Meet this year’s OPSA winner

National Secretaries Month was celebrated across South Africa in September, and it was during this time that Association for Office Professionals of South Africa (OPSA) and Rexel announced their national winners of the country’s most coveted award for executive assistants, PAs and secretaries across South Africa. Unlike other awards, the South African National Office Professional of the Year Award is unique in that it is one of the longest running and most prestigious, covering all facets of the secretarial environment.

This year’s winner, Joanie Nel, took some time to answer a few questions:

As South Africa’s top assistant, what initiatives would you like to drive going forward?
I salute the office professionals that stepped forward, did not accept mediocrity and continue to ignite flames within others to drive the role of the office professional forward to a level still unimaginable to most. It is because of this flame that burns within me that I am proud to call myself an Office Professional. It is my passion to put actions into motion that will, long after I have gone, cause ripple effects in the industry.

Change is a constant in our world – technology, the professional environment, standards and responsibilities are continuously adjusting. But the biggest and perhaps most daunting of all is the realization that I need to change. In the words of Rumi, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” I cannot drive my profession forward if I am not willing to learn, to grow and be the change I would like to see in others. Fear and hesitation is no longer an option if I choose to achieve a different result. I would rather be a fool for a minute than to fear the question and remain ignorant for a lifetime. Constantly I search for new solutions and more effective approaches because the environment will not stagnate and wait until I am ready to change. I continue with the belief that I can and will be exceptional and develop my self-confidence continually. I tackle new skills and refine my abilities so that I can become the mentor and team member that contributes towards a successful organisation. This is my creed, “I am the voice, I lead where there is no path, I believe I do not doubt, create not destroy, I am a Leader, I am an incredible Office Professional.”

Bringing together teams with common objectives and shared passions creates strength. A strength that supports the company, a strength to uplift the profession and a strength to encourage the individuals.
I strongly believe in the power contained within a team especially when office professionals who exude excellence come together with a common purpose. I am passionate about the example set by others –forming pockets of excellence to create PA Forums. This is a necessary and crucial platform, I believe, that creates an environment where information and knowledge can be shared easily and spontaneously, where Office Professionals receive a voice and can develop and hone their skills to advance within an ever changing business environment. This enables Office Professionals to be the champions of change by challenging old habits, sharing information and knowledge and effectively creating a culture of teamwork and growth. I belief PA Forums create a platform where leaders will rise and the values, mission and vision of the company and of individuals can and will be achieved.

In conclusion I look forward to contribute to the success and elevation of OPSA. This is an organisation that encompasses excellence, the promotion and development of office professionals, mentorship opportunities, recognition of achievements as well as the continuance of personal and professional growth. It is an organisation that assists office professionals to step forward, create a culture of change where ordinary becomes extra ordinary and where the office profession becomes the ultimate profession of choice in an organisation.

What advice would you like to give to aspiring young office professionals?
Every person has the right to be valued, to be unique and be recognised for the amazing person that they were born to be. Let no person tell another that they cannot achieve, that they are unable to do something extraordinary or that it is not permitted by society to leave a legacy. Stretch every boundary and overcome every obstacle by not giving up. When you fall and make mistakes, don’t let that define you, get up, learn from it and move forward. Be brave, be curious and never compromise on your personal values i.e. your brand and align it with that of the organisation you serve. Learn from every person no matter good or bad, every person has something that they offer, a story for others to learn from. Search for likeminded individuals and connect with mentors so that growth, learning and development is a continual process. Instead of creating a ‘like Mike’ attitude look for the best in those you admire, combine it with the best within yourself and thereby create a new best for others to combine with. Most importantly never forget to SEE people, to look inside others and see their potential and their right to be different. Create a positive legacy and continue to drive the change you would like to see in the world by first looking inside yourself.

What was your reaction on winning the award?
A heart stopping experience! I was thrilled! The moment was unreal and it took several moments to realise that the door to a network of fabulous Office Professionals just opened and I was invited to join them. One does not enter a competition without a mind-set of winning, yet competing with incredible finalists for the award – Palesa Seseli-Moremong, Campus Committee Secretariat to Mr Rufus Morudu, Manager: Operations/Technical Services, University of Johannesburg, Sharon Künnemann, Personal Assistant to COO, Meadow Feeds Paarl, Bronwyn Venter, Executive PA to the CEO of Nashua, Mark Taylor, CFO Chris Radley, CHRO Lindelwe Kunene, and CSO Sedick Arendse as well as Francois Louw, winner of the Upcoming National Office Professional of the Year Award 2015 and Executive Assistant to Dirk Ackerman (Group CEO) and Pieter van Tonder (Group CFO) at IQ Group Holdings – it was extremely difficult to imagine receiving the award. Today I am glad to share the stage with every one of them as they have my admiration for the commitment to the profession that they display and for exuding excellence. Thanks to OPSA a platform exists for all of us to work together to enhance and create pockets of excellence that will cause ripple effects for years to come. This is an exciting journey filled with opportunities to make a positive difference for our profession alongside other likeminded individuals.

What drives you every day?
To be a good communicator and networker. To talk comes naturally to most human beings yet communicating well takes skill. To think beyond basic language and facilitating effective, positive exchange of information is something not everyone can do. Yet it is an attainable skill and with the importance of networking and mentoring and continuous learning it can turn an ordinary Executive Assistant into an extraordinary EA that stays ahead of her game.

To have a clear vision and brand of myself. To have a clear picture of what my vision and brand is and measure that constantly against what I portray. To be organised and detail orientated with a keen sense of responsibility. I am after all the CEO of my brand, values and my vision. With this clearly mapped out my direction is already set and success is unavoidable.

To be both technologically and emotionally adept. The world is evolving at a fast pace both emotionally and technologically. I have a choice: Stay where I am with what I have or keep up with the speed of change and evolve into something greater. It is a matter of choice to be ordinary or to be extra ordinary.

To exude excellence. Be the example and the change I want to see in others. When I set an example of excellence in everything I do – from my daily habits to the decisions I make – I send a strong message; this office professional knows the business and cares about the business and the people she comes in contact with. She has unquestionable integrity, is trustworthy and knowledgeable. Mediocrity is not acceptable.

To have a growth mind-set. To move away from a fixed mind-set, where time is spent on documenting intelligence or talent instead of developing it, towards a growth mind-set where I believe my most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishments.

Most importantly, I believe that these factors will only drive my passion and be effective with meaning if they are followed by action and results.

Did you enjoy the award process and would you recommend it to your peers?
This has been an incredible journey, to think this is only the beginning, with many incredible opportunities to grow and learn still to come is almost surreal. It is a journey where I realise on a daily basis that I am capable of achieving the unimaginable. That I can stretch my boundaries, learn to control and direct my fear for the greater good and most importantly stay humble and form part of a team of visionaries – an Academy of Excellence. I am privileged to meet amazing Office Professionals, peers that share the same passion for the profession and link up with incredible mentors. It is inspiring to see that there is an excitement within OPSA to take the organisation to greater heights and being part of this continuous growth and adaptation as we strive together to maintain a standard beyond excellence is truly incredible. I value that I have been given a voice, my opinion and suggestions matter and I am encouraged to assist others of our profession to grow and develop just as I am encouraged to grow and develop myself. I look forward to working with other great professionals as we encourage our peers, colleagues and each other to stretch, step out of comfort zones and share unique abilities with the world. It is a journey to be taken with enthusiasm, an exciting road to travel and a growth opportunity to unimaginable places.

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