update from the reader who wanted to borrow the CEO’s assistant

Remember the letter-writer who wanted to ask the CEO if he could “borrow” the CEO’s assistant to work on his own projects? Here’s his update.

I got a lot of solid, honest advice that I needed to hear. I apologized to the CEO’s assistant, as suggested, for overstepping my boundaries by assuming she was able and allowed to assist me and for generally making a fool of myself. She seemed very understanding about it. Later on in the week, the CEO pulled me aside for a “little catch up” where he mentioned that his assistant has casually talked to him about me asking for help. He basically stated that his assistant was off limits, and that if I absolutely needed help with something I could come to him and he would assign me someone temporarily to help if he thought the situation warranted it. I apologized profusely, and he accepted that. He told me that he appreciated my drive and motivation and thought with some time I could be an extremely valued member of the team if I really worked on it. I appreciated the criticism and asked him about him being my mentor. He graciously declined but did introduce me to a senior member of the executive staff who has been really great at helping me get acclimated to the environment and generally being a great mentor.

I think my actions actually were a direct cause in me being taken out of the running for the head of the department when the company chose to consolidate the three different graphic design departments into one large department about a month ago. It was completely a situation of my own making and a mistake I will definitely not repeat.

Luckily, everyone gave me a second chance and I am really trying my hardest to prove I am not nearly as ridiculous as I made myself out to be in those first couple of weeks.

Thanks again for all the advice and for telling me how awful I was being. I needed to hear it.

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    I think this is great – and it so perfectly illustrates that people can recover from even pretty major faux pas as long as they learn from them.

    You took the criticism very well on the original thread, as I recall, and it sounds like you were able to smooth things over at work.

    As an aside, your bosses assistant seems to have a pretty great boss herself in the way he defined her boundaries to you.

    1. Kelly O*

      + infinity to the comment about how the assistant has a great boss.

      I have seen way too many who just tossed every random, vaguely administrative task at their assistant and then wondered why he or she seemed to never have time for other things.

      Kudos to a boss who helps guard his assistant’s time.

  2. COT*

    What a great update. Your humility, ability to take criticism, and willingness to learn will serve you well. Best of luck to you!

  3. Victoria HR*

    I agree – awesome update. Good for the OP for taking feedback and utilizing it in the best possible way. OP, if you’re ever in a new job search, remember this instance for when someone asks you in a job interview for examples of how you dealt with a difficult situation or accepted/dealt with negative feedback.

    1. Emily*

      Absolutely! What a great example of learning one of those lessons that many assume are common sense. You earned your experience here, and did it graciously.

  4. AdAgencyChick*

    This is a great update. Based on the original tone of your letter I would have expected a huffy response and “of course I’m not doing anything wrong, what is up with that?” but, as a previous poster said, your ability to take criticism, even harsh criticism, and learn from it will serve you very well in the future. Kudos!

  5. The Editor*


    I’m glad you have learned a lot from what you’ve gone through. It seems apparent that you’re a much better person for it, and that will shine through over time.

  6. KarenT*

    Good! This is really nice to read. It sounds like this was a humbling experience for you, and I’m sure you’ll carry this lesson with you for the rest of your career.

  7. Kayday can't type on her phone*

    Thank you for the update. It’s really nice to hear that you apologized to the assistant and took the criticism from the Ceo so gracefully. I’m sorry to hear that you lost out on the department head position, but hopefully your humility and ability to accept criticism will work well for you in the future.

  8. Sandrine*

    Well, OP, I applaud you for your attitude.

    If I had someone like you working for me (I wish I had people working for me LOL) , I would be impressed with the way you acted in this whole thing!

  9. Not So NewReader*

    OP, you got two points right- you came on AAM and asked for help.
    (Seeking the advice of others, whose opinions you respect.)
    And you allowed us to see inside your experiences so that we in turn can learn.
    (Candor, openness, willingness to allow others to have the benefit of learning from how you handed your mistake.)

    Hang on to your boss’ words about heading for great things.

  10. Chaucer*

    Thanks for the update! One of my pet peeves is when people, in response to criticism, respond with “Nobody’s perfect!” or “You can’t judge me!” Yes, none of us are perfect, but that doesn’t excuse us to to perform detrimental actions.

    One of the best traits a person can have is the ability to take criticism and become better from it. You are that person, and it will serve you extremely well in the future.

  11. Katie the Fed*

    I absolutely love how you handled this criticism. Being receptive to criticism will get you really far.

    Well handled.

    We all screw up at times – how you respond is what sets you apart.

  12. Elsie*

    This is really great. We’ve all been there as far as perspective being off and behaving ridiculously, but it’s great that you put yourself out there and asked for advice on this blog because you had a chance to recognize it and learn from it. (Particularly since the truth hurts sometimes and commenters here sometimes deliver it harshly.) I’m sure your colleagues also appreciate your apology – something that doesn’t always happen in the workplace. I’m glad they responded graciously because it shows they’re willing to redirect you gently and understand that people make mistakes.

  13. Cynthia*

    Great followup. I love hearing from people who take feedback well. I work in an environment where open, direct and in-the-moment feedback is the norm. It can be tough sometimes, but I’ve learned what a valuable gift it is. It rarely embarrasses me anymore, because I now trust that it’s coming from a good place and my teammates and managers are helping me to be better and to get to the next level, professionally.

    OP: We all have some cringe-worthy moments in our careers, but you’ve demonstrated that you learn quickly, adapt and move on. And that’s a great thing to be known for.

