Posted on 1/12/2021 by Helen Corke
I recently sat down with the amazing Matilda Tse, who I've had the pleasure of working with for over a decade. She's worked for one of the most well known and loved investment banks in the world for 23 years, an incredible tenure from her side and a lifelong passion. Matilda managed a pool of more than 40 Executive Assistants and Administrative Assistants across the Asia Pacific region. She is now in semi-retirement, which is well deserved! With so many young, up and coming, Office Managers and Secretarial Managers in the workforce right now, as it's such a difficult role to do well, I wanted to ask Matilda for her insights on what she would have wanted to have known 20 years ago and what tips she could share with those pursuing a career in Administration.
Matilda, how did you decide that you wanted to do Administration and Secretarial Management as a career?
During my career as an administrative assistant, I fell into acting as a coordinator for the other admin assistants. I had a very good relationship with my fellow assistants, I enjoyed helping them and was the go-to person who would organise our team recreational activities and entertainment. An opportunity then arose to manage them, and I saw it as a great career move. Due to my knowledge and understanding of the role and the great relationships I had with the assistants, it was the perfect step for me, and I was passionate about providing my team with advice, opportunities and training.
Matilda, it’s always stood out to me that you are a natural mother hen, and you have incredible emotional intelligence to read situations. It's so difficult to do well, and from a recruitment standpoint, it's one of the most challenging hires to do successfully.
What other main characteristics were important to your role?
You need to be an empathetic person who cares about the wellbeing of the assistants and is not pushing the company’s policy onto them. In my role I acted as the middleman between the assistants and the company, and I was mindful of this and conscious of keeping everyone happy so that any problems did not escalate. I was very concerned about maintaining the morale of my team.
What did you enjoy the most about your role?
I loved to help, train, and guide my team. When a new system or policy was introduced, which I knew would impact the assistants and add to their workload, I always tried to find a way to introduce it to them so that it lessened the effect on them emotionally, and to their work-life balance. If I could achieve that, I felt very happy.
Yes. That's why you're so good at this role because you really do care about the individuals. And I think that's the major thing, it’s about having that natural empathy that, sadly, is sometimes lacking.
So, what tips would you give on work- life balance when you work in a demanding role?
Work-life balance is difficult when you work at a fast-paced investment bank and as an assistant you need to be on call. During extremely busy times I would tell my team to ensure they are still making time for the things they enjoy, such as going for a walk, or watching a movie. It was important they did something that took their mind off work for a while so they could get some mental rest and return refreshed.
Sometimes when you get something stuck on your mind, if you just put it aside and do something you enjoy, even having a nice cup of coffee somewhere, then when you come back, you can tackle that task. I also tried to look into what else could be done for my teams work-life balance, such as introducing shared responsibility among peers, to try to reduce their workloads.
It’s so important. And I think it must come from the top. So having somebody managing them that genuinely believes in the importance of that work-life balance piece is critical.
What are your top tips for a great working relationship with your team?
I held a management role, but we worked together as one and I was a very visible part of the team. They saw me working alongside them in a non-hierarchal way which prevents any office politics. They were all very capable in getting on with their roles but when they saw me help it created unity. It also forged a culture where they felt comfortable with coming to me about any issues and they would provide myself with honest feedback.
What qualities would you say made you successful in this role?
Having facilities management skills initially was important. Being hard working was key, especially when I took up the role. I worked hard to understand the people I managed, how they do their roles, what their concerns are. I was also caring towards my team, but I provided boundaries. Some people will try to take advantage of being nice. So be caring, but firm to create mutual respect.
I couldn’t agree more. That for me, is you to a tee! You've always had such a deep respect for everyone that you've worked with, and everyone who's had the pleasure of working with you thinks of you very fondly because of these qualities. I think that goes to show so much of your character.
Talking about great bosses, what do you think makes a great boss?
I believe in treating people how you would like to be treated yourself, and I carry this across to my management style. Communication is key, a boss needs to provide their staff with instructions that have clear guidance. Otherwise, an employee can go in the completely wrong direction, waste a lot of time and even make people unhappy because they were not provided with the right clarity.
Did you have a mentor or role model figure in your career that stands out to you?
I did, yes. Earlier in my career I worked with an assistant who became my co-manager, we worked side by side, developed a comradeship, and she was a source of great motivation for me. She’s very smart and caring and when I was stuck, she would not only give me advice but go out of her way to help me.
And final question – what advice would you give to an ambitious young office manager who wants to take on a secretarial manager role, but hasn't done it yet?
I would advise them, especially in the beginning, to take the time to listen, to really listen and open their eyes and ears daily, to what’s going on around them, what conversations are happening, what others are doing in their roles and what their issues are. Notice what is going on and you will build a greater understanding of the business and its people and pre-empt needs and foresee potential problems.
Amazing advice. Thank you so much, Matilda. It’s always such a pleasure to speak to you and I know that this advice will be welcomed and appreciated by so many out there.
If you are an assistant interested in having a discussion with Helen on the current market or how Charlotte Frank can facilitate your career, please do get in touch on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org