In Please Help Me! I talked about one of the most special people on the planet to me, my former personal assistant Marybeth Fortner, who got married and moved to D.C. Lots of weeping and wailing….all done by me. And since we still talk from time to time, I thought it might be good to do an interview with her to see what it was like working for me. I know. Potentially dangerous. And while she’s very funny, she’s also one of the most sharp, loyal and hardworking people I know!
CLo: We went through a LOT together in an amazing five years. What were some of the victories/struggles in communicating with me?
MB: Ha! Good memories here! I think the victories and struggles are very intertwined. It was just a process of us learning each other’s personality styles and how work load affected those personality styles. You like people to be concise—use bullet points, think things completely through before coming to you. I think both of us still laugh about the times when I would walk into your office, think, “Well, crud! He’s going to ask me…” and I’d turn around and walk right out without saying a word to you.
On the flip side. I process, and process and process before coming up with an answer. Although I usually have a gut feeling immediately, it just takes me forever to fully understand why. So you would ask me “What do you think of….” and I would tell you. Then you would ask “Why?” “I don’t know.” A day later or a week later I could probably tell you. But in the moment—not a clue. And you had to learn to deal with that because I simply had to have time to process.
We are very different people. We hear things, say things and think things through very differently. So it was just a process to get to the point that we could meet in the middle. At first, I’d say that you leaned a lot more my way. I’d like to think, though, that over time, I grew where I met you in the middle.
CLo: What was it like trying to keep my schedule?
MB: It depended on the day. Some days were easy. I had your calendar set the day before, and nothing came up to change it. However, (many) other days all chaos broke loose. It was those days that it was most important for you and me to communicate regularly so I knew your priorities and you could trust that if I did interrupt you, it was for something truly important, and you needed to take that meeting.
For me the hardest part of those days was telling people “no” when I couldn’t give them an explanation. The thing is, everyone NEEDED your attention immediately. So it fell to me to do triage. Who was asking for the meeting? What was it about? Was it truly the crisis that they were making it out to be? And sometimes someone’s crisis wasn’t really as important to the team as a whole as they thought it was. Or perhaps it was, but someone else’s need trumped theirs.
Working with a team of dominant personalities, “no” didn’t usually mean “no” to them, so if I didn’t explain my reasoning, they didn’t fully believe me. It made my job so much easier when someone on the team tried to bypass me, and you sent them right back to me. There were times when I was missing a piece of information, and we had to re-prioritize meetings, but it would have caused a complete breakdown of the system if you allowed people to skip going through me. Ultimately, you wouldn’t have ever gotten anything done.
CLo: Was there anything about me that either made or ruined your day?
MB: As a high I (and C, but my I tries to deny that), anything that you made happen that was fun and party- like made my day. Whether that was just 5 minutes just joking around, or something as big as our team Christmas parties. On the flip side, in the rare times when I was in high C mode, I was already in the mindset that my best may not be good enough. If you said anything that implied that I’m just not cutting it, that would have ruined my day. Thankfully, I don’t recall that ever happening.
CLo: If there was one thing that you would have wanted me to know, what would it have been?
MB: Besides that I really do love chocolate chip cookies, it was SO important that you never undermined me. If you started doing things such as accepting meetings that I had either declined or rescheduled for a later time, or if you told me one thing and then later told the team something else after I had already communicated on your behalf, two things would happen.
One, the team would think that at least one of us was incompetent. That makes things unravel quickly. You don’t want that. Two, it would really irritate me. Let’s face it, I run your world, and make things go smoothly so you can have a pleasant day. You don’t want to irritate me. But really, the chocolate chip cookies… I love them. A lot. That’s what you most needed to know.
CLo: I can say that having you as my personal assistant made my whole life easier! Thank you for stickin’ with me for 6 years!
MB: Awww…you miss me! Really though, it was a GREAT six years. I learned so much from you and gained a great friend as well! So thank YOU! :)