Thanks for popping in for this month’s Resource Corner post! I’m VERY excited to have sat down with Monique Helstrom of MoniqueHestrom.com and OnPoint.Expert. Monique is a fairly recent transplant to Denver and it was an extra treat to sit down with her live.
In this interview, we get into the nitty-gritty of what it looks like to be in strategic partnership with our executive, as well as how to overcome some common hurdles when it comes to developing these unique relationships. Having worked for nearly 10 years as Simon Sinek’s “Chief of Simon”, Monique in uniquely qualified to speak on the subject. Not only was Monique able to develop a successful strategic partnership with Simon, but she also speaks and advises other assistants on how to do the same.
Monique is passionate about helping both visionaries and those that support them understand their essential and unique role in making great ideas – and great partnerships – come to life.
For the past 21 years, Monique has methodically moved projects, products, campaigns, events, and entire businesses from concept to reality using her energetic combination of:
Functional solutions and achievable outcomes;
Well-defined and specific short-term action plans;
Harmonious team building that relies on streamlined goals;
A practical understanding of how to achieve ultimate success;
And loyalty, dedication, discipline, and encouragement.
Monique knows inspiration only comes to life if there is a good process to back it up and thus has perfected the art of making things happen. After nearly a decade as the Chief of Simon Sinek, New York Times Best-Selling author and TED celebrity, Monique now uses her unique set of skills and experiences to build, organize, and manifest her clients’ and partners’ dreams. Monique understands how to thrive in an ever-changing environment and build a consummate partnership between Executives and their Assistants.
Monique’s unparalleled experiences and perspective shifts have equipped her with the tools necessary to decipher and disentangle common issues plaguing Assistants around the globe. She offers keynotes and intensive workshops focused on helping Assistants (Executive Assistants, Support Staff, Coordinators, Logistics, Administrative, etc.) reclaim their purpose, rejuvenate their performance, and flourish in their dynamic environment.
Additionally, the fundamental skills of how to appropriately utilize an Assistant are not taught in academics or in business. To fill this need, Monique offers keynotes and workshops guiding solopreneurs, small business owners, and corporate executives on how to operate with, delegate to, and cultivate a strong relationship with an Assistant. Ultimately, Executives need to focus on building the business, not be weighed down by inefficiencies.
Monique recognizes that no one person is more important to an organization than another, and she helps both Executives and Assistants alike build individual confidence based off their own innate strengths and natural abilities. After all, momentum comes from enhancing your talents, not wasting time worrying about your limitations.
Monique also offers her organizational expertise to new businesses and startups. The evolving operational needs – both foreseen and unforeseen – necessary for entrepreneurs to keep up with their flourishing business requires solid foundational systems, processes, and procedures. As a solutions executer, Monique constructs the stable infrastructure that your business uses as a framework for success.
Monique offers a combination of inherited common sense and a strong rational mind which makes her a particularly effective decision-maker and problem-solver. She is an experienced world-traveler, a confident public speaker, and an efficiency expert.
The angel is in the details, and Monique is that angel.
Check out Monique on SM here:
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Annie: Welcome to another resource corner post. I am super excited to be here with Monique Helstrom today.
Monique: Thank you.
Annie: And you're going to be discussing all things business partnership related. So, Monique will you please just introduce yourself to my audience for those who may not be familiar with you?
Monique: Sure. Hi. Monique Helstrom. Former Chief of Simon Sinek, I worked for almost a decade helping him bring his vision of the world to life, and since then I've opened up my own business, helping both executives and assistants feel confident in their shoes. I also have a company called On Point, which helps businesses grow, really building the foundation of various businesses, the doing, the activation, or production rather, and the strategy.
Annie: Awesome. Awesome. So, we're here to talk about becoming our decadent strategic business partner, can you please explain what it means to be a strategic business partner?
Monique: Sure. Well, sort of simply put, a strategic business partner or any business partner is really one that's involved in the conversation. And their voice is actually heard. One that is part of the decision-making process of the business, and their points are considered, whether or not they are followed or not, it's really just one that has a voice that's heard. And it seems like a no brainer for someone from our perspective because we have such a different vision of the world than our executives do, and it would seem like a really good competitive advantage if a lot of executives really understood the power of their assistant and how much they can help them in this manner.
Monique: The assistant sees what the strategy doesn't see. Most executives live in a space of strategy, in a space of vision. Sort of above the clouds, being able to see everything from 30,000 feet. And that's good. That's where they should be. That's where they should connect. Assistants, on the other hand, see pathways. We see the road. We go through the forest. We're not up above the clouds. Neither is better than the other. Neither is worse than the other. It's just you see things from a different viewpoint. So, it would seem obvious to me that you would want someone who would see what you don't see, know what you don't know, and knows how to do what you don't know how to do, involved in all the conversations.
