The EA Advocacy Game: Why I'm Out

The EA Advocacy Game: Why I'm Out

Phoenix Normand 29/04/2021 2
The EA Advocacy Game: Why I'm Out.
This month marked the 4-year anniversary of my very first workshop as an EA advocate.

My article "The Devil Wore Prada. Now Your EA Does," surfaced a dire need in the market for some blatantly honest discourse about the EA role, how it's been (mis)perceived for decades, and the numerous, mostly financial injustices thrust upon this profession under the guise of "wearing many hats." MEGA U was conceived while I was a little tipsy on several glasses of champagne after attending yet another low ROI, behemoth EA conference that was more of a social status event for those who could afford to attend on the company dime than one designed to teach me something I didn't already know as an EA at a certain (high) level. As a Black, gay male with over 25 years of experience in a profession dominated by White, straight, 25-55-year old women, I knew I could contribute something different than the norm. I wanted my offering to be more of a "think tank" where a tight group of super-passionate EAs could get together around a table (not a banquet hall) and really discuss what's going on, strategize about how to succeed, and build lasting alliances at the table. Clearly, it resonated because in the four years I taught MEGA U then trībU workshops around the world, all but a handful sold out.

EA Advocacy Has Gone Woefully Stale

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When I got into the whole EA advocacy game I wanted to blow some shit up, inject some new thinking, remap tired perspectives, and hold the EA advocacy community to a new, much higher standard of education. And I believe, for the most part, I succeeded. Many of my approaches started filtering down into the curriculum of my peers, got coopted (often poorly), and helped manifest many of the current buzzphrases and concepts that dominate the LinkedIn airwaves of late. Pull up a sampling of EA marketing or a couple of free EA-centric webinars and you'll see the same 3 themes in slightly different dress. In contrast, my last two webinars were about effective long-term investing and recognizing narcissism. But here's the thing. Only one or two mavericks in this space, myself included, are actually challenging the norm and pushing the next-gen EA agenda forward with any real intention.

We've become so addicted to "safe" education in a profession where we're constantly having to navigate dangerous, mine-infested waters with no strategy, no map, and no lifevest. Much of the education on offer is skills enhancement instead of how to read, understand, and extrapolate data from a simple business financial statement. I swear if I see one more webinar touting being a "business partner to your execs" without a single mention or curriculum about understanding THE BUSINESS with some comprehension I'm going to renounce my EA Advocate title. In fact, I've already done that.

It's time for this community to acknowledge that it fell asleep at the wheel. COVID flipped the lunch table and laughed in the faces of everyone who got really comfortable and entitled sitting at the cool kids' table in the quad. COVID essentially split the exec perception of this role into two camps: the task-doers and the true business partners. Those who didn't forge more business-centric relationships with their execs and allowed themselves to become a convenience are the ones now struggling with a lack of motivation and direction, feeling undervalued and low-key ignored, or worse, getting cycled out. Those who actually did their homework, learned the company's core products in detail, developed an understanding of the core business metrics, and forced their contributions by consistently punching above their perceived boxing weight are the ones now managing their EA peers or rewriting their job descriptions to include Chief of Staff level responsibilities with the full support of their execs. Sadly, there's more information on offer enabling this poor me, how can I level up (without doing the work), complacency than there is on learning the business, leveraging internal and external relationships at every level, procuring CoS-level education with those continuing education funds, and crafting a brand so respected (internally and externally) that you become indispensable and/or highly sought-after. I make no apologies for my opinions in this article because I've fought against the same flatline for the past 4 years in this game. Even the newbies jumping into the game are simply regurgitating the same concepts the "Big 3" have been pushing for almost 2 decades. As I've said numerous times in the past, "Where are the rebels?"

Oh, There's A Dark Side

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn as an EA advocate is that there is very little reciprocity. I have helped scores of EAs land big raises, top jobs, write books, start businesses, etc. While I did get to charge for the workshops and coaching sessions, I never really got into this game for the money. Which, perhaps, was my biggest mistake. I kept my prices much lower than my competitors simply because I wanted people from every walk of life to have access. One of the main reasons I locked horns with a few of my competitors is that I found their pricing structures tacitly prohibitive to people in cash-strapped industries like government and non-profit. So many incredible EAs got priced out of the community simply because there was no way in hell a non-profit was going to use donor funds to send an EA to a conference with a registration fee of $1,800 before factoring in travel. I found it discriminatory and tone-deaf. Plain as that. Especially when the ROI was never really there in my numerous experiences at these conferences.

I'm most proud of the fact that my workshops were accessible to pretty much anyone at a price point that wasn't prohibitive. My tables were always filled with EAs from every walk of life, from industries rich and poor. And we "went there" in our conversations in an effort to debunk many of the myths fed to us over the years and to craft workable strategies to change our own mindset and low-key force our execs and peers to see us in a different light. I have every stat in the book I could share to validate the successes resulting from my workshops and coaching sessions. But the sad truth is they accounted for very little for me financially especially given the insane amount of time and effort I put into people who scored the wins, but rarely circled back to say thank you or provide an update as to how they got on.

