Strategic Partnerships in Action: CEO Tricia Sciortino & Executive Assistant Melissa Lawrence at BELAY

When we wrote The Founder & The Force Multiplier: How Entrepreneurs and Executive Assistants Achieve More Together, in February 2019, our focus was on the partnership between an entrepreneur and their right-hand employee (usually in the form of an Executive Assistant, Personal Assistant, or Chief of Staff). What we’ve realized over time is that the principles that we live by and value extend far beyond the scrappy early days of a start-up, all the way to the C-Suite of Fortune 100 companies. An effective strategic partnership is a powerful thing. It is one of our missions with The Founder & The Force Multiplier to help leaders and Force Multipliers to find their match, celebrate and showcase strong partnerships, and provide coaching, training, and consulting to help these partnerships continue to thrive.

In this new series, Strategic Partnerships in Action, we highlight some of the Executive and Force Multiplier duos who are doing it right.

Tricia Sciortino , CEO at BELAY & Melissa Lawrence, Executive Assistant

Tricia and Melissa are the strategic partnership behind BELAY, which provides virtual specialists to help your organization grow. Whether you need a Virtual Assistant, Bookkeeper, or Web Specialist, they have the right team member ready to help you excel without the added stress of having to do everything on your own. They search the entire country to find the right contractor for your needs so that you can have more time to focus on your goals. For more information about BELAY, visit www.belaysolutions.com. Here’s what they had to say about their partnership.

Could you tell us about your positions within the company and the primary responsibilities in each of your roles? 

Tricia: As CEO of BELAY, I oversee the company and create an environment that promotes great performance and healthy company culture.  I am responsible for high-level strategic planning that will support, maintain and grow BELAY’s competitive edge in the marketplace. I also serve as the primary spokesperson and representative for the company.

Melissa: As EA to the CEO, my job is to enable Tricia to focus on the things that only she can do for the business. I help to conserve her time by proactively assisting with task management, scheduling, reviewing and drafting correspondence, research, professional and personal development opportunities, meeting preparations, and by serving as a liaison to our team, clients, contractors, and partners. I also support Tricia’s brand in the media through the coordination of podcasts, webinars, vlogs, blogs, and other channels. 

What have your career paths been and how long have you been working together? 

Melissa: Tricia and I have been working together for a little more than a year now. Supporting Tricia is the first time I have served as an EA in an official capacity, however in my previous roles I served as the “right-hand” to the CEO. So the jump to EA was mostly just a matter of learning to take on things like calendar and email management. Before coming to BELAY, I was working at a retail sales agency, spending long hours in an office (when I wasn’t traveling), leaving me little time and energy to deal with an awful custody situation I was going through at the time with my two children. With a breakdown imminent, I became determined to find an opportunity where I could work remotely so that I could have a career and a life. And here I am! My story of how I ended up at BELAY actually echoes Tricia’s in many ways…

Tricia: I started my career serving as District Manager for a large retail chain for ten years. When my daughters were born, I, like so many other women, found myself struggling to balance my career with my role as a mom, so in 2005, I quit my job and took a part-time role as a virtual EA supporting an executive by the name of Bryan Miles. Not long after, I found myself going through a difficult divorce and knew I needed to find a way to turn the flexibility of my part-time gig working from home into a new career, so that I could support my family as a single mom and still remain present and involved in my children’s lives. As luck would have it, Bryan and his wife Shannon were seeking a more balanced life for their own family, and had begun contemplating some sort of entrepreneurial venture. Thus, BELAY was born! I was brought on board as BELAY’s very first employee and Virtual Assistant. I quickly worked my way up the virtual corporate ladder, serving as Director, Vice President, President, COO, and now, CEO of BELAY. 

Successful strategic partnerships look different for everyone. What is the one thing that makes the partnership between you work? 

Tricia: Melissa and I have very similar work ethics. We both take our work personally, we care about things being done in the right way, and we’re sticklers for follow-through. When I hand something off to Melissa, I know it is going to be handled under all the same principles as if I were handling it myself.

Communication is a common challenge between leaders and their EAs. What communication failures have you had, what lessons have you learned, and what systems have you developed for communicating effectively? 

Tricia: I am big on the “virtual nod”. When I send an email with a request, I’m not really able to cross it off my mental checklist until I receive confirmation that the hand-off has been received. In the beginning, when I would send Melissa a task or request, she would sometimes wait to respond until she could report it was done or had an update, wanting to avoid more traffic to my inbox in the form of a “Will do!”. She totally got it once I communicated why a virtual nod is important to me, even for the smallest task.

