Learning to lead


EAs, for better or worse, are fast becoming business leaders. Piloting projects, managing events, resolving workplace disputes and aiding some of business’ most important decision makers – they are often responsible for a team of people, or at the very least, charged with the delegation of duties to others in the workplace. Bennet Nichol recently sat down with Corporate Challenge’s Dwain Richardson to discuss his career and the leadership aspects of the EA position.

With EAs stepping into a managerial role, it is more important than ever to understand how to work with, and as part of a team. Dwain Richardson is the managing director of Corporate Challenge Events, a company that specialises in team building, corporate events, and training workplaces to understand exactly what it means to be a part of a team.

Dwain began Corporate Challenge Events 24 years ago in Queensland as a team building company, with hopes of creating a business that improves client’s understanding and development of positive workplace culture. Coming from a background in personal training, Dwain discovered similarities between personal development and the workplace experience.

“Corporate Challenge was actually my second business, I’d been in the personal training business 15 years prior to that. It was a little change of career, working with individuals and personal performance, which is what personal trainings about, to Corporate Challenge Events which is around team performance and improving that,” Dwain said.

Starting a company had its own unique experiences for Dwain, forming a new business and forging its direction was exciting, yet not without its own challenges. “One of the earliest things I remember is that we had a small website and we put up a picture of Australia, and we said that we were all over Australia. We put stars everywhere and we said look we’re here, we’re based here, here is our mobile number, call us.”

“We started landing events in Perth, landing events in Sydney, we did the same in New Zealand and we started landing events there.”

“Obviously not having people on the ground, we would just pack up our bags, take everything we needed with us and go across and deliver. Certainly [there were] challenges around risk, and challenges around creating consistent process. That’s probably been one of the biggest things that we focus on to this day.”

Now, Corporate Challenge has a global team of over 20 full time and 80 casual employees across Australia and New Zealand, rolling out around 1,000 events annually. In his experience, Dwain knows how much the modern EA does and agrees that they are more leaders than assistants.

“I believe that the majority of EAs, when they come on, think that they are sitting fairly low on the rung and don’t truly appreciate how high they actually sit with the decision-making powers,” Dwain suggested.

“Not just the decision-making powers they have in regards to whoever their direct report is, but within the entire business. Because they are in a position where they are going to be fed all of the problems, the issues, whatever is going on.”

Unfortunately, being in a decision-making position and leading or dealing with groups of people, EAs will inevitably be faced with conflict. Whether it be from below, above, or outside, frustrations between people are always a consequence and the responsibility of those in positions of leadership.

According to Dwain, the solution to the majority
of workplace con icts is understanding. “I think, fundamentally, any sort of issue within a team or an of ce space generally comes down to lack of understanding of each other,” he contends.

“Understanding the personalities of each individual and then the appreciation that we all need to be different, because if we were all the same we can’t create an effective team. We need those that are going to be the leaders, we need those that are going to be the doers, we need those who are going to be the creative minds. We need a real balance of so many different things”

Being thrust into a leadership position may seem daunting, especially for those used to working under strict hierarchy. Yet, having an important position can be thoroughly rewarding.

“Because they are only hearing problems, from an EAs perspective, it’s very easy to think that there are always issues going on and there are always problems going on, rather than seeing that they are in a position where they are hearing all the problems. If they are responding well, they are actually being the problem solvers for many of those issues,” Dwain surmised.

“When you are the point of contact where everyone comes to with a problem, you’re not necessarily the point of contact when things are going well. You seem to get this imbalance of negative input versus positive input. For all PAs, just because they are not hearing anything positive doesn’t mean the positive isn’t happening.”

“I think it’s important for PAs and EAs to learn the [same skills as] managing directors, team leaders, CEOs, business owners. I think EAs sit in a leadership position. It may not be listed within their role, but they do sit in a leadership place where they have the ability, if they can, and if they know how to, manage people.”

About Corporate Challenge Events

Corporate Challenge Events is Australia’s leading and largest team building, corporate events and training provider.

Their vision is to help organisations achieve a positive fun team culture by delivering unique and rewarding events, corporate training and team experiences that leave a lasting happiness.

With that vision, they deliver tailored and professional services for their clients.