top of page

Why being subservient is harder than you think

Have you ever been made to feel so uncomfortable that what you have seemingly felt confident in doing well in the past goes wrong and continues to do so?

You might, at first, not understand why…

When you are put on edge, there is a tendency to keep making mistakes and the downward spiral you find yourself in becomes steeper and faster.

Before we delve further into how we can avoid these ‘silly’ mistakes (said the person who made us feel uncomfortable enough to falter in what we are good at), whilst it is valid to feel we want to show people what we are made if, impress them, prove our worth (and all the other excuses we might give to defend the people that make us feel worthless, useless, not up to scratch, and so on), let’s be clear on one thing about their behaviour.


Those that knowingly make others worry or feel anxious are more than often insecure themselves.

It is easy for them to point the finger as they feel unconfident in what they are doing themselves.

But this is not about them.

This is about us and how we can manage and navigate increasingly common behaviours of others who are managers and not leaders.

It is good practice to regularly review our journey: how we started out, our reason for doing what we do and why we believed we could do what we do in the first place. The values we held then are largely the same at any given point in the future, they may have strengthened or been tweaked slightly as we have adapted to change during the course of our journey. Take an Assistant as an example. The decision to embark on a career as an Assistant might be similar for many. A handful of ‘given’ points are obvious. What am I good at?

- Organising - Time keeping - Multi-tasking - Adapting - Communicating

What personal qualities do I have that will help?

- Diplomacy

- Decisiveness

- Resourcefulness

- Proactivity

- Trustworthiness

The major blip I recognise in any Assistant’s role is that their main objective and role is to ensure the person they assist and support needs for nothing. The person an Assistant supports will not need to ask - because the Assistant will have pre-empted it.

This sounds great but in reality, control plays a major, and often negative, part. It has been seen time and time again. If an Assistant works their way up to a senior role in which their role becomes ambassadorial, there will always be questions as to why things were done in a particular way and at a certain time. There is a tendency to rely upon that Assistant so much (“they have become part of the family”) that expectations become so high that the bubble of reality is blown to such a state that has a potential to finally burst. Communication is key and, again, busy people often falter in this regard at times.

This ‘sixth’ sense is often relied upon, yet under the stress and pressure that both parties face, miscommunication and misunderstanding of one another can easily become a major fly in the ointment.

When things inevitably go wrong (big or small), an element of ‘control’ returns and the risk it runs is the close relationship between an Assistant and the person they support falters.

The person an Assistant supports will always feel and ‘be’ senior to their Assistant (no matter how much they say they are a team). They ultimately call the shots, it is their life being organised and have the deciding vote and this is, of course, only right.

But the real problem lies here.

It means the Assistant, in all the responsibilities and accountability they have, is subservient.


Source: Oxford Dictionary

An Assistant clearly needs many of the qualities a leader has in order to carry out and effectively complete their duties to a high standard; yet they need to maintain a sense of duty to the person they support at all times.

The boundaries can easily be confused because of the very nature of the Assistant’s role and what they are expected to instinctively know and proactively do.

Being subservient whilst simultaneously having ultimate responsibility and being directly accountable for a person’s business, finances and personal matters, including even their children’s affairs, can feel overwhelming to even the most discerning Assistant.

How can a person be expected to ‘truly’ know how a person’s family members and their wider circle of friends might react to the choice of seat reservations, the choice of accommodation, the insurance policy chosen and all the other life decisions that are so personal to someone.

For the Assistants that have reached a level of having the autonomy to work in this way, it might be easy to beat ourselves up when things might ‘go wrong’.

The journey to reach the stage of fully supporting another individual can be a colourful one, for sure.

It is the differing personalities and characters we, as Assistants, come across during our paths that allow us to strengthen ourselves for the ultimate role we set out to secure.

There will be people we encounter that want to throw their weight around and naturally belittle people.

It is important to remember the qualities we have (and have always had) that enable us to do what we do well and prove to ourselves (it is ourselves we need to focus on and not the one micro-managing everything we might do) that we are experts in our field.

When a person picks holes in what we do or criticises our way of working, it can create a negative pattern of behaviour and lower morale in a way that it is difficult to bounce back from.

The belief we have of ourselves in both terms of our personal attributes to do the job and the technical skills required for it are equally important.

We have bad days, even weeks, but it is never going to benefit an Assistant and, in turn, the person they support if they feel downtrodden and lacking in what they need to do their job effectively.

An Assistant who is encouraged to approach problems in a way in which they believe is best, together with collaboration, will inevitably lead to solutions that progress to success.

When an Assistant is told not to give another thought about a mistake they have made because it is no big deal, it creates a mutual trust and respect.

The Assistant feels a little less bad for making the mistake, they are unlikely to make the same error a second time and they are made to feel they want to work hard(er) for the person they are supporting.

Feeling relaxed and able to make mistakes without ridicule develops a person significantly so they feel more courageous to venture in areas they may not necessarily have done in the past.

In order for this to work, the mutual feeling of trust and respect within the relationship is key.

Having the knowledge of how the other thinks and works, keeping in mind their values and beliefs, allows both parties to empathise with the other.

Whilst the example is for an Assistant and the person they support, this of course applies to anyone working with people.

Building people up and empowering them to do what they are good at can only be advantageous to you in whatever role you have and the seniority that holds.

Managing people can be found in a job description.

True leadership requires much more.


If you want to work with an Assistant who has worked with many personalities and knows just how mentally challenging it can be to better define your path, get in touch with me.



bottom of page