What are the biggest challenges you have working together? 

Tricia: I confess, I am an inbox addict, guilty as charged! Relinquishing control of my inbox to my EA is something I struggle with. It’s where I go to start my day, and one of the ways I stay in tune with areas of the business that need attention. Melissa and I have made slow gains in inbox management and have found a couple of systems that work for us, but I think we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that I will never be one of those executives who is totally hands-off with my email. 

Melissa: I am a doer and a consummate team player. If I have the knowledge or skill set to help with something, I naturally want to help. But I have to remind myself that supporting the business is not the same thing as supporting Tricia. As an example, last year we did a large Salesforce implementation that maxed out all of the resources we had assigned to it. Having prior experience with implementing Salesforce, I was happy to jump in and assist with the project. It wasn’t long before my support of Tricia suffered, and it was a very stressful period for us both. The lesson was that there are tons of Salesforce contractors out there who could help with our project (and we eventually ended up hiring one), but Tricia only has one EA. Just like I help free up Tricia to do the things that only she can do for the business, I have to do the same for myself. That situation served as a reminder that being available to Tricia is my number one priority.

What’s one thing that comes easy to you both when it comes to working together?

Melissa: Part of Tricia’s natural leadership style is to give direct, on-the-spot feedback. It’s awesome because not only do I never have to wonder if I’m doing things the way she wants them to be done, but it also makes feedback so much easier to receive because it’s just woven into our everyday conversation – there is never this big “we need to talk” moment.

What is one of your proudest moments or achievements while working together? 

Melissa: Tricia being named CEO of BELAY was a huge moment for both of us (ok, maybe slightly bigger for her). We had not been working together long when she received the big news, but her passion for this company was apparent from the beginning, and I had seen first hand how hard she worked for this opportunity. What was really cool was to witness the reaction of the company when it was announced – every single person was excited not only for Tricia, but for BELAY. A big change in leadership is often a time of uncertainty for companies, so to see 100% confidence across our team that BELAY was in great hands with Tricia was really amazing. For my part, I was extremely honored that so early into our partnership, she was confident I was the right person to support her as the leader of our organization.

What’s one thing that others would be surprised to learn about both of you and/or your partnership?

Melissa: I can count on one hand the number of times Tricia has requested something of me outside of normal business hours. She is a huge proponent of “work to live, don’t live to work,” and she extends that mantra to her team as well. I think people are surprised that supporting the CEO of a successful business does not require me to be on call 24/7.

Tricia: I can count on two hands the number of times Melissa and I have met in person! People are always surprised that I am able to run the business as CEO 100% virtually, and that Melissa is able to support me both personally and professionally at a high-level from a totally different state.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to leaders/CEOs? 

Tricia: Delegate results, not tasks, and then extend trust. You do not have to see when or how the work gets done if the deliverable or metric is met – there are many ways to get the same result. Your EA is empowered and free to manage her priorities, and you as a leader can get out of the weeds of who/how/when.

Melissa: Don’t be a bottle-neck for your EA. Be responsive to her questions so she can move forward with whatever task or project she is working on for you, ensure she is equipped with all the tools/access she needs to do her job on a daily basis, take the time for weekly 1-on-1 meetings to go over your needs and priorities for the week. When you invest time in your EA, you will receive it back in dividends!

What’s one piece of advice you would give to Force Multipliers/EAs? 

Tricia: If your executive does not already have an “Ideal Work Week” mapped out, take the initiative to help them create one. It is incredibly helpful for understanding their goals and priorities so you can spot places to step in and serve, and will give you so much more autonomy when it comes to scheduling.

Melissa: Block time on your executive’s calendar for everything. Don’t just assume that they will use any holes in their schedule to work on projects or knock out miscellaneous to-dos. This includes time for planning, strategizing, reading, networking, and other “non-urgent” things that are actually really important for a CEO to be an inspired and innovative leader.

What books have had the biggest impact on your personal or professional life?

Tricia: Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni reminds us that being vulnerable is brave, that it provides a powerful point of human connection necessary to build the kind of long-lasting and sustainable relationships we seek, whether professionally or personally. The story also highlights the importance of telling the “kind truth,” as the truth is a necessary part of life (and leadership), and being afraid to include it in our communication almost always does more harm than good.

