10 Power Tips for Connecting with Powerful People
Image source: Pat Buntrock
Nothing trumps great work but abilities aren’t enough. Ignorance and insensitivity destroy opportunities.
You embarrass yourself and short circuit your career by expecting everyone to adapt to you. Talent gets you in the door; sensitivity to corporate culture and personalities propels you up stairs.
John Bernard shared, “I remember a young top-tier MBA asked the CEO to go out after work for a beer. Bad call! If he knew the CEO he would have known that level of informality was inappropriate.”
Great ideas irritate when they aren’t presented “properly.”
Use established protocols and procedures. “In some corporate cultures,” Jesse Lyn Stoner adds, “Bosses are deeply offended if you talk over them.” Circumventing the well-worn path reflects ignorance and insensitivity.
Jesse Lyn Stoner’s 10 power tips for connecting with powerful people:
- Connect now. Don’t wait till you have a great idea.
- Align with corporate culture.
- Put yourself in the right place.
- Don’t eat while you work. Eat where they eat. If executives eat in a public cafeteria, grab a tray.
- Engage on social media. Friend on facebook. Comment on their blog. Follow on twitter.
- Arrive at work when they do.
- Connect with leaders in other departments.
- Contribute to the company newsletter.
- Include board members.
- Never connect for personal gain. Disingenuous behaviors offend.
Bonus: You owe it to your company to get your idea heard.
During our interview, Jesse mentioned restroom conversations. She’s too polite to add them to her tips but I will. Don’t waste a restroom moment. People talk when they wash their hands. Warning! I’m not suggesting you become a lavatory stalker.
Where’s the balance between fitting into corporate culture and standing out?
More on connecting with the C-Suite, Monday. Thanks to the following leaders for their interviews. (Listed in order of their interview):
Dr. John Snyder
Jesse Lyn Stoner
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Great post and great power tips. Looking forward to the next.
Dr. Dan, thanks for being an encourager. Dan
A client of mine, made it a point to arrive earlier than his boss’s boss each morning. After leap frogging each other for a week the big boss came in said, “Now wait a minute!” Ha! They have a good relationship.
Great story… a shared walk across a parking lot or a goodmorning before others get in the office can lead to others things.
Thanks for sharing your story.
Great points Dan. I like point 1 as often people want to wait for that one big idea to pitch, rather than just engaging. I am chuckling at the rest rooms though as I am happy to chat when washing hands and about to leave the rest rooms, but before that I find it awkward when people want to talk to me! Some space just needs to be left well alone.
Thanks for the good word… yeah the restroom comment was a bit tongue in cheek… mostly for fun with just a tiny bit of truth…
Glad to see you. Have a great weekend.
The most telling bad strategy is to connect for personal gain. Even if people don’t sense it in the beginning, you will be found out and your relationship will suffer for it.
And a close second is expecting everyone to adapt to you and your style. I am currently watching one such leader delude himself into thinking he is molding the culture around him.
You have to understand the culture you step into. No it may not appear pefect in your eyes, but it is what it is. Adaptation in the short-run, no matter how long that is< pays off immeasurably in the long-run.
You must take time to establish your reliability to gain credibility. You must demonstrate your willingness to be adaptable and your understanding before anyone will take your voice or suggestions seriously.
Good post, Dan
Thanks for your insightful comment. “Establish your reliability to gain credibility” … We can all take that one to the bank. KaChing!
I’ve been guilty of looking down on corporate culture. I saw the down side and used that as an excuse to reject it…. Man thats dumb. Perhaps when we think of ourselves too highly we think of corporate culture too lowly. (not sure if that’s good grammar)
Have a great weekend and keep making a difference.
Dan, I am enjoying your posts on CEOs. One thing that is common in this post is the trend of thinking of them before thinking of you! Several of these tips are about thinking of the CEO first – be where they will be, be interested in what they are interested in, etc. This is a good approach to have in dealing with other people beyond the CEO as well, as long as it is done with the right intentions and not in a manipulative manner.
