Top 10 Contradictions of the PA/EA role!

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To get what I and my manager need, I have to:

1. Keep the goals of my manager at the centre, whilst responding to numerous other requests

2. Build a close relationship with all the ‘important others’, and maintain a distance that allows me to manage interference

3. Lead, drive and cut through, being sure of myself, and yet hold myself in the background, seeking concensus, being tolerant, patient and diplomatic

4. Know exactly what needs to be done, and yet be able to wait, allow others space and time to catch up

5. Be assertive, confident and direct, and yet warm, inviting and humble

6. Be inspiring, dynamic, energetic and also reflective, co-operative and concilitary

7. Be highly effective and efficient, focused and planned, and yet be responsive, able to change direction in a moment and spontaneous

8. Know myself, my personality and leverage off my strengths, whilst flexing my style to get the best out of others and my manager

9. Plan my own time, but be flexible with my schedule

10. Focus on the here and now, and also look into the future and pre-empt

Then you wonder why some days you feel like you have 2 personalities!

Partnering really well with your manager can help ease some of these contradictions and make you work day less frenetic. For example:

* Have you and your manager discussed how you work together, your communication preferences, time wasters, roles and responsibilities, complementary abilities, priorities and truly explored the word ‘partnership’?

* Have you (and your manager) identified key stakeholders, built successful relationship platforms, and are able to trouble-shoot when early warning signs appears that could derail goals?

* Do you have the necessary problem-solving and decision making skills, and are able to create and manage information flow?

* Can you easily influence the most challenging personality in the office, handle conflict quickly and efficiently and maintain the relationship?

Penny facilitates Bright*Star’s training course on ‘Partnering with Your Manager’

Written by Penny Holden

NEW Speakers for Web 201320Master facilitator, high calibre industry recognised trainer, and people and culture capability consultant, Penny Holden brings 20 years real business and workplace experience, expertise and knowledge. With an extensive background in behavioural  sciences, psychology, education and organisational development and people capability, she applies this in simple and effective ways to her workshops and projects. Penny is particularly recognised for her ability to work with anyone at any level with respect and robust appropriate learning methods.

The Art of Conversation for Leaders: Building Rapport

BS 2016 Website-EventBanners10 In the business world, the word ‘LOVE’ is rarely used, yet that’s exactly what most people really want – we ALL want to be loved – so how do you become a leader in expressing this key quality that we all want in a business context?

It boils down to one word…INTEREST.

In sales as well as customer service, sincere interest is the best ingredient in a successful relationship. Building rapport and strengthening relationships is all about expressing your interest and caring. When you take the lead in terms of getting to know someone, you consciously set the intention to discover their concerns as well as passions, and to help them to feel heard and acknowledged. You take leadership in building a bridge of friendship with them.

So, how do you express your interest specifically? How can you consciously begin to practice this ‘love’ for others in a business context? One way you can express your interest in others is by asking open-ended questions. This means your taking responsibility to deepen a conversation through continuing to encourage others to reveal more about their concerns, thoughts, and feelings. To get to know someone better, you need to express your interest – and that means probing deeper with successive questions which follow their train of thought.

So, here’s an example of how you could develop and deepen a conversation expressing your interest using open-ended questions.

You: So, how’s it going, Paul?

Paul: Oh, not bad…been a hectic day.

You: Really? What’s been happening?

Paul: Oh, I’ve got four new contracts – which is great, but I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with it all.

You: What about it feels overwhelming?

Paul: Well, I suppose it’s the pressure of feeling like I need to stay on top of everything without dropping the ball.

You: How do you handle the pressure?

Paul: Well, fortunately, I go walking in the mornings which seems to help.

You: Really, where do you go walking?

Paul: Cornwall Park – I love it there.

You: What do you love about it?

Paul: I love that you can see sheep roaming all around – a bit of country in the middle of the city…I love the peace and quiet, and I love the trees. Etc…..

Enjoy getting to know your clients, colleagues, friends, and family members. If you consciously practice asking open-ended questions which follow others’ ‘train of thoughts’, you’ll develop the trust, goodwill, and warm feelings that help them and you ‘feel the love’. Plus, as an extra benefit, your business will get a boost as a result!

If you’d like to develop your ‘executive voice and presence’, I invite you to join me on the new Bright*Star course in 2016: ‘Building Your Executive Voice and Presence’, 19 August in Wellington

Sally Mabelle, M.Ed, B.A hons, has 20+ years’ experience as a ‘Voice of Leadership’ specialist. She combines her professional background in Communication, Education, and Psychology with her extensive stage experience in her courses. She has honed essential skills in voice projection, emotional connection and physical presence and is an award-winning inspirational speaker.

Sally Mabelle, ‘The Voice of Leadership’ Specialist.

