How to get ahead by working well with people who are at more senior levels in organizations you work with.

Early-stage professionals should look forward to and take advantage of opportunities to interact with people in client, partner, or supplier organizations at more senior levels of scope and scale of responsibility than they are used to working with.  While it might initially be difficult to muster the courage and conviction to play at a higher level, it is often an opportunity to learn and likely to be career-enhancing if things go well.

The call to connect with a more senior player, whether it is to make a sale, handle a delivery issue, launch a new initiative, or negotiate contract terms, might first evoke a sense of fear and the urge to demur.  The question: “How can I possibly go toe-to-toe with someone at such a senior level?” may come to mind. The following tips encourage and prepare up-and-coming star performers to get good at leveling-up:

  • While at first it may seem counter-intuitive, it is usually easier to communicate with more senior level executives.  Higher-ups tend to be smarter, nicer, more competent, and genuinely more impressive people.  After all, they got to higher levels for a reason!  Along these same lines, if you are tired of dealing with people who just don’t get what you are saying and who are otherwise difficult to deal with, it may be time to give yourself a break and start working with those who have higher levels of responsibility.

  • Be confident in yourself.   Know that you have earned the right to connect with more senior executives and got the call to do so for a reason.  There is no reason to think that you are fated to work with underlings your entire career.
  • Ultimately, no matter how lofty they happen to be in the organization, even the most senior executive is just a person with likes and dislikes, memories and dreams, pleasures and ailments just like your own!  Genuinely connect on a personal level to get off to a good start with anyone at any level of any organization.Find common ground (home towns, schools attended, places worked, sports teams followed, places visited, etc.) for conversation fodder along these lines. See: How to Win Friends and Influence People.
  • When called to connect at more senior levels than you are used to dealing with, it will surely occur to you that there must be someone who could do the job better and who you might like to hand-off to.  To make the call is an opportunity to excel.  Doing well is to separate the “wheat from the chaff” and become a stand-out performer.  Bolster your courage and just “do it.”  It is not as hard as it first seems, gets easier every time, puts you in position to deliver extraordinary value, has a remarkable positive impact on your career and your self image, and it is part of your job!
  • Top organizations expect their most senior executives to establish connections with top executives in partner, supplier, and client organizations and to use those connections to manage engagements, grow and develop new business, deal with problems, negotiate terms, etc.  It is part of life at the top of an organization.  Your value as an executive to your organization, and in the marketplace, is significantly impacted by your ability and track record to perform well with outside senior executives.
  • When there is urgency, for example, due to a delivery issue, a technical glitch, or a dramatic market or economic event, it is easy to get attention from top executives.  Take advantage when trouble happens and get to the top people in the organizations you work with.  It sometimes makes sense even to create an “urgent problem to be solved” to promote a sense of urgency, get connected to top players as part of addressing the issue, and then institutionalizing senior level connections with periodic executive reviews.
  • People, even the most senior-level executives, love to feel important.  Research and study executives you will connect with and listen carefully to collect fodder you can use in conversation to let them know you know and understand them. Make them feel important by what you say about who they are and about what they know and have done.
  • Stay on an adult-to-adult level; do not drop into a mindset of a child in the presence of an adult.  Once you adopt an inferior or subordinate demeanor it is tough to recover.
  • Before making contact, allow yourself to feel what it  will be like through role-play. Specifically, put yourself in the situation you will be in with the target executive.  Script what you plan to say and enlist a colleague to play the role of you while you assume the role of the one who you will contact.  Internalize how the executive will behave in the face of your script in order to work out responses to questions they might have and to improve your approach.
  • Despite all the planning, there will be unexpected developments and you will be in a better position because of your preparation.  Expect the unexpected and be ready to think on your feet and follow your instincts.  See related post on preparation for high-stakes sessions.
  • During the conversation, “helicopter-up” to an omniscient perspective every five or ten minutes and ask yourself:
    • What is going on here?
    • Are things going the way I want?
    • What do I need to do to stay on or to get back on, track?
  • Do not focus on the rewards for doing well or the penalty of not doing well.  Such thoughts tend to induce anxiety rather than stimulate peak performance (see:  Concentrate on matters at hand and on doing well at what got you where you are today.
  • Look for an opportunity to add value in the moment or immediately following the session.  For example, if the executive likes a music group or sports team that happens to be in town and you can get tickets, offer to do so.  Be sure to follow-through for maximum gain. See: Gitmore’s: The Little Black Book  of Connections.
  • Take good notes and write them up as soon as you disengage.  Bullet points that summarize substance tend to be more useful than rambling prose.  A record of exactly what is said with no editorializing will be most likely to later bring back full recall of key points just as they were originally made. See:
  • As soon as the  meeting is over, think about how things went.  Review your performance. Note what seemed to go well and where you think you could have done better.  Talk about the experience with others whose input you value.  Make a plan for how you will do better next time. See: point in this post on making notes after a high-stakes interview.
  • Enjoy yourself.  You will perform better if you like what you are doing and have fun doing it.  Lighten up and be your best. Dance!

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