How emerging executives can achieve high-impact with key players more senior than themselves.

An up-and-coming executive engages with an important sales prospect, client, supplier, partner, or colleague on par with his or her degree of comfort and security with the other party.  The more seniority the other is perceived to have relative to his/her own, the more anxiety and insecurity is induced, the less is said, and the less impact results from the interaction.  Pushing to the highest possible level of engagement drives the best results and accelerates career progression.

It makes sense for the up-and-coming executive to think of it as climbing a staircase. Levels of Executive Engagement - IntelliVenThe first step is the most basic level of engagement, is easy enough to do, but adds little-to-no value.  Each step is easier than otherwise when it builds off of the last but is progressively more difficult and riskier to take.  The top step generates extraordinary value and takes the most effort and nerve to do, especially for the first time.

Take the steps in order, go as high as possible in an interaction, and then strive to achieve a higher level next time.  With each experience and successful interaction, the executive matures, gains perspective, and gets on track to providing maximum value and career growth.

The steps are easier to follow if the emerging executive is more senior in terms of age or position than the other party.  A younger, less-experienced executive needs to push through to muster the courage and determination, early in his or her career, to move up the steps of engagement when given the opportunity to interact with prospects, customers, suppliers, partners, and colleagues who are more senior.

Not pushing to the next step may seem like the safer course but the limit of that strategy means hitting the top rung only with others who are younger and/or who have less experience … which implies waiting to provide the most value until one is older and/or has more tenure.  There is no reason even for the earliest-stage executive to wait to realize his or her full potential to generate great value.  Working up the staircase allows anyone to be more successful sooner and not waiting until gray hairs come naturally.

In the quest to provide top value, up-and-coming executives may wonder how they could possibly add insights, challenge points, and provide useful coaching, instruction and advice (that is, climbing steps four, five, and six) with only a few years of knowledge and experience. The good news is that no one, even the most junior professional, has to do it alone. The full breadth and weight of the organization’s experience and wisdom can and should be drawn on and put to work preparing for every high-stakes executive interaction.

Those who most effectively draw upon, internalize, use, and add to the broader capacity and competence of their organization’s collective knowledge and experience with each executive engagement will do the most good and earn the right to do even more the soonest.  Strive to operate in every situation as the best and most informed in the organization would if they could.  Doing so is a highly coveted form of leverage that allows a person to perform at a far higher level than one would expect and serves him or her, and their organization, well.

2 thoughts on “How emerging executives can achieve high-impact with key players more senior than themselves.”

  1. To add a layer to the conversation, my experience has shown two additional benefits when the highest level of executive engagement is achieved. First, this process is how a “rising” executive can fosters their personal influence. Influence is a form of healthy power that is a key component of informal and formal leadership. The ability to climb the levels of executive engagement is in fact part of taking on the role of leader. Secondly, respect in most organization is a highly coveted commodity. When younger executives couple the passive levels and active levels of the five steps consistently they create a pattern that communicates respect.

  2. Jacques Domenge on November 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm said:
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    I agree with everything being said here. I also appreciate the mention of increased risk. Something that is rarely presented in the story of the hero who slays the dragon, is that all those before him/her perished in attempting to do so. Those who perish are more frequently regarded as having been foolish rather than courageous. I think that a rising executive would be well served to climb these steps, but also be as cautious as possible, as the risks are real and consequences for mistepping are also very real. For instance, in step 5, “Challenge point made” could lead to a perception of insubordination, rather than adding value. Consequences could range from being regarded as pompous, to being precluded from advancing professionally, particularly if the point in question was particularly important to the senior executive. To prevent this from happening I think it would be essential for the rising executive to understand the person standing across from them and know how they have received challenges in the past. They should also have a thorough understanding of what they are talking about, rather than challenging for the sake of it.

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