Even the most seasoned, experienced professionals can find their hearts racing and their palms getting clammy as they walk down the hall to the boss’s office. If you are: a. laying awake at night worrying about how it’s going to go, or b. not sure how far you’ll get before you’re interrupted, or c. afraid you’ll be flummoxed by a tough question, then it’s time to analyze what’s happening.
Let me make 5 observations about mistakes people make when meeting with the boss.
Observation Number One: You probably aren’t prepared
Most managers and leaders are woefully underprepared for these exchanges. I’m frankly shocked at how little thought they put into shaping their proposals, writing their comments or practicing out loud. What is more important that a meeting with the CEO or the board? What are you doing that would take priority over that? If you’re not spending time preparing and practicing, it’s because you’re avoiding it, not because you’re too busy. Too busy is a myth. Too busy means you don’t have your priorities straight.
Observation Number 2: It’s a huge mistake to treat this as a game.
Your goal cannot be to simply get in and out without saying anything controversial—playing it safe will never get you ahead; your goal is not to out maneuver your colleagues – you may win a round but with a good boss, you’ll lose when you’re not part of the team; your goal is not to get the boss to make the decision – any good CEO wants you to make your own decisions – based on sound evidence and a logical plan.
Observation Number 3: Most people aren’t in tune with the CEOs agenda
Just the other day I heard the story of a well respected Chief Information Officer who went in to tell the CEO about a great idea he had. This was something that would require an investment up front but had the potential to create tremendous efficiencies within six months to a year of implementation. To the CIO it seemed like a no brainer, so he was quite shocked when the CEO said, sure, I’ll approve it, but I still expect you to reduce your overall budget by 10%.
Has something like this happened to you? Have you gone in thinking you have a strong case, only to get a monkey wrench thrown into your perfect plan? You walk out thinking what just happened? The problem is you’ve set your own trap by not tuning in to what matters to the CEO right now.
Observation Number 4: Your CEO is looking for answers.
You need to have some. Let me give you an example. I know the new president of one division of a financial services company. This guy is smart, analytical, thoughtful and articulate. Only one problem. He prepared a presentation but he came in with just questions, not solutions. The CEO finally stopped him and said, Listen, if you want me to tell you what to do I can do that. But is that what you want? Or do you want to decide? It was a moment of truth – a moment of empowerment – the president was grateful but also learned a lesson. Come in with answers. You may get shot down but you need to take a stand. That’s what leaders do.
Observation Number 5: Winging it is just plain dumb.
You may think you have your ideas in your head, that you know the project, understand the issue and can talk about it in your sleep. Then what happens. The meeting starts, you’re rambling, your answers are disjointed, you can’t remember key facts, and you’re fumbling opportunities to make a powerful point. In short, you’re winging it, and that’s suicide. There’s a big difference between confidence and overconfidence; between self assurance and arrogance. The person who doesn’t prepare well is not confident or cool; he or she is simply not doing what it takes to succeed at the executive level.
Meetings with the boss are a chance to show your potential and shine. If you know how to prepare you will significantly reduce the fear factor and ace the meeting.