Specter of the secretary

Bikram Vohra

By: Bikram Vohra

Secretaries, like chocolates in a box, come in all shapes and sizes. They can be dangerous, pleasant, helpful, intimidating, cold and frosty or an enhancement of their boss’ image. They have surrogate power and can misuse it or become a one-person judge and jury, passing judgment on the rest of the staff and coloring the top man’s views. In a nutshell, secs are dynamite and that is why everyone is nice to them. You do not want them blowing up in your face.

I have seen some awesome ones, some horrible ones who became more loyal than the king, a few that were manipulative and others who protected their boss from the great unwashed with more vigor and zeal than Horatius at the bridge. Often, to the point that he was totally shielded from reality, filtered through her prism and finally so out of synch with things as they were, his company flew supersonically into the red.

One I know would ensure the departure of all those who took her on and she won every single battle in those five years. The more the boss was dependent on her the more power she had until she had become a little Hitler and all the senior management were sucking up to her big time. It became so farcical that she was ultimately running the company while the boss was playing golf and improving his handicap.

People actually got her OK to do things. Only when the airline (oops, that was a calculated slip) nosedived did someone wake up and turn to the chairman and say, would you care to take your stolen authority back.

Then you had this lady at the other end of the spectrum whose boss was a legend of his times and she was in her mid sixties and every day she would ensure that the junior-most staff had a fifteen minute window to meet the man himself. Not just that but the less powerful the staffer the better his chance of getting a one on one. And if anyone had to be dismissed by the Chairman in that ghastly last interview she would make sure that there was tea and biscuit service even when the axe was falling.

I remember she had two assistant secretaries and their job was to respond to every phone call even if it was the grocer or the insurance salesman. When the boss died and left behind an empire she refused to work for his successor. It wasn’t out of some martyred sense of loyalty, she just could not adjust to the ‘new’ way of doing things.

The official almanac for secretaries raises their attributes on five pillars. Confidentiality. Ethics. Information. Advice. Honesty. – Bikram Vohra

So, a quickie para explaining each attribute.

Confidentiality: you don’t talk about your boss, his strengths and weaknesses, his decisions, his travel plans, when he is coming back, what is happening on the bonus, nothing, you are like Tutankhamen’s tomb… silent.

Ethics: You do not share company data with anyone, not even as a favor and you never divulge details of communications between your boss and anyone he has interacted with to a third party.
Information: You have it so it your role as the secretary to channel it accurately and share it with the right people. You are the keeper of knowledge. Protect it.

Advice. Leave malice at home. Do not make parochial decisions, ruin careers on the grounds of personal likes and dislikes, nor on count of caste, creed and color. Don’t upgrade mediocrity because it comes from your part of the world and do not prejudice your boss against people whom you may not like. Yesyesyes, one knows you can do it… just don’t. It is mean and horrible thing to do.

Honesty. Two types. The one within the office where your boss asks you something and you answer. And the other is the honesty to the staff. Tell them the truth. He cannot meet you because he is truly busy not because you don’t want him to meet and you want to flex muscle. Do not make promises in your boss’s name that cannot be kept… like they say, give an elephant but do not get hope. And do not accept bribes… you will be offered them, it goes with the territory but do not accept them.

Simple enough rules but heady is the brilliance of reflected power that many a secretary forgets his or her position.



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