Women in Leadership: The double-bind of assertiveness and influence

minute‘I don’t have a traditionally female way of speaking – I’m quite assertive. If I didn’t speak the way I do, I wouldn’t have been seen as a leader. But my way of speaking may have grated on people who were not used to hearing it from a woman. It was the right way for a leader to speak, but it wasn’t the right way for a woman to speak. It goes against type.’


These are the words of Kim Campbell, who served as Prime Minister of Canada in 1993.

It’s a message that’s not uncommon when female leaders talk about the challenges they face in being influential in powerful roles. The dilemma boils down to a few core points:

1. Whether we like it or not, even in the 21st Century, mainstream societies all over the globe perpetuate stereotypes about how women (and men) should behave

2. We are all primed to succumb to these associations about men and women, and sometimes they happen on a such a subconscious level that we hardly recognise our own biases

3. As leaders, women need to understand these biases (I didn’t say condone them) and develop a level of awareness and a range of skills that enable them to shine and be influential.

So how do we do that? In practical terms, there many ways to achieve this, but here are three simple concepts that you can explore to shape and cultivate your leadership influence as a woman…

#1 Understand the dynamics of male and female communication

That’s right, we all know that there are gaps in the way we relate between the genders at times. But what are the common ones, why do they exist, and what can you do to navigate them and minimise the potential for misunderstanding?

#2 Optimise your confidence

Yes, it’s true that we women win all the prizes when it comes to being our own worst critics. To be influential, you need to be confident – and to be confident, you need to back yourself. So we need to learn how to find the right balance between confidence and modesty, assertiveness and diplomacy.

#3 Get into the Driver’s seat

Understand that more opportunities present themselves to people who are open to them and seek them out. As women leaders we need to know how to set ourselves up to thrive, how to ensure our lives are richer for the experience, and how to make sure we take other women along with us.

Investing in our potential as leaders is the kind of investment that pays off – not just for us, but for all of the people around us. Too many women leave their leadership careers to chance, and never take the time to examine their abilities as a leader, how they influence others and what their potential could be. Don’t let that be you.

Written by Pamela Cronin

Pamela Cronin facilitates Bright*Star’s Leadership Development for Women.  

NEW Speakers for Web 201318Pamela Cronin has more than 15 years’ experience working with organisations across the public and private sectors.  Her training combines rich, contemporary theory and stimulating activity, providing practical tips and advice.  Pamela draws on her expertise in the areas of people management, business strategy, communication and team development to deliver challenging learning in a personable way. She is an accredited Team Management Index (TMI) Facilitator, and is the author of the Brooker’s New Zealand ‘Guide to Training and Development’.

Top 10 Management Tips for New Managers

Want to avoid committing common management mistakes? Bright*Star training team provides you great management tips that will define your success in your new role. To get specific insights from our expert facilitator, sign up for our training course on ‘Management Skills for New Managers and Supervisorspersonalpresence

1. Choose respect over love without morphing into the Grand Dictator A new higher level position doesn’t give you automatic permission to order people around and watch their every move – would you have appreciated that in your previous role? On the other hand, as human beings we are often conditioned to seek approval so many new managers experience cognitive dissonance as a desire to be approved interferes with their ability to lead. Your staff are relying on you to be their manager which means that generally you cannot be their friend. Making the tough decisions and being respected by your people are the hallmarks of an effective leader.

2. LEAD by example – Become a Role Model People will always learn what behaviour is acceptable by your actions. Role models in the workplace are often characterised by credibility and have built trust by doing what they say they will do or being upfront if they are not able to keep their promise for any reason. You have probably worked for several different managers over the years so examine what motivated you and just as importantly, what didn’t.

3. Master the Art of Influence A big part of your new role will involve requesting people to complete tasks and projects on your behalf. Clearly explaining content, timeline and why that staff member has been asked to assist with the task increases influence and reduces ambiguity.

4. Compare leadership styles with your predecessor One of the most common mistakes new managers make is changing who they are to fit a pre-determined ‘manager’ mould. One of the reasons you got the job is because of who you are, however possessing a leadership style that differs from your predecessor will mean your staff will need to align with a different set of expectations and preferences. You can’t expect your team to know how these have changed unless you tell them so encourage an open conversation around similarities and differences between leadership styles.

5. Preparation is the key Preparation is the key to success at any level – however tracking projects (who they are assigned to, expected outcomes/dates and their current status) allows everyone to be on the same page and work more effectively as a team. This may be the first time you are responsible for recruiting new team members. Prepare ahead when hiring new staff – hire for team fit, train for skill and ensure you have a comprehensive and planned on-boarding process for when they arrive.

6. Manage your stress Stress may be a part of any new management role for a period of time as you adjust to the extra responsibilities and tasks. It is important that you recognise your own personal signs of stress and stress management tactics that work for you. Don’t be tempted to flag that yoga workout in lieu of spending some catch up time in the office – extra-curricular activities and having good ‘sounding’ people outside of work will help you to get through the busy times and initial learning curve.

