriad of benefits. At the same time, networking with co-workers, peers or other successful EAs can add perspective toward you getting the recognition you deserve. I agree with Joan Burge, who says we should, “always work to develop skills, attitude, team, and career strategy,” as this is how to be recognized as an Executive Assistant and not just an admin.

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

JL: If you read any news source on generational gaps in the workplace, you quickly realize that this is the first time in American history we have four generations working side-by-side. Each generation brings distinct attitudes, behaviors, expectations, habits and motivational switches. I’m in the Baby Boomer generation and within my peer group the conversation inevitably ends up talking about how to deal with the Gen Xers or Gen Yers. We’ve learned quickly that when communicating with Generation Y’s, you use email and texting, and with Generation X’ers you can be direct in your communications.

Bottom line, I don’t think it matters what generation you belong to. It’s imperative that you are a lifelong learner. The minute you think you know everything there is about your career you will be left behind. The world changes by the millisecond. To remain at the top of your field as an EA leader, stay relevant, be open to input, step out of your comfort zone, and try something different.

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Thanks so much to Joanne Linden for sharing her wealth of knowledge and insight with OfficeNinjas! We’re glad to learn that the most respected admins are the ones who are always striving for self-improvement. Whether that’s battling a case of nerves before a big presentation or expanding your horizons in your professional development community—it’s important for admins to educate and motivate him or herself to become a better Office Ninja.

What additional questions would you like to ask Joanne? Post them in the comments or on social with #NinjaLeadership!

Emily E. Steck

Emily E. Steck is a writer who thinks too much, according to her mother. She attributes her ninja skills to her university years, where she worked as a student worker for the math department. It was her understanding there would be no math. When she's not writing, she can be seen reading a book, jamming out on her piano and playing tennis.

Comments

  1. April Gordon
     

    Thank you for giving this interview, Joanne. It was inspirational and encouraging. I look forward to reading your book!

    1. Joanne Linden
       

      You’re welcome, April. This was just another example of stretching outside your comfort zone :). I hope you enjoy the book. Joanne

  2. Joanne Linden
     

    Thanks, Jennifer. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you as we work together to bring the Admin Awards to Silicon Valley. Joanne

  3. Jennifer Magana
     

    Joanne, you are truly an inspirational and remarkable woman. I am so glad to have crossed paths with you at the SVCA’s Build Your Path to a Successful Career in the Valley this past August. You are a genuine mentor and I am excited to read your co-authored book, Sitting on a File Cabinet, Naked with a Gun: True Stories of Silicon Valley CEO Assistants. Congratulations Joanne!

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