The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 8, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Nov. 12.
Next is Executive Assistant of the Year (Public Company) finalist Mandy Graziano, who’s executive assistant at ManTech. Here, she talks overcoming career struggles, professional risks and career advice.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Success requires a two-pronged approach to the job: passion and top-notch time management skills. In a fast-paced executive office, priorities change quickly, so it’s not enough simply to plan the day’s tasks and to-do lists for the day’s known projects — you must also anticipate the great number of unknowns you’ll need to juggle, prioritize and masterfully address — all without breaking a sweat.
Part of effective time management hinges on seeing the forest for the trees — much of our success lies in distinguishing between the truly important and the merely urgent. If you get caught up in the minutiae — the constant stream of incoming tasks — you might miss the big picture.
Put another way, remember there are two “to-do lists” — yours and your boss’. The more you align the two, the smarter the outcome of a day’s work — for everyone.
I learned early on the huge benefits that result from frequent collaboration and coordination with my colleagues. Not only can you accelerate your learning curve with regard to the pace, expectations and culture of the office, but so often, coworkers add humor and levity to your workday, no matter how busy we may be. And here is where passion enters the equation.
We are a tight-knit team with a phenomenal esprit de corps that fosters collaboration, harmony and genuine friendship critical to ensuring we perform at our best and support each other and the organization as a whole.
Further, it sounds cliché, but it’s true: As much as you can, take the work seriously, but not yourself. If you’re not laughing at least once during the day, you’re probably in the wrong line of work.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
Coming to ManTech was a game-changer. In essence, I’ve found my family away from home. I’d worked for different companies, and found it refreshing and rewarding to come to a place where the leadership is uniformly strong and everyone is truly committed to the greater mission of supporting national and homeland security.
It’s important and sometimes hard work, but working hard takes on a different dimension of gratification if you’re proud of what you do. It makes it easier to attack the day with energy and ingenuity, knowing that my small role supports a cause far greater than myself — and that I’m appreciated for my contributions.
I feel proud and lucky to work for ManTech, because the people here are good and the work itself is meaningful.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
I decided to take a job with a nonprofit organization that was completely outside of my industry and experience. However, that role changed my perspective of how one could operate as an executive assistant —ultimately, that job accelerated my career growth because it empowered me to trust my instincts, expand my duties and accomplish things well outside the stated parameters of my role.
I gained the confidence to truly take charge of the staff — it was fundamental to my growth as a leader.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
For a long time, I struggled with others telling me that I couldn’t do something or understand something because I was “only an admin.”
I overcame this by making it my mission to learn the functional areas and departments that my executives were running. I stopped listening to those negative comments and instead worked to educate myself, gather all the information I could for each task.
With this shift in perspective, I began to look beyond the current tasks to anticipate what would be coming next, and prepare the answers for those as well. In learning to anticipate the next set of requests, I quit relying on others to give me information and instead simply pursued it myself.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
I’m really proud to have supported Sue Cushing, ManTech’s former vice president of enterprise marketing and communications. When she was diagnosed with ALS, she rapidly began to decline physically, losing her ability to speak. She remained sharp as a tack, retaining her mental acuity and sense of humor, but I was suddenly in unfamiliar territory, and tended to her needs, personally as well as professionally.
Examples of this included helping Sue transition to and become comfortable with a variety of technologies — including a critical text-to-speech program on mobile devices, so she could continue in her role leading all aspects of ManTech’s communications. I was proud to arrange transportation to Sue’s medical appointments when she could no longer drive, and to help her access and master alternate technology when she could no longer type.
It’s hard to watch someone you know and respect when they are obviously feeling frustrated and vulnerable. But seeing Sue battle her disease so valiantly — and continue to lead our marketing and communications team to excel — taught me a lot about courage.
Sue’s goal was to teach the world how ManTech could help “solve the world’s problems, from the everyday to the epic.” She passed away last year, but not before building a communications team and pushing them — and ManTech itself — to explore new frontiers of marketing, from print, radio and digital advertising and video, to a website overhaul, to standing up a new internal communications program.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Learn the different communications styles of your colleagues — both your teammates and the bosses whom you support. Personal chemistry here is critical, as some leaders prefer to overcommunicate, while others give little direction, in which case it’s even more important for you to learn to read them and anticipate their needs.
Likewise, don’t fear being a generalist. My day-to-day duties today scarcely resemble my day-to-day duties here even two years ago. And a year from now will look far different from today. The key is to never stop learning and to embrace change rather than fear it.