Annie: I love that. And I also think that it's important for executives to stay connected with what's actually happening on the ground. And for most executives, their assistant is the boots on the ground.
Annie: They do have a perspective that the executive won't have because they interact with people on a different level as the executive, right?
Monique: It's a different way of seeing, I mean it's, I say this in my speeches a lot, it's just two different sets of glasses. It's like if you only saw half the cartwheel, and your executive sees the other half, it's not better or worse, you just see life in a different manner. And you would think that would be the most beautiful partnership. Someone who really can complete that circle for you.
Annie: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, where does the evolution into a strategic business partner begin? How do we evolve from just being someone's assistant and seeing ourselves in the light of just helping someone, to actually becoming that strategic business partner?
Monique: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think it starts very early on with open communication. If anyone's heard me speak in various places before, you know this is my soapbox, communication, communication, comm-uni-cation. Talking about what your views are. Talking about your vision of the future is. You know, when you're going in for that interview having an assistant say to their executive, I want to grow into this type of position, do you feel that that's something that you're wanting. And ask from the very beginning, because if that's where you really want to go, that should be laid out right from the start. Because if the executive says, "you know what I only really need someone to stay in their cube", which is fine, there's nothing wrong with that, but then at least you know from the beginning. An open discussion about the relationship, where you're going, what the view of the future is together, that's where it really starts.
Annie: Yeah. And I feel like we're more, executive assistants are really looking for that type of role, where they can step into a more strategic alignment with their executives.
Annie: And where they can contribute more at a higher value.
Annie: I feel like that's just where this role is going.
Monique: Absolutely. And to call a spade a spade, a lot of this is dependent on the executive. I mean, as we all know out there, an assistant can want to fit into the space of strategic partner all day long and twice on Sunday, but the executive has to really be the one that opens up the gates there.
Annie: Right. Right. So what advice would you give someone who may be in a role currently and likes her position, but feels like they can be offering more strategically to their executive in their current position? You mentioned looking during the interview process, and really asking those questions so that you know what type of position you're applying for, and the executive ... there again, the communication piece-
Annie: You guys are on the same wavelength, but what advice would you give someone who's already in a role?
Monique: Again, I mean it all falls back to communication, being open and honest with what you see yourself, and what you see your own strengths and weaknesses, and their strengths and weaknesses, and having the open discussion. I think, unfortunately, today with the social society that we have, we assume someone else knows where our heart lies and where our strengths lie, instead of just having the conversation and sitting down and saying, "I see myself growing into this position. I see that my strengths lie in filling these gaps." A B C D. Really coming prepared, instead of leaving it open-ended into a conversation, where do you see my future? Well that leaves it very open-ended and they don't know what you want, but if you go in there and say this is really where I see I can help you, when you do this, I can fill in the gap here, and being specific, and really being able to show the value. I think starting there and continuously having that conversation over and over and over again. It's not a one and done. When you grow into a new role and you can accomplish, let's say, a new task, to grow into that strategic position, have another conversation.
Monique: And then say, "Hey, I can also grow in this way. Hey, I can also grow into this area. I can also grow into this area." And keep the momentum going.
Annie: Yes. And I think on the basis of all of this is the idea that we need to be proactive too.
Annie: Like, we need to be approaching our boss with these things. We need to be approaching our executive with these things. Nobody is going to be like, "Hey, be my strategic business partner." Come on.
Annie: Nobody's going to do that. You actually have to show initiative. You actually have to show where you can cover those gaps, right?
Monique: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And it's not just about what I can do. It's not going in there and saying, "Well I'm smart, and I am organized." It's what do my strengths do for a company? What do my strengths do for a person, for the human person behind that role? How can I help make your life better, and increase profits and efficiencies, and time and harmony in the working environment? This is how I can help you with those things. As opposed to just this is who I am.
Annie: Yes. Exactly. And this is how I can add value. And this is what I'm hoping to grow into as well. These are the [inaudible 00:07:16]areas of growth that I'm looking to grow into as well, which is awesome.
Annie: Okay, so have you ever experienced any of those barriers, like, what are the barriers to becoming a strategic business partner? And have you ever experienced any of those? And have you ever worked past any of those?
Monique: Sure. I think anyone working in an executive assistant role has run into barriers a thousand times, easily. You know I think it's on both sides again. No one side is better than another. I think on the assistant side, not every assistant wants to become a strategic business partner, and there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with not wanting to get more involved and really just be very good at the job at hand, there's nothing wrong with that.