Melissa: I hesitate to say that I Said This, You Heard That by Kathleen Edelman has been life-changing, but it has had a huge impact on how I understand and interact with others. The book is about how our innate temperaments influence the way we communicate – both the words we speak and how we interpret the words others speak. Kathleen spoke at an event for BELAY, and when everyone on the team took the assessment in the book, we were shocked by how much we related to our temperament “colors.” I had my entire family take the assessment as well, and it is incredible how much this insight has improved my communication with each of them.

What other CEOs, EAs or strategic partners do you admire?

Tricia: Michael Hyatt was one of BELAY’s first clients, and I had the privilege of being his EA back in our early days. Not only did I gain so much insight about being a great leader through serving him, but I learned a lot about how to forge and leverage a successful Founder/Force Multiplier partnership. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from Mike is that, if you’re not getting the expected results from your EA (or anyone else you lead), before you assume lack of productivity, reassess the expectations that were defined. The majority of people the majority of the time truly want to do a good job, so when they fall short it can usually be attributed to a breakdown in communication. 

Melissa: Coincidentally, I was totally inspired by Hallie’s career working for Adam after reading The Founder and The Force Multiplier. So much so that it has helped shape my goals for my career path!

What’s next for you both? 

Melissa: I have my sights set on a not yet existent Chief of Staff role (sound familiar?) at BELAY. It’s difficult to imagine moving on to a different role within the organization where I do not support Tricia, and yet I of course desire to grow in the nature and magnitude of my responsibilities and advance my career. A Chief of Staff type role would be a win/win, allowing me to expand in the strategic ways I support Tricia. Now if I just knew someone around here with a little pull to make that happen…

Tricia: Becoming the CEO of BELAY has been a long time dream and goal of mine, so my focus for the foreseeable future is on being the best CEO that I can be for this organization. I served as COO for many years, so an “operational” mindset runs deep in me, but my job now is to cast vision for BELAY and lead the charge for innovation to keep the company on the leading edge of our industry. I have been working under the continued mentorship of our founders, Bryan and Shannon Miles, executive coaching, peer groups, and self-study to grow in my capacity as a visionary leader.

It’s easy to see why we are inspired by this powerhouse of a strategic partnership. One of the things that really struck us about Tricia and Melissa is how clearly their life values (family and work/life balance) are aligned. And this begs us to ask the question – how important do you think it is that a CEO and EA share the same values? We’d love to hear your thoughts below!

MORE ABOUT TRICIA SCIORTINO

As CEO of BELAY, I strive to lead and inspire our team to provide extraordinary services while finding great talent along the way. It’s my distinct privilege to be able to cast vision for the future of BELAY and empower our team to live our mission: Glorifying God by providing solutions that equip our clients with the confidence to climb higher.

Born and raised in Long Island, I attended the University of Hartford and earned a degree in Business Administration and Management. For ten years, I served as District Manager for the retail chain Pacific Sunwear, however, when my first child was born, I – like many other parents – found myself struggling to balance my high-profile career with my new role as a mother. 

Enter: BELAY

As BELAY’s first employee and virtual assistant – and then onto serve as Director, Vice President, President, COO, and now CEO – I’ve spent the last nearly 10 years ‘walking the walk’ of what we call the Third Option: the ability to cultivate a balanced life with a successful career while making family and personal relationships a priority. 

I live in Charlotte, NC with my husband, two daughters and stepson and am grateful – seriously grateful – for the opportunity to live out my third option every day as a hands-on mom while supporting those I lead in living out theirs.

MORE ABOUT MELISSA LAWRENCE

As Executive Assistant to the CEO of BELAY, I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to support the leader of a vibrant, successful organization – without having to spend a single minute in Atlanta traffic. With a high degree of professionalism, discretion, and business acumen, I provide day to day support and act as an extension of the CEO, serving as a liaison to our team, clients, contractors, and partners.

I came to BELAY in 2019 after spending over 15 years in B2B sales and operations for manufacturers across multiple distribution channels. Somewhere along the way, I developed a passion for CRM design, implementation and administration, and am a Salesforce Certified Administrator and Sales Cloud Consultant. I enjoy serving as a Salesforce administrator and reporting specialist for BELAY in addition to my EA duties.

Born in Kansas City, I consider Atlanta home and live in the suburbs (or OTP, as the natives call it) with my husband and a house full of teenagers.

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