How to build peer-like relationships with executives
Monty Hall was famous for giving Let’s Make a Deal contestants a choice between door #1 and #2. On the gameshow, contestants agonized over which door to choose. One door might open to a valuable prize or to something of little value (a “zonk”). Random chance ruled the day for costume-clad contestants, many of whom left the stage dejected and pining for fictitious door #3 containing riches beyond their wildest dreams.
Business can present a similar conundrum. If given the choice between marginalized (door #1) or circumvented (door #2), you would understandably hope for a door #3. In this scenario, door #3 would be home to respected, trusted, and peer-like.
While there may be no door #3 on Let’s Make a Deal, fortunately, there is in business.
In 10+ years within “big corporate,” I learned that a peer-like relationship with an executive doesn’t have to be the sole domain of long-tenured people. Professionals of all experience levels can use the truisms here to foster peer-like relationships with executives and, ultimately, develop highly credible advisory relationships.
Your brand matters as much to an executive as it matters to you. Executives spend considerable time cultivating their brand. Some do so quite intentionally, while others come to it more naturally. Either way, realize that their appreciation for a personal brand dictates, in-part, the amount of time granted to you and the perceived value of your presence.
Attendance is being taken. Most executives are keen monitors of team dynamic and participation. The simple act of being present tells an executive how much you share their vision and context and how willing you are to publicly dedicate yourself to each. If you don’t show, you’re not absent, you’re noticeably absent.
Scout. Identify top talent and share company news an executive doesn’t yet know about. This shows you’re on the “inside” and provide value beyond your job description and skill-set.
A “seat at the table” is conditional. Your seat is predicated upon the value you provide. Take this for granted and be relegated to the list of people whose star was once bright, but is no longer.
Lead with an outcome-based conclusion. Yes, share relevant context, but minimize process and background details. To rely heavily on methodology to justify your conclusion is to demonstrate your lack of relationship and trust-level with an executive.
Bad news. Be the first to deliver it and do it in-person.
Connect personally and emotionally. It’s not pandering to be conversant in the interests of an executive. In actuality, it sends a message that you understand and appreciate their personal context.
Ask for advice – personal and professional.
Personal: Do so based on the executive’s interests and expertise. This demonstrates your respect for their counsel and serves to reinforce the relationship.
Professional: Part of an executive’s role is to lend credibility and authority to a decision. So, expect that they’ll want to add value, which is their job. From there, it’s your job to take their advice to strengthen the outcome you’re working toward.
Recognize the difference between institutional and representational leadership. Expect that you’ll have to take positions with the overall company in mind and that this may come at the expense of your discipline or interests. Understanding this shows an executive that you understand the broader perspective and their context as a problem solver and relationship manager.
Always have a point-of-view. This may seem elementary, but share your perspective when asked because it sends a signal that you’re part of the cohort. To not have a point-of-view is to diminish your role in the current conversation, and all future conversations.