As Thabo has said, don’t wait for the great idea before you approach them. As you engage with them on normal, everyday stuff, they will be more receptive to listen when you have that great idea because you have taken the time to establish a relationship.
Well done, Dan…keep up the great work!
You encourage me. Thank you.
I suppose you could take most everything in this short series and replace CEO with Boss, Neighbor, Friend, Spouse, Children…. 🙂
Great relationship building skills apply across several platforms. I think someone mentioned yesterday they apply to sales people too.
Thank you for stopping in and stretching out the application…
Great post… but is not all this posturing for the boss’s eye not originating from some desire for personal gain? Are we not looking to be recognized from the rest of the pack for further career enhancement? It reminds me of the “greed is good” idea. The critical qualifier is making your communication sincere, even when it might not be at all times. Not everyone can do that effectively. The key is patience.
Also.. it’s been my experience that a fleeting connection outside the physical workplace (ie., the parking lot after work… and that neutral gathering place, the rest room) tends to make for more relaxed dialogue where a young and upwardly mobile manager might express positive personality traits in sharing about the weather, life, family, anything but work. After all, outside of work we humans are pretty much all the same… we are in relax mode. Just remember to make sure you spend most of that valuable connect time listening for clues about what’s important for the boss and sharing similar feelings.
Thanks for your perceptive comment.
I definitely agree with outside work contact, even if its walking across the parking lot. It’s helps people connect.
My experience suggests all these ideas can be abused by shallow or even unethical managers.
My experience also suggests that people do get lost in the system. Its worthwhile to pay attention to these issues.
The tipping point is genuine interest in moving the organization forward.
I wish I’d known these things years ago. It would have enhanced my influence sooner. I suppose some might see my desire to enhance my influence as selfish. The only response I have is I want to use my influence to help others.
Regardless, you’re hitting on important and critical point.
“Never connect for personal gain”. It is very powerful statement. People generally connect for personal gain. People are habitually intended for personal gain. That is why so many people surround powerful people irrespective of segment. But there is question to ponder. Can we say that all the people who surround powerful people have hidden intention? But one thing is clear, there are people who believe in their strength and connect with bosses when required. Fitting into corporate culture and standing out, both are challenging. For junior or middle level employees, it is almost a dream to fitting into the corporate culture unless you are directly connected with them. When you stand out, you tend to lose more than gain. The reason is simple, you question the top people. So the way out, is doing your duty honestly and creating effective distance with corporate culture. It means, they should perceive that you are connected whereas you know your limitation, achievement and strength.
As I read your comment, I started thinking about truthfulness.
Those motivated by personal gain tend to say what the boss wants to hear. Learning to speak the truth, respectfully, when you see things differently demonstrates a person is more interested in advancing the organization rather than themselves.
I’m thankful for your insights.
(1) Connect now – Bring your putter to work. You’ll attract others. A few moments putting clears your head, improves your productivity and reduces stress
(2) Align with corporate culture – The values of the game, honesty, integrity, respect, perseverance, strategic thinking, adapting to change, innovative and creative problem solving, constant improvement, preparing for and adapting to change, emotional control/intelligence are part and parcel to golf and organizational cultures.
(3) Put yourself in the right place – The course, of course! Maybe a short nine hole course before work, maybe a golf driving range, maybe just a putting green. Create one at work. Start a noon-time competition!
(4) Eat where they eat – The 19th hole. No adult beverages
(5) Social media – Golf was the original social media platform
(6) Arrive when they do – Schedule a tee off time before or after work
(7) Connect with leaders in other departments – Make it a foursome or more.
(8) Contribute to a company newsletter – Convey the values and skills of golf. The game does not need to be used as a boondoggle but an activity to transfer knowledge, solve problems and strengthen relationships.
(9) Include board members – Another foursome. Play a scramble. Healthy competition.
(10) No personal gain – Perfect your “business” game of golf. Coach how golf adds too, not distract from productive enterprise, knowledge sharing and relationship building.
(11) Bonus – Walk, it improves physical, mental and spiritual health.
