In my case, I was invited to participate in a leadership development program. In your case, you might need to grab the attention yourself, on the fly, without a fancy in-house program.
And that’s okay. There are a ton of ways to get the attention of executives. I’ll cover two ways here:
- Help on a visible project.
- Express your strongest beliefs.
Help on a visible project
In the first case, you’ve been around long enough to know of high profile projects. You know which ones have the executives all worked up.
Find out who is running one such project. Find a way, any way, you can contribute. Maybe you have access to data the project team can use. Maybe you can make slides for an upcoming presentation. Maybe you can format and edit reports.
Even better, take advantage of your expertise. With your technical background, you have knowledge and skills most other people don’t. Think of what gaps you could fill. When you make your pitch, focus on the ways you’ll make the project team’s lives better.
This path requires you to network. You have to find out who’s leading, or at least participating on, the project. Then you’ll have to approach them, asking how you can help out.
You’ll also have to ensure your boss doesn’t object. This part is delicate, because you don’t want to offend your boss or look like you’re not taking your existing work seriously. But workplace politics are unavoidable. You might as well get some practice here.
Express your strongest beliefs
In the second case, you’re playing the long game. You need to consider all the work-related beliefs you have. Think of Peter Thiel’s famous interview question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”
If you’re plugged in at work, you’ve thought about ways your company can be more successful. Maybe you have internal problems around cost control, or organizational structure. Maybe you have external problems around customer selection, or competitor intelligence.
Know which of your beliefs are most profound. Know which beliefs are easiest to support. When you’re in a position to speak in front of executives, and the topic is related to your strongest beliefs, share them.
People clam up around executives. They fear looking stupid.
Take advantage of this fear. It’s your time to shine.
When everyone else is zipping their lips, speak up. Don’t ramble. Don’t go in circles. But clearly, succinctly, make your point.
You’re taking a risk. It’s always easier to say nothing, than to say something. But the risk is worth it.
Worst case…you’re ignored. Best case…you’re heard. Being heard is an important part of being noticed.
I know, finding a way to get in front of executives is easier said than done. You never know when it might happen. A random meeting. A chance elevator ride. A stop at the coffee bar.
This scenario is what you have in mind when you think of an elevator pitch. While you should have an elevator pitch prepared about yourself, also have one prepared about your ideas for the company. (I’ll cover the personal elevator pitch another time.)
Not all of your beliefs are equally profound. Not all are equally compelling. Think deeply about what matters most to you. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your company…what would it be?
Think about these things in advance. You’ll never know when lightning will strike, when you’ll be in the company of someone who can change your career in the blink of an eye. Be prepared so you can make the biggest impact possible, in the shortest amount of time.