Monique: For an assistant as well, sometimes I've run into, and I get this question a lot, assistants that just think if they just keep doing the same things over and over and over again that this will mean they've grown in their role, and that they can become a strategic business partner. You really have to think about going wide, not going deep with your role. Being involved and putting your hand in more projects. Being involved really shows the breadth of what you're capable of, as opposed to doing more, and just really planning that event even better. You have to show diversity in your strength set, and communicate that to your executive.
Monique: I think from the executive side, this is again my soapbox, something that I preach. Executives are not taught how to have an assistant. And I think that's a fault of business schools and all of that these days. You know, when you're an executive you get promoted. When you get promoted and one day you've got a C in your title, you've got the corner office, and somebody says, here's Linda, she's your executive assistant. And you're just like, what do I do with Linda? How do I give her tasks, how without sounding like a dictator? What do I do here? It's just not taught. And there's again, no fault on the executive's side for that. They just don't know what an executive assistant really can be capable of.
Monique: And unfortunately a lot of times, whoever their first assistant is, guides their behaviors for every assistant after that.
Monique: So, with more knowledge in the executive space of what an executive assistant could be capable of, just opens your eyes to so many more possibilities.
Monique: If an executive does know what an assistant is capable of, it still doesn't push hard to that then, you know, there's always those insecurities. There are always those boundaries. I can do it better. You know, I don't want to share credit. So there's a lot of deep behind the scene things going on.
Annie: Yeah. But I also feel like we can enlighten our executives too. We can kind of manage up and teach them what we are capable of. And I think of this pie is we don't want to get on autopilot. Autopilot is not where you want to be. You want to be intentional. So, yeah, I would think that that would be one way in which you could potentially expand your role is by educating your executive.
Monique: Sure. I call it the performance loop. You get a task. You do the task. You communicate the completion of the said task to your executive. You brief and pause and wait for some recognition and value in there, and then you complete and you do it again, you do it again, you do it again, you're just checking off boxes and you're just roaming through life, as opposed to paying attention to what's coming in front of your desk, as opposed to asking really deep questions. What happened in that meeting that you didn't know? What changed your perspective when you were in that meeting today? Finding out what's really behind there, getting some context. It gives you just a whole other viewpoint into how you can help support someone in their current role.
Annie: Yeah. I know in my current role, I have been really successful in getting my executive to do a goal-setting session with me every year. And when we're dealing with visionaries, which often are CEO's or C-suites are, or executives are, they're visionaries, that's why they are where they are. It's hard to keep them on task and focused.
Annie: But I love doing these sessions with my executive because we get very clear on what he wants to accomplish in the coming months or year, whatever time frame you decide to go with. And then that way, if he does something completely out of left field, I can go to him and be like, hey, so we discussed these things.
Monique: Do you remember what we said?
Annie: Now do we need to renegotiate these priorities?
Annie: And more often than not it's, no we don't need to renegotiate the priorities. I just need to-
Monique: [inaudible 00:11:56]
Annie: Yeah. Exactly.
Annie: And so it's that holding the vision for your executive while being in the weeds, while doing the work, while being the legs that is the key part to this business partnership as well.
Monique: Sure. And if you're not asking the questions to get involved to know what the goals are, you only have one side of that.
Monique: He's your information.
Annie: You do.
Monique: There's really no way you can go into being a business partner capacity if you're not asking the tough questions. Now, the quality of your question dictates the quality of your job.
Annie: Exactly. I love that. And the thing is, is that often we are too timid to ask those questions, and we need not be. We really need to put our best foot forward. We really need to take the initiative. There again, it's taking initiative, but in a different way than just doing a task.
Annie: It's taking initiative to make sure we're on track and tracking with our executive as well.
Monique: It's the difference between context and content.
Monique: We have a lot of content and we tend to operate on this content loop. Content, content stuff, stuff, information. And that's great. We're great at that. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with that. That's one part.
Monique: That is one piece of the puzzle that you, one piece of the puzzle that you hold. You need to know the context behind it. How does the task that you have at hand contribute to the larger vision? Contribute to the goal, not only your executive but of the company. How does the through-line happen? That way you can really make those connections, and potentially take five more steps ahead, than just that one task that you were given, because you know where you're heading.
Monique: And you can see the finish line. So you can jump ahead a little bit.
Annie: Exactly. And I love that too because it also gives us purpose. Like when you're connected with the vision of the company, the vision of your boss driving initiatives forward, that gives you purpose as well. So, you're not just supporting this one person in a vacuum. You're now supporting this vision that has a larger purpose in life and in the world, and for you as an individual as well. And I just, I love that. That's a great way to think about our positions and our roles.
