Kathleen Saxton is the CEO and Founder of executive search and talent management firm, The Lighthouse Company. She is responsible for finding the perfect-fit CEOs and senior leaders for many of the world’s top media and advertising organisations. Kathleen is also co-founder and co-producer of the major industry festival that is Advertising Week Europe. On top of her duties as a mum of two teenagers, Kathleen is also studying to be a fully qualified psychotherapist and is an avid flautist.
What educational qualifications do you insist on / Do you require your PA to have a degree?
I don’t think you can immediately judge on meeting someone whether they’ve been to university or not, but I can almost certainly tell if they’d be the right fit for my company. I don’t have a degree myself, so it would be rather two-faced to demand one of my assistant. Although it may sound a bit clichéd, what an individual has learned from the ‘University of Life’ is infinitely more valuable – the skills and traits that I look for in a great PA are not taught at any academic institution!
Would you agree that behind every great business leader is a great PA?
Absolutely – and I’m lucky enough to have two. In our business, so much of the interaction happens between my assistants and the PAs of senior industry leaders. The difference between working with organisations with great PAs and those that are less good is palpable. As leaders, we need to trust that the minutiae and organisation of our day to day is in strong, capable hands. If it’s not, and irrespective of whether we know that or not, by default it will make the leader that little bit less great. A great PA will take care of the worries that allow the best leaders to spend more of their time actually leading.
Would the lack of a PA impede your everyday output?
Yes. No matter how much I’d like to think that I can be self-sufficient, there is absolutely no way that I could do my job effectively and worry about the things that my assistants take care of for me. The single biggest threat to the Lighthouse’s business is time – my PAs make sure that mine is fully optimised; not just at the start of the day but continuously throughout and beyond the working day.
No matter how much I’d like to think that I can be self-sufficient, there is absolutely no way that I could do my job effectively and worry about the things that my assistants take care of for me.
Emotional intelligence, especially in the sector we lead in has to be the number one attribute I am looking for from everyone who works for me.
Is your PA a confidante and sounding board for you?
Without a doubt. I will quite often ask my assistant’s view on something that I feel particularly strong about. I’m acutely aware that the things that might upset or worry me, might not bother 99% of others, so it’s always worth having a ‘second opinion’. What’s vital in this situation is that you can be absolutely honest with your boss – if you just give a reassuring yes for the sake of it, then that’s no use to your boss or the situation. In my organisation, my EAs are privy to the most sensitive personal information that our clients and candidates share with us, so being a trusted confidante is not only essential to me, but to those that we work for or represent.
Do you think the importance of emotional intelligence in a PA is sometimes overlooked for a strong skill set?
Emotional intelligence, especially in the sector we lead in has to be the number one attribute I am looking for from everyone who works for me. We deal with the top leaders in the media industry and their assistants and so your antennae for what is being said and more importantly not being said is critical to our success as a business and our relationships across the board. When it comes to my own EA’s they thankfully are full to the brim of EQ and so can be one step ahead of my every need. I think it is a huge blessing to find this in a partnership and they are always one step ahead of me, my workload, my stress, my emotions and sometimes even my culinary choices! Their nurture means a lot and helps support my ridiculous schedule.
Is your PA an ambassador for you and your office?
My assistants are absolutely an extension of my brand, both personally and professionally. Ultimately. If you want to be a great PA, you have to care about your work – and that means caring about the person that you work for. They can speak for me at times, guess which decision I would make and represent with elegance our brand to everyone they come into contact with. You don’t have to be best friends, you don’t even have to agree on everything, but you must be able to empathetically extend their work through yours. If you can’t do this, then maybe you’re working for the wrong person!