The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 11, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place live, in-person Nov. 30.
Next is Executive Assistant of the Year (Public Company) finalist MeeRan Anderson, who’s the executive assistant to the chairman and CEO at Leidos. Here, she talks success in her current role, taking professional risks, career advice and more.
What has made you successful in your current role?
My ability to collaborate with a wide range of team-members has contributed to my success throughout my career. Connecting with everyone from the executive leadership team to interns and everyone in between, has allowed me to have a strong base of contacts who I can rely on as trusted and reliable resources.
Having outside connections within the industry and networking organizations such as the WashingtonExec EA group have also been a great way to connect with my peers and share ideas. I also believe being flexible and agile has allowed me to build trust and loyalty to the CEOs and executives that I have supported over the years, especially during the Covid pandemic when it was critical to keep the business rhythm flowing.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
My biggest career risk was leaving the financial services industry after 20+ years. I was offered an executive assistant role supporting the chairman and CEO of a top-three defense contractor. I essentially went from smaller companies of 50-600 employees to a large defense company with over 70,000 employees and $30 billion in sales. Leaving my comfort zone of familiarity and routine to a whole different industry with hundreds of acronyms and code names was an eye-opening experience.
Fortunately, my CEO reassured me that I didn’t have to know about weapons, technology and government contracting to be successful in my role. I spent the next couple of years taking on new challenges in a fast-paced environment, getting a bird’s eye view of how a large corporation is run through a lens from the top. That job opened up other opportunities for me, including my current role as the EA to the chairman and CEO of Leidos.
Although I am now at a company half the size, the growth I’ve witnessed over the past three years has been amazing. These two roles have allowed me to take a step back and re-examine all that I have accomplished and realize that sometimes we can become our own worst enemies by always doing what makes us comfortable and not taking a risk.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Being an executive assistant is not a career that many people say they want to pursue when they grow up! Most EAs “fall into” the role and tend to stay there for many years. Besides the obvious skills, such as the ability to multi-task, be organized, and possess strong written and verbal communication skills, there are other traits that are as equally valuable. Adaptability is key, especially in today’s landscape. Each day brings constant change and being able and willing to pivot is important in supporting a dynamic executive or CEO.
Bring your “A Game” each and every day; double-check and pay attention to every detail; triple-check travel documents and talking points. Most EAs work independently but leadership skills are a must. For example, I act as the CEO’s proxy on many projects and events so I often oversee workflows, give instructions and own tasks. I am held accountable for the success of those initiatives.
Be resilient and a good problem solver. We have bosses that can be demanding, particular, indecisive and moody. Having grit and maintaining composure while taking criticism comes with the territory ⏤ never let your boss see you panic! Be able to plan events, even if you have an events planning team. Read up on new restaurants or venues in town; learn about wines. Watch the news to know about current events around the world and your community. Read up on your competitors and the industry you’re in. Keep up with the travel industry.
Finally, have people skills and be inclusive. I’ve worked in many environments where people are all too serious and do not interact with others. Take five minutes and walk your floor to see people and check-in with them. My daily goal is to make someone laugh so I often tell a funny story or poke fun at myself for a mistake I recently made. Work doesn’t have to be boring or stressful. As Dale Carnegie said, “People rarely succeed unless they are having fun in what they are doing.”