Who is your personal assistant?


Recently I came across the blog post titled, “Things I Carry: Smart Phone? I Prefer a Brilliant Assistant”, by Richard Bronson, the founder of Virgin Atlantic airlines. In this blog he describes the role of a live personal assistant as contrasted with the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) such as the Blackberry and I-phone. He states, “There are some people who seem to be able to do everything themselves. I am a great believer in the art of delegation and in sharing the load to make everyone more productive. Having an assistant who is completely in the loop with our activities means we can keep up with everything. People often ask how I am able to keep on top of businesses in dozens of different countries and industries. Well, having an assistant who is on the ball 24/7 is one of the main ways it is possible.” http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130402091536-204068115-things-i-carry-smart-phone-i-prefer-a-brilliant-assistant

There could be many issues and questions swirling in your head as a reader: Can every one afford such a personal assistant in a day and age, where cutting back on all the resources is the norm? The efficacy of someone hovering over you every moment of your working life? The moral hazards one faces with such intimacy with any one in a professional life? etc.

There are also counter examples. One can get all the personal assistance needed without a live person hovering around you. Resources are available today and on-line to address every administrative and support need. You can speak and the PDA will respond. You can dictate and the computer will generate a formatted letter or manuscript. You can speak in one language and have it transmitted in many languages. Can any personal assistant do all that? You can also literally outsource everything. Once I read that an executive forgot to buy a birthday gift for his wife. He outsourced it to someone in the last-minute, who made sure that the gift was delivered well and on time. He even delegated the choice of the gift! Well, appropriate gift was selected and delivered in time. There was a small glitch! The gift was signed by the outsourced staff!! You can imagine what happened to that marriage after that?

Levity and concerns aside, there are few key points we can take away from the blog post. As an example, the concept of personal assistant may be elevated to develop people for succession planning. Large companies have chief executives, who have their right hand person, who shadows the chief all the time. In a few years, they know the skills, style and strategies of the chief. In due course as the chief retires, the right hand person takes the reins. In other companies there are a few who are groomed as a team. One among them takes over the top spot at a later time. In today’s world of limitless knowledge sharing and cloud sourcing, these traditional approaches to delegation, grooming and succession planning have to be used wisely and revised as needed. But, they need not be rejected totally. Similar issues are also faced by the executives of small companies who work hard throughout their life, mostly on their own effort and initiative only to find the challenge in transition to the next generation of leadership. These successful entrepreneurs may need to take time to develop their personal assistants if they need logical and effective successors.

Delegation, Sharing the load, Make every one productive, Ability to keep up with everything, etc. are all very important aspects not only in the business world, but also in personal life. In the traditional large families and the joint families, the eldest son literally grew up as the personal assistant to the father. The eldest daughter grew up as the personal assistant to her mother, until she got married and moved on to her new home with her bride-groom. In those cases the eldest daughter-in-law was later groomed as the personal assistant. Also the husband and the wife grew up as the personal assistant to each other! These traditions were well-respected and preserved for centuries. Today, with smaller, nuclear families that are also spread across the globe, the role of the children as personal assistants and the opportunity to train them as such are all very limited. But, such small family size and dispersal need not and should not become impediments for the traditional roles and in the development of responsibilities to be handles by the next generation.

There are also some other ways to re-think the role of “personal assistant”. First of all, the personal assistance need not be a one way street (i.e.) boss – subordinate relationship. Instead we could think of being of assistance to someone and at the same time get assistance from someone else. “Personal assistance” can be thought of as a net-work that supports a set of common needs; like a root system that supports the personal life of many and the community or circle of people as a whole. As an example I remind some one of an event or schedule, while I rely on a few others to be reminded of the same at other times. I share a thought or feeling with someone and seek help or guidance, while I am available to help few others with a similar need in other contexts. I help those in need of physical effort, while I accept such assistance when required for my needs. In this network or support system, “personal” and “assistance” change from a “self-driven need and support” to “support where it is needed and independent of self-driven objectives”. This is the essence of “Unattached active engagement”. While the world around us might have changed a lot and the technology and means of support also have changed immensely, the basic principle of assistance to others and accepting assistance from others has not changed with time or over the generations. Reflecting on this and engaging accordingly may be an aspect of Spirituality in Practice!

At a more sublime level, the relationship between the superior and the dependent is also a matter of evolution in our understanding of personal assistance. In any business relationship or in all personal relationships one can also visualize the superior and the subordinate. But can a superior ever serve as a “subordinate” and implicitly partake and support in all activities of the subordinate? What is the behavior and demeanor of a personal assistant that will enable the superior to behave in such a manner? What is the behavior and demeanor of the subordinate that fosters such a change in role in the superior? When we find the answers to these questions, we also begin to see the distinction between the personal assistant and a spiritually evolved person.

When the child (subordinate) sees the sublime love of a mother (the superior) towards her child, exhibited through all her patience, perseverance and forgiveness of the child, then the relationship between the child and the mother reaches a higher plane. The same can be said of any relationship which starts as superior/assistant roles that transforms into an inter-dependent and in-separable relationship. We also see many examples of this notion of “King as the servant” in literature, in the description of the moral codes for leaders in the society as well as in religious writings.

The unconditional faith nurtured through respect and devotion by the assistant (individual) to the Lord (or the ideal) and the unrelenting support received by the assistant as a result, are metaphorically described in Bhagawath Geetha, as the relationship between Arjuna (the individual) and Krishna (the Lord) serving as his charioteer (personal assistant).

You are my Mother and You are my Father ; You are my Relative and You are my Friend.; You are my Knowledge and You are my Wealth; You are my All, My God of Gods.—Queen Ghandhari’s words addressing Krishna (the Lord)  after the loss of her hundredth (and final) son Duryodhana in the war at Kurukshetra – Mahabharatha.

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