All wise leaders agree on one thing: they wouldn’t be where they are now without strong sponsors.
It’s true that developing positive relationships with the senior sphere can be a game-changer in a career. But in a world that requires decision-makers to be available nearly 24/7, the entry barrier is even more difficult. With little time to make an impact, you won’t have many chances to engage and get noticed.
Connecting with senior leaders is hard work, but the task is not impossible…
When you know how to do it right.
There are few things you must know to connect with a senior leader successfully. And the first one is to learn to network like a boss.
1. Address the elephants in the room
There are specific ways to engage and connect with senior leaders. But before we even get there, there are 2 important elements to keep in mind at all times.
The first – time. You won’t get more than 5 to 10 mins (if you’re lucky).
The second – reality. You’re not the first one to talk to them about “the best idea on the planet”. To engage with the senior sphere, you’ll have to be brief, professional, different, and ignite curiosity (simultaneously).
2. What to talk about?
This is the $64,000 question. Your conversation is likely to fit one of these 3 scenarios:
- you’re meeting them for the first time (say in the lift or at a town hall)
- you’ve met them a few times already, and you’re building a relationship
- you know them, they know you, and you’re pitching an idea or want to access a specific project/job
(I strongly recommend you complete #1 and #2 first, before attempting #3, by the way)
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3. The first time you connect with senior leaders
When you meet an influencer for the first time, it’s easy to leverage on, say, the keynote they just delivered, or recent company news. The secret is you don’t want to talk for ages or make a fool of yourself. What you need is them to look at you long enough so that (hopefully) they remember your face.
Ask your question, listen to the answer, say thanks, and end with “By the way, I’m xxx and I work in xx”.
If your senior leader wants to take the conversation deeper, expect a question about you. If not, being brief shows you respect their busy schedule.
4. Building a relationship with the C-Suite
When you connect with senior leaders, you need to know what they do and be clear on the purpose of the relationship. These executives could be experts in something you want to become better at. They might be known for exceptional leadership. Or perhaps you’re considering them as your next mentor.
After a few informal chit-chats, you can expect them to stop by when they see you. So better to have a few questions ready! These could be asking for their opinion on what’s going on in the industry, or the company. You could enquire about future trends, too. Or be brave, and share what behaviour or skill you would like to mirror, and then ask for 1 or 2 tips you can implement easily.
Here, what you want is to plant the seed to move slowly towards a two-way conversation.
If you feel intimidated, keep one thing in mind: they’ve been there before. Be honest, say you don’t have many opportunities to connect with senior leaders and would like to ask a question. Being human always pays off.
5. Getting in touch – for real
Once your relationship is established, and you are in a place of trust, you can go deeper, exchange and collaborate (this doesn’t mean “go all in and pitch like crazy” though).
But before you can really ‘walk the talk’, there is one thing you must clarify…
Know the value you add, and say it without bragging.
Even if you’re junior, a small achievement, presented in the right way, is a valuable thing to connect with senior leaders. But to make it work, you need to be crystal clear on what you do, and more importantly what you do well.
Set one hour aside, and list down your best achievements. What were the outcomes? What is the one specific thing you can claim as your own contribution? What makes you different from other colleagues; the way you work, or your personality and attitude?
Once you have your top 2 or 3 achievements, don’t go selling yourself immediately. Wait for the moment in the conversation where your interlocutor will share a similar problem to the exact one you resolved.
Your senior has a need, and you can answer on the spot. That’s an easy win!
Connecting with senior leaders is intimidating, but not as hard as you think it is. Don’t forget that these people – before they reached stellar positions – used to be where you stand now!
If you want to make a strong impact, get to know your boss’ boss and get a chance to establish a long-term relationship, there’s no secret. Be a good listener, add value, and remain humble. And then, to strengthen your connection, there’s no better advice than Dale Carnegie’s:
“Talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours.”
In part 2, we are going to explore how to use powerful conversations to build trust. In the meantime…
What is your favourite question to ask a senior influencer? Share it in the comments!