7. Understand individual differences and communication style Your role now involves managing a team of people with different styles of working, decision-making and communicating. While your team’s individual styles may not be how you approach your work, if the results are good than you will need to learn to accept these differences. Get to know your team, making an effort to spend time with them both as individuals and a group and this will help inform professional and personal growth plans as well as establish the ground rules of team communication.

8. Organisational Culture Companies all have their own culture and it is essential to understand what is important in your organisation. Spend some time getting a feel for the company environment and mission and remember that by representing the organisation as management everything you say can be perceived as a company statement regardless of its intent.

9. Managing Up In other words, an effective manager knows how to handle and manage their own boss. All levels of the organisation (including your manager) have things to accomplish in order for everyone’s job to be completed successfully so ensure you keep your manager up to date on all projects including the issues. Your manager is there to also provide guidance however you should discuss a preferred communication method with them in order to gain the best results – do they prefer a weekly catch up or emails as the issues arise?

10. Accept that you will make mistakes You cannot possibly know everything the first day your start any new role and management is no different. However it is important to realise that now your mistakes are likely to affect the team. Instead of beating yourself up about it, come clean, rectify where possible and learn from the error in order to improve your leadership skills.


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Management Skills for New Managers and Supervisors

  • 7 – 8 Mar, 2016


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  • 14 – 15 Nov, 2016



From stressed to relaxed: The power of Mindfulness

Our facilitator Chantal Hofstee, shares some great insights on how to utilise mindfulness to ease the stress of the season. Learn more about Chantal Hofstee’s Mindfulness in Business course:


Your brain is your most complex body part and science still does not fully understand how it works. Your perceptions, thoughts and emotions are equally complex. They are constantly changing and interacting and consist of many different layers. Some are part of your conscious mind while others are part of your subconscious mind.

At any given moment, if you peel away all the different layers of thought and emotion, all the way down to the bottom of our subconscious mind there are only two options: you either feel safe or unsafe. All of your thoughts, feelings and actions in that moment, will come from either the safe or unsafe brain state.

The red brain: a state of stress

There are various levels of safe or unsafe – you can see this as a spectrum with extremely safe at one end of the spectrum and extremely unsafe at the other end. Where you are on the spectrum depends on the situation, your personality, core beliefs and current thoughts. The unsafe brain, also called the red brain, can be triggered when there is no actual physical threat. Your brain reacts to how safe or unsafe you perceive a situation to be. Your thoughts are the most important factor in determining how your brain assesses a situation. For example: if you fear public speaking and would say to yourself ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘this will be a disaster’ your brain perceives the situation as unsafe and the stress response is activated.

The red brain state triggers the stress response also known as the ‘fight or flight response’. When this happens your brain and body are in the best possible state to deal with a threat – hence ensuring the best chance of survival. In this state the hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released, creating the following effects:

Physical effects

  • Tunnel vision
  • Stopped or slowed digestion
  • Increased blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Increased heart rate
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Tensed muscles

Psychological effects

  • Judgmental thinking (black and white)
  • Suppressing emotions
  • Narrow/ fixed point view
  • Unkind manner
  • Stressed
  • Disconnection from others

Having the option of the fight or flight modus available is essential for you to be able to cope with extreme situations. However, spending too much time in this state of stress does damage to both your brain and your body.  You risk negative physical consequences such as high blood pressure and heart failure and of psychological problems like burn out, anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you want to live a healthy and balanced live the stress state does not have to be eliminated but should be reserved for emergencies only.

The green brain: a state of calm

The safe brain state is also referred to as the green brain state; or as I like to call it ‘calm and present’. In this brain state the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin are reduced and the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin is released stimulating the following responses:

Physical effects:

  • Wide vision and flexible attention
  • Optimal digestion
  • Reduced blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Active immune system
  • Relaxed muscles

Psychological effects:

  • Non judgmental thinking
  • Processing emotions
  • Seeing the bigger picture
  • Kind
  • Calm
  • Connecting with others

The green brain is the state in which relaxation and processing of events and emotions happen. When the brain feels safe, the guards come down and all the resources in your brain become available to you. Creativity and flexibility are unlocked and you can see the bigger picture. It is in this brain state that you can make good decisions and be truly effective and productive. On top of that, the release of oxytocin immediately increases compassion, empathy and the desire to connect with others. This hormone is the fuel for our relationships and essential for wellbeing.

shutterstock_148116878The power of worries

Worries and judgments are perceived threats because they communicate to your brain that something is not right. Underneath all the rational thinking the brain understands this as ‘something is not safe’ and the stress state is activated.