Thanks so much for hitting a long drive on this comment. Useful and entertaining…
How about?? Lose when you play the boss? 😉
Love it! A hole in one!
ps. you might add to #10 – keep your focus on the ball. Nothing can ruin a golf game more quickly than worrying about how you look to others.
Good practical tips to get connected with powerful people. However, you need to be honest in sharing your creative ideas that can benefit the organization.
Look for the opportunities to communicate to the higher-ups and get self-satisfaction of your own contributions. Go a natural way rather than trying to please the boss in an artificial manner.
Thank you for your comment. Very practical.
Make it real; faking it doesn’t work.
There is a lot of talk today about conforming to corporate culture so I am going to say something about standing out. We all know that corporate culture is not static but changing it is a process and not a very quick one. Good leaders are looking to their future leaders for the direction the culture should go. That doesn’t mean adopting every management fad that comes around or trying to mold the company culture to each person’s personal quirks. It does mean talking to and understanding what your future leaders want and need so that they don’t go elsewhere.
I told the leaders of the company I work for now of a major flaw I say in their work processes during the interview and they hired me anyway. I then reminded them of this flaw during every six month performance review until they agreed and asked me to implement the change. I made these suggestions at the appropriate time, in the appropriate way but I made them. We don’t want to confuse fitting into corporate culture as a young leader to accepting corporate culture as being concrete.
Nicely said, and a great point.
I’d add one comment:Be careful reaching too high. These are great strategies for connecting with CEOs, but if there are management layers between you and him/her that you are not already connected with, those managers will think you’re disrespecting them by leapfrogging.
These are great tips that can safely be used if you think of connecting with all powerful people in your organization, rather than cherry-picking certain ones. Powerful people make powerful enemies too.
Great information. I think the biggest issue is that most people are worried they will fail. My theory is you will fail if you don’t at least try. I have worked in corporate and now own a small business and it is very important to work with everyone, network and do your best and it will work. Thanks
I think these are some great tips, and I would add one that I think is sort of implied in several of the tips – be aware of the goings-on in the organization as a whole – understand how your responsibilities and roles tie in to others. Be able to converse not just about your piece of the process, but the process as a whole.
Regarding #5, “engage in social media – ‘Friend on facebook. Comment on their blog. Follow on twitter’.” I would like to add a cautionary note based on my experience. I am very involved in Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube (YT to a lesser degree than the others). Over time, I have chosen to disengage from quite a few work-related social media relationships, including with those senior to me. I could probably write a very long comment about that, but will try to summarize:
The strengths of being “friends” with the C-suite on social media are that you can each seem more “human” to one another and more “three-dimensional” – that’s a good thing.
The drawbacks, however, can be many. There isn’t much I share on Facebook that I don’t want my C-suite to see, but I do write about work (I’m really not sure how I COULDN’T write about work) in my blog, which I promote on FB, and that has been perceived negatively by those I work with. I don’t say anything in my blog I wouldn’t verbalize to someoen in person, but when I promote my blog over many channels, it can be perceived as pushing it in their faces.
Even though we are all grownups and should have “thick skins,” it can be disheartening and divisive if the c-suite chooses to “friend” some people in the organization and not others. I originally friended everyone at work on Facebook except one person with whom I just didn’t want to share so much of my business based on our history (and I was her supervisor). When she asked me why I hadn’t friended her, I did, then a few days later unfriended. Not surprisingly, she called me on it. At that time, I decided to unfriend everyone from work – it was hurting my relationship with my direct report and it was taking much of the fun out of social media for me.
As for Twitter, I allow myself a little leeway for having “fun” on Twitter and although I would never do something openly mean, attacking, or negative, I do enjoy the equivalent of chit chat and that chit chat goes places I wouldn’t go at work – I don’t necessarily want to share that with someone senior to me (and I know anyone can see it but if we’re not following each other it’s harder).
I am not summarizing well, but I suppose it boils down to this: unless you and the c-suite person share similar values and ways of interacting (AND social media philosophies), it may be wise to think twice before inserting yourself into their stream and inviting them into yours.
Came back for a second helping of this thread, powerful vignette experiences, thanks all!
