Coney Jackson Elam is an executive administrative assistant for IBM‘s general manager for U.S. federal and government Industries and a Pinnacle Awards finalist in the Public Company Executive Assistant of the Year category. Here, she shares what makes her successful as an EA, the qualities she stands by, overcoming career struggles, her role models in the GovCon community and more.
What has made you successful in your current role?
For the past 22 years, I have had the pleasure of serving as the executive assistant to the general manager of IBM U.S. Federal. Keys to my continuing success in this role are: understanding that our federal government clients are our No. 1 priority thus operating accordingly, effectively managing my time in addition to that of my executive and showing resiliency in the face of daunting tasks. These are just a few of the tips that have served me well to this point in my career.
What are the top one or two qualities necessary to be a great EA?
Two key elements or qualities that one must possess in order to be a great EA are effective communication skills and being highly organized. Effective communication within and across multiple disciplines or teams is vital to both high-performance people and companies.
In regards to my organizational capabilities, the ability to prioritize and re-prioritize as necessary, being detail oriented and having an ongoing commitment to quality have served me well throughout my career.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
In 2013, I was asked to travel to Kenya on a temporary assignment. At that time, the climate was hostile, a mass shooting occurred, and I was deeply concerned about my safety. Most of all, the thought of declining the opportunity and risking my career growth concerned me.
Through it all, my manager understood my reservations, and my choice to decline the opportunity had no negative impact. I continue to feel supported, encouraged and fully confident in my role and in job security with IBM.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
Joining the amazing group of professionals at IBM has afforded me the opportunity to be a part of the global administration team for over 25 years. I am proud to be an integral part of a globally respected, world-renowned and innovative corporation that has built its base on the quality of its brand. Our ability to overcome challenges, to evolve, innovate and grow is what has bonded us in amazing ways.
Who are your role models/mentors in the GovCon space?
Along this journey, I’ve encountered many individuals whom I consider role models, but Anne Altman, now-retired general manager of IBM U.S. Federal, has played an extraordinary role in my success. I supported Anne for more than 18 years, which allowed me to observe all the qualities of a mentor that I truly admired. Additionally, retired Lt. Col. Montrose Robinson; Aneisa Simon, HR leader, IBM U.S. Federal; Connie Mooney, global administration manager; Alex Lallas, now-retired, executive assistant have inspired, encouraged and supported me both professionally and personally.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
The biggest struggle for me was work-life balance. Being a mother, wife, sister, daughter and godmother, I wanted to give 150% to both my family and work, which was a difficult challenge. This resulted in many sacrifices and, unfortunately, I missed out on some key family events because of work commitments. Thankfully, my loved ones have always been supportive and understood that I was a part of something much greater than myself.
As I reflect back on my family’s experiences and examine the many decisions we have had to make, I realize that our experiences mimic that of many other families. My career is a lot more manageable and flexible with the resources and tools we have today (e.g., iPhone, laptop, chat apps). Most notably, being issued a laptop which was a game-changer in many ways.
It allowed me the freedom and opportunity to work remotely, conduct conference calls and monitor phone lines when necessary. This allowed me to maintain an uninterrupted, pristine workflow that I have grown to appreciate and depend on to ensure quality.