Annie: Let me see here. Okay, so for those of us who support multiple people [inaudible 00:14:02] in the department, what advice would you give them to make sure that they're connected, either with their executives or with their department, to make sure everything is tracking there as well.
Monique: Sure. Sure. I actually think that has a wonderful competitive advantage. I've almost been jealous of those that support multiple people because you're really in the brain hub. If you support multiple people on an executive team, you get all synapses of firing to you. You really get to be in the center, and you get to see the connections. Whereas sometimes you have an even greater advantage over the president of an organization, who doesn't get to spend so much time with the C-suite, or with your executive team. So I would say, pay attention, and pay a lot of attention. See the connection. See the pathways. Oh, and start explaining those to your executives.
Monique: I was actually thinking the other day that Mary's really trying to do X Y Z with this new project, but it really seems similar to what you were doing with this other project, I think I'm just going to go ahead and do this, is that okay?
Monique: Seeing it, and communicating it, and coming up with real solutions to it, instead of, "I see this connection, what do you want me to do?"
Monique: Instead do, "I see this connection and I suggest one of these three things, what would you like?"
Monique: It's coming there prepared with solutions. And I think that just gives such an advantage and again, you have bigger eyes, you can see more with when you get to support more than one person.
Annie: That's totally true. Just like, even with me just supporting one person, it's incredible making those connections with even the parking attendant, or the janitorial staff, like oh so and so's having a birthday, we need to make sure and acknowledge it, you know, those kinds of things. Those connections that ... and then presenting those solutions too.
Annie: That's one of my soapboxes. Not just presenting problems, but presenting solutions.
Annie: And I feel like that is a key signature about a strategic business partner, because they are thinking about strategy, and they're thinking about how to propel the situation, the company, the executive forward, by presenting solutions, which is just so key, I think.
Monique: Absolutely. That gives an advantage to the executive. What an amazing string set to be able to come prepared with a solution. Simon used to always say that. We don't like it when someone just comes and dumps a bag of you know what on your plate, and then you're what am I supposed to do with that. So coming prepared with the solutions shows that you can think outside of the box, shows that you have vision, and shows you've been paying attention.
Annie: Yeah. And then when you do that, it's incredible what people will trust you with.
Annie: Like, Annie need this. Annie, do this. Or Annie, I need this solution to this, to the point where, I just negotiated a contract, and my executive's just like, just do it, I don't care. Just negotiate it, do what you gotta do. And I did, and it was great. And I love being trusted with that kind of responsibility, and that kind of ... yeah, just the trust factor. And that's one of the things that I feel like is really special as an executive assistant, that a lot of people don't get in their roles, or in their relationships with their boss, is this level of trust, and give and take kind of constant basis. That's one of the things I love the most about my role as an EA, is that there is that level of trust beyond a certain point. And I think a lot of executive assistants are really hungry for that.
Annie: And a really great way to do that is to take the advice in this episode.
Monique: Full circle.
Monique: And know that it doesn't happen immediately.
Monique: I get this question a lot, how do I build trust? I've been in my job for six weeks, and I'm just not getting the trust factor that I need. It's like, think of this like any relationship in your life, with any friendship, with any partnership, it takes time to build that, from both sides. And you have to be vulnerable and you have to show your own vulnerability, and when you want that from the other from your executive as well, you have to really go in and want to grow.
Annie: Yes. I would agree with that. In fact, I had this gal I worked with a few years back, and she, it took her two years to gain her executives trust, and she just kept showing up, kept taking action, kept putting herself out there, kept trying, and she loved her job, and she loved the people she worked with and she enjoyed her executive, but she just wasn't getting there. And she just kept up and kept at it, so if you see that potential where you are, don't go. Stay where you are. Just keep working at it.
Annie: Because now she's got it. And now this guy's never going to let her go.
Monique: Right. That's right.
Annie: And I love that [crosstalk 00:18:46]
Monique: Shows grit man.
Annie: Yeah it does. You gotta have grit.
Monique: Gotta have grit.
Monique: It's number ... top five at least.
Monique: Top five requirements for being an executive assistant.
Annie: All right. Well, thank you so much for being here today.
Monique: Thank you.
Annie: Thank you for doing this interview with us. I learned a lot. I'm sure we all learned a lot. So, yeah guys, be sure to check out Monique Helstrom, is there any place they can do that?
Monique: I have moniquehelstrom.com, which is for my speaking. And also onpoint.com for the company, onpoint.expert, excuse me.
Monique: New endings. All the dot coms are taken, so now we have a new ending. Dot expert.
Annie: That's so much better.
Monique: I know right?
Annie: Awesome. All right guys, talk to you next time.
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