For example; if you worry about your finances you may have the thought ‘I don’t have enough money’. Your brain sees this thought as a signal for a potential threat and the red brain state is activated. Your thoughts keep coming back to the perceived lack of money (fixed point view) and you loose sight of the bigger picture of your financial situation. You cannot come up with creative solutions or prioritize. On a physical level you might loose your appetite (slowed down digestion), your breathing becomes shallow and your heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar go up. Your brain and body are getting ready for fight or flight even though there is no physical threat to run from. Your worries about money have then activated the stress state, making you much less able to effectively deal with any issues you might have!

The power of Mindfulness

Mindfulness practice activates the green brain through kind and non judgmental thoughts which signal to the brain that the situation is safe. By focusing on the here and now you are taking the focus away from worries about the past or the future that could trigger the stress state. By having a mindful attitude towards what is in the here and now, you are further reducing the stress state and activating your optimal brainstate.

With mindful attention and attitude in place you are activating the safe brain more and more. This will not only make you healthier but also happier and more successful.

“In this life you’ll find some trouble, if you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy” Bobby McFerrin

Written by Chantal Hofstee, Clinical Psychologist

Chantal is a Clinical Psychologist who specialises in practical Mindfulness training. She is registered with the New Zealand Psychologists Board and has worked in the private and corporate field in both the Netherlands and New Zealand as well as for the New Zealand government.

Survival or Self-Worth, What Would You Pick?

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore”.

André Gide‘s 1925 novel The Counterfeiters Freebird_June 2014_Istanbul_PR

“You cannot sit like a jewel waiting to be discovered, you should have told me what you wanted,” these were the words of my former boss and Editor in Chief of India’s leading broadcast news network, as I announced my decision to quit my job. Following a rigorous couple of years in a highly competitive and volatile workspace, I had made peace with the fact that I wasn’t assertive enough to climb the news chain at that early stage in my career.  “List down what you want on a piece of paper and we can talk about it”, he said temptingly.

Life would have indeed been very different had I caved in and continued oiling the television news machine. It would have earned me recognition, good amounts of money, a plush life, pretty much anything one could dream of. Alas, I would still be holed up negotiating for survival each day rather than feel good about what I was doing. Now, nearly a decade since transitioning from journalism to international development, I have amassed enough life experience to realize that grabbing career opportunities is one thing but building self-worth is another.

Working as a journalist was a tremendous learning experience for me in my formative years but it was also a time where I needed to find some acknowledgement from within, something I would have never found had I negotiated my way up the leadership chain. It does takes a great deal of assertiveness to say ‘No’ in order to stand up for what really matters to you.

Which begs the question, how many times have you felt the urge to say ‘No’, be it to your supervisors, colleagues, family or even yourself and just couldn’t get yourself to do it? “At the heart of the difficulty in saying No is the tension between exercising your power and tending to your relationship,” writes William Ury, in his book, ‘The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No & Still Get to Yes’. He elucidates that this tension makes us slip into what he calls the Three-A trap:

  • Accommodation (we say yes when we really want to say No)
  • Attacking (we respond with aggression and frustration)
  • Avoiding (we simple take the escape mode and do nothing at all).

Ury seems to suggest that the way to free yourself from the aforementioned situational traps is to learn to say ‘No’ amicably, something worth reflecting. We are constantly battling for approval and fear that saying ‘No’ would hurt our image. At the end of the day everyone has their own moral compass and it does take guts to stick to it in order to sustain your self-worth.

5 ways to be an Authentic Influencer- The power of ‘No’

  • Stick with Your Gut: Only you know what’s in your best interests. If it doesn’t feel right, be assertive and free yourself from an unhappy situation.
  • Take Ownership: Snap out of the blame game. Take ownership of the decisions you make and accept that making mistakes are part of the learning curve. Failure can provide inspiration.
  • Engage in Healthy Competition: Be mindful that opportunities that come your way don’t come at the cost of intentionally supressing someone else’s. The path to becoming a great influencer is to ensure you act in the best interests of everyone concerned.
  • Set an Example: Remember that you are not alone, there is always someone looking for inspiration out there. Think about the ripple affect you can create as an influencer.
  • Build Credibility: Ultimately your values will determine what is right for you. What legacy will you leave behind?  Don’t let your ambition hurt your integrity.

Saying yes in a survival mode will take you up the ladder for sure. Eventually though, sustaining self-worth is what will keep you on a strong footing up there.


Blog by Pavitra Ramaswamy

Programme Manager, Conferenz & Bright*Star Training, New Zealand

A former journalist, Pavitra established herself as an international leadership and development consultant through her work with the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, USA. From India to America and now to New Zealand, she continues to work closely with leaders and organizations to build educated communities, something she is deeply committed to. She is currently the programme manager at Bright*Star training and engaged in executing professional development programs across New Zealand and beyond.

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