Have you ever felt like you couldn’t get your point across to your leadership team? Or had a brilliant idea shot down by your boss before you’d even had a chance to share the detail?
It’s tempting to shake your fist and shirk away with a chip on your shoulder. Picture the disgruntled employee doing only what they’re paid for, because they’ve decided speaking up and having ideas is pointless. Maybe you’ve been this person yourself? I know I’ve been there once, in my younger days.
But here’s the thing: it’s on you.
No matter how you feel about your leaders, getting your point across and communicating effectively with them is a skill everyone needs to work on and develop.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that no matter what you do or where you sit in the workplace hierarchy, influencing upwards is one of the most important skills you can possess.
Not sure where to start? Here’s a tip:
It all starts with understanding your audience
Only by understanding your audience can you create a strategy to connect with them effectively.
This means you need to start by getting to know your leaders. Use your powers of observation to better understand them. What drives them? What keeps them up at night? Figure out what makes him or her tick.
Understanding your leaders means having empathy for them.
I guarantee, the better you understand, listen to, and empathise with your leaders, the easier your life will be and the more successful you will be.
1. They have trusted advisors
A trusted advisor is a person who a leader can seek counsel and encouragement from as they make decisions and choices that impact the organisation.
This trust is earned and deserved.
Their own leadership team are often the people they turn to. Their assistant can also fulfil this role, feeding them valuable insights gleaned from across the business. Many leaders confide and listen to external consultants or coaches. In my experience, communication teams are also often allowed into the leadership circle of trust.
What does this mean for you? Well, start by getting to know who the trusted advisors are. Work out how they work effectively with your leader. What tips can you learn from them which can help you best approach your leader?
2. They are time-poor
Yes, we are all busy and important. We all have jampacked diaries and busy lives. But for senior leaders, more than likely, their diaries are next level.
Holidays and time off need to be planned months, if not a year in advance. Meetings frequently take place outside of hours. They receive hundreds of emails a day, many of which they don’t read.
Executive and personal assistants are essential beyond measure in managing the time, the diaries, and the inbox. They work closely with the leaders, and they know what’s important to them, so they can filter out the inconsequential emails and the meeting requests on their behalf.
They have deadlines, heavy workloads, constant meetings, which all equates to a high-stress environment.
So, what does this mean for the way you should approach them?
Agenda items and communication must be focused. Don’t waffle on over ten pages when it could be said in one.
You might need to go through their assistant to get time with them well in advance, don’t expect them to be free next week or even next month.
And if you’re sending them emails, know they might never read them – especially if they don’t know who you are and how what you are working on is important and worthy of their attention.
3. They’re focused on the big picture
When you’re knee-deep in a project, it can be easy to lose perspective. More than likely, what is a massive rock to you is one of many pebbles to your leaders. It may even be a tiny grain of sand.
But if you align your focus with other business priorities and projects, you can get your timing right to talk about your rock with leaders.
To influence upwards, you need to learn what is important to your leaders to show how what you’re doing and asking for is relevant to their top priorities.
A leader’s priorities always align with business priorities. They are always asking, ‘Is this the right thing for the company?’
They don’t focus single-mindedly on the employees, the share price, or the customers. Because if it’s the right thing for the company, then it’s the right thing for every stakeholder.
This big picture focus means they are highly risk aware.
What does that mean for you?
Don’t approach your leader with a way to make the employee experience better or to improve the way a project is run. Come to them with a way to make the company better.
Always take a step back and see the big picture.
Ask yourself, what is keeping your leader up at night? And then figure out how you can help solve their problems.
4. They are smart
Generally, to get to the level of a senior leader, they are usually exceptionally clever people.
By that, I mean mental ability and emotional intelligence.
Now I’m sure we’ve all come across some leaders in our careers lacking in one of those areas. There are always exceptions. But for the most part, the successful leaders of today possess both.
Your leader is in their role for a reason. They have worked hard and proved themselves to get there. They’re capable of leading, inspiring, and motivating teams.
What does that mean for you?
Be well prepared. Whatever you present or communicate to your leader needs to be smart too.
Have the stats, figures, and evidence you need to support you. Be ready to answer difficult questions. Because they will ask them.
5. They ask, ‘what needs to be done?’
Senior leaders are decision-makers. They act. Even if the act is delegation (and it usually is). They are not the doers. That’s where the rest of us come in.
Where you might often get stuck in red tape, signoffs and approvals, leaders are decision-makers who can make things happen quickly. They have the resources and clout to make things move.
With this ability to act comes high stakes.
They take responsibility for success. They also put their neck on the chopping board when things go wrong.
So, what does this mean for you?
Your leaders want deadlines. They want names of accountable people. They want to know how success will be measured. They want to know who will be affected and how this will be managed. And they need to understand the risks.
But all that said, they’re all unique
I’ve listed some similarities often found in senior leaders, but they are, of course, all different.
Find out how your leader likes to be approached and what makes them tick. Look for common ground. Don’t expect your leader to meet you where you are. Go to where they are.
And remember – it takes time to build trust. Trust always needs to be earned.
Have you come across any other common traits shared by leaders you’ve worked with?