Jesse’s 10 points carry serious wait for those new to or transitioning in an organization.#1 & #7 ring true-perhaps if you are not building connections, you are stagnant or even losing network opportunities. You have to seek them out and that takes time. It can happen in all the ways noted and even in ongoing committee experiences, if you plant the seeds. Certainly appreciate Paula’s cautionary tale as well. There is that social network and the business network and we are all still defining how much overlap there should be.
Liked the bonus: “you owe it to your company…”–great way to keep you in gear and looking ahead to what the company can be.
Thank you for this post!
Great post, Dan. And I have enjoyed the comments even more than the post! I’m still scratching my head wondering how you transformed what I thought was a fun telephone conversation into an official interview and a blog post.
I would like to add that the issue of bosses being concerned about being leapfrogged can be a real one, which is why I said it’s important to know the company culture. At TJX, there is a company policy called “open door” where associates are expected to share ideas and concerns with any executive at any level. And the executives support the policy by not isolating themselves – e.g. they eat lunch in the same cafeteria as the rest of the folks, and don’t just hang out together.
But even if the culture doesn’t encourage that level of connection, you are still doing your company a favor to connect with leaders at all levels. Too frequently the people at the top of the house are disconnected from the rest of the company and lose the opportunity for input that would make better decisions and easier implementation.
Volunteer for cross-functional task forces. Have a conversation if you bump into the CEO in the grocery store. When an opportunity to connect presents itself, respond. These leaders are real people, who need the connection even more than you do.
Thank you for your leadership tips and insight. As a MD who is trying to guide our company in tumultuous times I assure you that we need all the help that we can get. Warm regards Sean
It’s all about flexing your style. More gets done that way. Great post!
I wish there was a way to “favorite” posts on WordPress. This would most definitely be on the list of “safe for later” posts.
Even individuals who already do most of these things, it is always a good reminder to read something like this and remind themselves how to make the best connections to the important people. I will most definitely be referencing this list as I enter the business world and try to find my place in the organization I work with.
but the one thing you have not touched on and which I have found to be most effective and rewarding — get involved the not-for-profit interests (not necessarily those of your boss, but in general)… truly powerful, successful people understand the need to give back — if you want to connect with those folks, share your skills freely with a not-for-profit that you can whole-heartedly support….. and absolutely EVERYONE benefits…
These are some great tips. I think a person can and should start influencing other people with their current position the slowly grow their influence into other areas.
I remember my first meeting with the CFO of our organization. We both were the only ones in an elevator. I introduced myself and to my surprise, he already knew of me! He knew my name and what I brought to the position and to the mission of the company. Wow! We remain allies today and he asks for me when he visits the office.
It’s not often I disagree with a post Dan, but I take issue with a couple of these. Some of them seem to suggest that those of us with other responsibilities can’t be influential unless we subscribe to some pretty old-school mentality , eg. #6. I don’t arrive at work when my boss does. Haven’t since I had children. I also don’t take leisurely “power lunches” because my day is shortened since I have responsibilites at home requiring I get there at a decent time. Does it make me less effective? Not in my experience over the past several years. In 7 years I have been promoted from a fairly entry level position to Sr Management. All of these promotions were offered to me, not sought out. I have been able to cultivate very good relationships with people with a high degree of influence during the hours that I do work, and it has very little to do with trying to match my schedule to theirs. I think fundamentally it has far more to do with my bucking #2. If corporate culture needs a kick in the pants, I’m typically the one to look executive management square in the eye and tell them that, and why I believe it’s the case. This tends to go over well, I suspect because my goal is always achieveing what is in the organizations best interests. Perhaps some of these ideas are less applicable if you are in a domain that requires a “change agent” attitude.
And don’t even get me started on the “golf course” thing. I don’t have time (or frankly any desire) to golf with the powers that be, I have kids to raise, and family and friends I already wish I had more time to spend with. If I’m making extra time in my calendar for anyone, it’s for them first, not more work!
I loved the article on the ten power tips! Very pragmatic and useful for anyone in a customer service driven organization. Thank you for it!
Just be commited. Everything else will work out.