Young Professionals: 10 Secrets to Working with Executives

If you’re starting out or in mid-career working on your next promotion, getting visibility with the executive team may be your goal.

You might be just itching for the day when you can make that big presentation and show these guys exactly what you’re made of and why YOU should be on the fast track!

As you’re getting ready for the opportunity, however, you’ll need to develop a new skill: working effectively with executives.

Working with execs is not like having a conversation in your team meeting, or even working with your boss. Nope, it’s a whole different level of conversation. And learning how to engage this audience well will enhance your credibility (and viability) in the organization.

Knowing how to work with executives is essential if you plan to move up the ranks…

Executives Fly at a Different Altitude

As with any group or individual, you’ve got to understand your audience to have the most meaningful conversation.

Execs leverage the view horizontally across the whole organization, and connect the dots from top to bottom. You need to understand how your piece fits into their worldview to connect most effectively with them.

Execs Are Experts in Issue Triage

They have learned how to quickly dive into the heart of an agenda item, dissect it and ask scathingly good, on-point questions.

Try to anticipate what questions they might ask, and prepare a response. They may not need you to “ramp up” to the conversation. Be ready to get to the heart of it.

They Expect Their Scathingly Good Questions to Be Answered, Directly and Succinctly

One of the biggest gaffes I see in executive conversations is failing to answer the question. You may get so excited about what you have to tell them, that you aren’t listening for what they want to hear. Prepare accordingly, listen and respond. Be concise, clear, and direct.

They Can Smell BS a Mile Away

Don’t do it. And if you choose to do it, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

They Want to Know You Believe in What You Are Saying

Conviction about what you say to an executive is as important as the message itself.

I had one manager who struggled with this. We’d send him in to an executive meeting with program information and this caveat: Whatever you do, don’t blink. One time, he blinked. It wasn’t pretty. You must believe in what you are saying and have conviction that it is the right solution for the organization. Executives will test for conviction.

They Can Cover a Lot of Territory Relatively Quickly

Think cheetah, gazelle or quarter horse. They’ll move quickly until they pull up to focus on an issue. They will drive this, not you. Be deliberate, but prepare to move fast and flex the conversation accordingly. Just because you made all those pretty slides it doesn’t mean they want to look at them.

If There’s a Flaw in Your Logic, Numbers or Content, They Will Find It

And they will point it out to you.

Know your back story and your numbers, and the logic behind them. Have someone with content expertise review, poke, prod and test your content – and you – ahead of time.  Don’t risk destroying your credibility with bad numbers, or worse – a guess. Do not guess, ever. Say you’ll look into it and come back.

They’re impatient. They may be abrupt. Don’t expect a group hug when you leave.

If you’re presenting something, don’t expect flowery kudos when you’re done. They’re moving on to their next agenda item while you’re gathering up your stuff.

They Remember What You Told Them

So don’t tell them anything you don’t want them to remember and remind you of later. See point about not guessing.

They Don’t Subscribe to Buzz Words

They want facts, solutions, numbers and conviction. Spare the likes of “paradigm shifts,” “open kimonos” or “eating your own dog food” and stay on topic.

Freaked out? Don’t be. You can do this. It’s just a matter of developing the mindset and doing the footwork. The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be. And, it’ll make you better at everything else you do.

And when you’re in there, remember, they were all in your shoes at some point too!

Have you had an ‘executive’ experience that tripped you up? Share your story and tell me how you handled it in the comments below.



About the Author: Lea McLeod helps recent grads and mid-careerists navigate the job search. And once you have a job, she’ll coach you to the brilliant performance of which you are capable! Her “Developing Patterns of Success” Workshop has been deployed to help thousands of college hires worldwide do just that. She blogs at Follow her on Facebook, and Twitter, too.



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