How to Connect with the C-Suite

CEOs and others in the C-Suite make or break careers. This article begins a short series designed to help you connect with C-Level leaders.

Danger:

The further away from the C-Suite you are the further away you should stay.

The first thing Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup, said when I asked for his insight was, “This is dangerous territory.” He listed three potential dangers of trying too hard to connect with the C-Suite.

  1. Playing people. Manipulating relationships ends relationships, quickly.
  2. Alienating peers. They’ll wonder if you’re using them.
  3. Distrustful subordinates who question your motives. Doug didn’t say you’ll be viewed as a brownnoser but I will.

Culture:

Doug and everyone else I interviewed said, “Understand the corporate culture.” John Bell, former CEO of Jacobs Suchard (Kraft, Nabob), put it this way, “It depends on the leader.”

For example, Conant wrote thousands of handwritten notes to Campbell’s employees. If I worked for Doug, I’d write notes to him and other employees.

Most C-Suite leaders are closed. Author and consultant, John Spence said, “CEOs already have personal relationships. Familiarity is not good. Keep a respectful distance Know your place.” I’m not sure what percentage of CEOs are closed. Does 98% sound about right? It’s usually a matter of necessity.

Rare Exceptions:

John Bell reminded me of the exceptional cofounder of Costco, Jim Sinegal. Jim sits in an office without walls and wants to know people’s names; they print them on everyone’s shirts. He also visited all Costco stores every year (580 in 2011).

More tomorrow and thanks to (Listed in order of their interview):

Doug Conant
John Bell
Steve Farber
John Spence
Mike Myatt
Facebook contributors

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What’s dangerous about trying to connect with C-level leaders?

Tips for connecting?

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