“Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.” Although slightly overused, it’s insightful advice. But what about other characteristics? How do you prepare to not only look, but sound and act like a leader?
When I was in the corporate world, I often requested skip level meetings. This is a meeting between an executive and a team member who is one or more levels below them on the chain of command. I intentionally pursued such opportunities to meet with my manager’s manager and other directors.
My direct managers weren’t always fans of this, maybe because they were concerned I would complain about the team or, even worse, about them. However, I had no intention of doing something so petty. My sights were set on higher goals. I wanted to learn to think like an executive. As one of the best ways to learn is through practice, I sought out more exposure to an executive presence.
If you desire to hone your executive presence by engaging in skip level meetings, here’s how to start:
Inform Your Manager
Most employees seek out opportunities to converse with executives. If you start doing so, your direct manager might think your intentions are dodgy. Be proactive by telling your manager what you’re doing and why. Please note: you are not asking for your manager’s permission to move forward with this. Your manager has little to gain from your skip level meetings; therefore, they are more likely to say no if you phrase this as a question. However, you don’t need their permission to meet with another employee, so that’s why you’re not asking for it. You are simply taking the considerate step to inform your manager of your plans in advance.
Select an Executive You’d Like to Meet
While it can be helpful to meet with an executive that is directly in your chain of command, it’s not critical. If you disagree with this executive’s leadership style, it might be counterproductive and frustrating to meet with them one-on-one. Begin by meeting with a member of the executive team whom you admire in some capacity or you’d like to get to know more. Your genuine admiration for their work will allow the conversation flow more easily.
Prepare for the Meeting
Research the executive. Review their LinkedIn profile so you understand their background and career trajectory. Google their name to see if you can find any articles written about them or any awards they’ve received. Come up questions you want to ask this person that are specific to them to ensure best use of your limited time together.
Planning for Success
Before the meeting, consider what you think would be a successful outcome. You’re not just meeting with this person for the sake of having a meeting. You want to plan what’s next. Do you want specific, actionable advice on an issue you’ve been struggling with? Do you hope to have a follow-up meeting after a couple months? Are you seeking recommendations for others you should speak with? While the overarching goal may be to better hone your leadership skills, consider the more short-term goals of your meetings or these conversations will feel awkward and forced.
Unlike many of my colleagues who avoided even casual interactions with the leadership team, I sought them out. Because of these executives’ willingness to engage with me, I soon learned to think about my projects more holistically and express ideas more succinctly.
Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here.