    1. Z*

      AAM, should you post a “What was your most cringe-worthy career moment?” thread where we can all ‘fess up to the clueless things we did as youngsters?

      1. Cube Ninja*

        I have a really great one about that wherein I called out my departmental VP in front of the entire department on an issue related to payroll. Not my finest moment, but it worked out in the end.

      2. EM*

        Ugh. :/ :)

        I’m dipping my toes into the world of project management for the first time, and I feel like I’m doing cringe-worthy things constantly!

      3. Lily*

        I hope readers will also write about how they recovered from their cringe-worthy moments, hopefully without changing jobs!

  14. Steve G*

    Very strong of you for apologizing!

    Just one thing, about asking for a mentor. I don’t know what industry your in, but in my very stereotypical “businessman” culture, asking for a mentor would also come across very badly. It makes it look like your asking for help with your feelings as they pertain to work, or time outs to have “the way things work” conversations, or will need handholding as opposed to doing real work.

    Even if you meant “mentor” as someone you only talk business with and maybe even do extra work for to get extra experience, it may come across as described.

    Good luck!

    1. jesicka309*

      I too thought it was weird…. I thought being a mentor was something that just developed naturally? Not something you ask someone about?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I’m not a big fan of formal mentoring requests, although some people do them. I tend to think the best mentoring relationships are ones that develop naturally (although you can certainly put effort into increasing the chances that one will).

    2. EM*

      Yeah, don’t ask someone to be a mentor explicitly. I think it’s a relationship that develops naturally. I actually have 2 people at my company who mentor me, in different ways. What’s really interesting is that one is several years younger than me, but is one of the most powerful people in our small company. (My excuse is that I’m about 5 years ‘behind’ my age-peers in work experience due to getting a graduate degree and staying home for a few years after my son was born.)

    3. Sonya*

      I was going to ask the same thing. I’ve never heard of an individual requesting mentorship, I’d assume it would be more organic.

  15. Dom*

    Great to hear from the OP on this, and glad that she took the advice/comments so well!

    Quick related question of my own – is it normal to ask somoene you work directly with for mentorship? It struck me as strange, as I typically think of mentorship as being outside of your direct working relationships, and think it would be hard for someone to be both your manager and “in your corner”…but I don’t really know much about mentorship so maybe I’m misunderstanding.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I wouldn’t ask your manager to be your mentor. A good manager will be developing you anyway, but it’s a little different from mentoring. (And really, a mentor should be able to help you figure out situations with your boss when needed, so you don’t want it to be your boss anyway.)

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Not really. When I got into management I asked one of my very first managers, who I’ve kept in touch with over the years, to be my mentor. He’s a bit formal which is good because he has me schedule regular meetings and challenges me on specific things.

      I also asked him and some other senior people I know if they could connect me with a senior female. I work in a very male-dominated industry and I don’t have a good role model for how a good female manager in that environment thrives.

  16. Elizabeth West*

    I wouldn’t say awful. You made a mistake, that’s all. Good job being open to feedback and guidance. It sounds like you have a good management team there, also. Yay!

  17. Anonymous*

    For what it’s worth, while it is possible that you were passed over for the promotion this time as you suspect, it is also possible that you weren’t. It would be unusual for a new hire to receive a large promotion. So it’s very possible that this had no bearing on the promotion decision.

    1. martini*

      Agreed, I wouldn’t worry that this mis-step cost you the promotion, it sounds like it would have been unusual for them to offer it to you given the circumstances, so don’t feel bad on that front!

  18. HR Gorilla*

    Ahhh, I am so, so happy to read about someone responding positively to well-meant constructive criticism! :) So nice, particularly after a morning spent with an employee who very strongly felt that there was no need to even listen to constructive criticism from their manager–let alone respond to it. Well done, OP!

  19. Tiff*

    Great job – I remember that post and you really were gracious about taking some harsh criticism. It sounds like you rebounded nicely. Good luck!

  20. Tricia*

    It says a lot about your character to be able to apologize, accept criticism, and move on so gracefully – much luck to you OP!

    Missing the promotion might also be because you were hired in the last year (I think that’s what your original post said)?

  21. Katie the Fed*

    BTW, I just went back and read the original post. I hadn’t realized how new you were to the job and the industry. I wouldn’t assume it’s this incident that took you out of the running for department head. You’re REALLY new. I would never assume someone who had only been there a few months would be in the running for such a position.

    I’m not quite sure how to put this, but you seem a little…eager. Maybe just settle down a bit, get used to your job, and let your work speak for itself? Initiative is good, but there’s a fine line between that and being too eager, and I think you might be walking it.

  22. FreeThinkerTX*

    Perhaps I’m overly sensitive, but this phrase stuck in my craw, “…by assuming she was able and allowed to assist me ….

    Um, she was always ABLE to assist you. Apologizing for assuming that she had been able to assist you [thus implying that she isn’t able to] is a backhanded, passive-aggressive tactic.

    Though I am impressed with OP’s ability to handle criticism on this board, I think he still has a lot of growing up to do.

    1. Pam*

      I read the “able” part as she had the free time available, rather than had the ability. In his original post, he said that because she was so efficient, she was able to help other departments with their work. He assumed that she might not have enough work to do.

      In this instance, I don’t think he’s talking about her ability, but rather her availability.

      1. TracyDee*

        I agree with Pam. At no time did the OP sound like he didn’t think the assistant had the knowhow to assist him.

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