Multiply that disappointment by the over 400+ students, 200+ coaching clients I've had over four years and it can be a rather exhausting, non-reciprocal, mess. Sure, there was a handful of EAs who circled back with their success stories to whom I'm eternally grateful and still very proud. But the majority hit their marks, made their money, and kept it pushing with little regard for the work that went into getting them there. As a result, I fell into a gnarly depression for the better part of 2020 and vowed to never put myself into such a position again. I stopped seeing personal coaching clients. I turned down numerous, lucrative EA team coaching gigs, speaking opportunities, and (uck!) collaborations. And I focused on myself, my own mental health, and fiscal well-being.

For those of you venturing into the EA advocacy space, be forewarned. Unless you are expressly clear about your intentions, the altruism or the money, you will eventually get eaten up and spit out like a rogue watermelon seed. If you're in it for altruistic reasons, don't charge for your time and efforts. If you're in it for the money, jack your rates. Because in both instances you will lose to some degree. At least make it worth your while. Let that be uncomfortable.

Why I'm Out?

Truthfully, in the four years I've been traversing the world on planes, trains, and Ubers "spreading the gospel of badassery," I've come to the conclusion that very few EAs are truly cut out to be badasses. I feel the exact same way about most of the EA advocates I've come across. Few are pushing the envelope in the ways this community needs to set a new standard and command respect, not demand it. Case in point: the recent Administrative Professionals Day. I have to laugh at the fake bravado I witnessed this past week or so on LinkedIn. EAs demanding a seat at the table who have absolutely no clue how to perform a simple vertical or horizontal analysis of their company's financial statement. And have the gall to low-key shame other EAs who actually covet the one day per year they are allowed to wear the crown and be conspicuously recognized for their efforts. I've seen this manifest and worsen over the past four years in this game and the abject hypocrisy finally led to my breaking point.

Wanna know the ironic part? I'm actually an EA again. And I want absolutely nothing to do with the title or its associations. I get off on all things business and administrative and I'm pretty Fn good at both. The baggage of the EA title is something I rationalize daily, especially when dealing with other EAs who consistently phone it in. My eye is on a much different prize: Chief of Staff. I'll save my thoughts on this subject for an article I'm writing for The Chief of Staff Association. However, I will say this. EAs must decide what camp they want to fall into. No, not every EA has to aspire to the C-suite or become something other than an EA. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a highly competent, indispensable, right hand to an exec as a career. I did it for 27 years, going on 28. But I believe the rebels among us have been historically weighed down by the poor PR and misperception still plaguing this role, bad/tired actors in EA advocacy, and a tacit lack of vision and action to empower EAs in ways that focus on their individual success vs. redundant skills training that only supports the success of the execs they support. After all these decades you would have thought we'd have figured this out. Nope. So I'm out.

I don't kick cans down the road. It's not my thing. I do kick in doors, tho. As often as the opportunities arise. And usually on behalf of those who lack the confidence and conviction to do the same for themselves. But I'm tired, y'all. I've done my part. Quite well, in fact. I'm handing over the torch with hopes that whoever claims it will continue to set fires where needed and continue up the mountain.

What's Next?

I've always been a fan of British comedies. There is this unwritten rule that you leave while you're on top vs. after you've gone stale and ratings dip dramatically. There's so much dilution in this market now that trīb no longer feels special. To me, at least. I no longer want to be "the loudmouth, tell-it-like-it-is dude" who EAs love to revere on LinkedIn but rarely implement what I've taught quite successfully for the past four years.

trīb US will end on December 31, 2021. I'm moving on. We're going out with a bang and I'm excited by all of the topics we'll cover over the balance of the year. (trīb NZ and trīb AUS will continue with my support.) I'll be focusing on teaching and pulling in experts to get us set up financially, mentally, and physically to build what I call "360 Whealth." No tired skills workshops or webinars. Zero discussion about apps unless they make us money. My goal is to equip everyone in trīb with everything they need to absolutely crush their personal financial and professional goals. Then I'll bid my adieus, and disappear into the sunset knowing I left an undeniably positive mark on this industry.

In Conclusion

Co Chairs

I'm grateful for my time in the spotlight. I'm proud of the subversive brand I built, my numerous personal and professional successes, and those I helped to manifest for others. I literally taught everything I know about this profession and what made me successful in the seat over the last 27 years. I wrote a book that I'm proud of that still serves as a resource for both EAs and execs from a perspective no one in the history of ever asked for, but I was happy to provide. And I've traveled to 5 countries numerous times to teach that subset of EAs who always believed there was more blood in the turnip and just needed help accessing it. I couldn't be prouder of my superstars who've become absolute beasts and highly respected and sought-after EA advocates themselves.

EAs and EA advocates are now faced with a huge reckoning. What do you actually want to be? A slightly shinier version of who you've been for decades? Or a revolutionary, next-gen, comprehensively prepared, administrative/operations professional finally snatching the reins and forcing a new narrative about this profession vs. having the narrative continually written for you? It's an important decision that could either prolong (and morph) this role or lead to its demise. Choose well.

I'm out, tho.

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  • Morgan Jones

    So many jobs have been replaced. Working remotely has changed administrative tasks.

  • Patrick Martinez

    Nailed it mate !!

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Phoenix Normand

Society Expert

Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.

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