How to Connect to the C-Suite

Posted by Kristin Kaufman on February 21st, 2012 :: Filed Under: A Fine Line

Over the years, working with executives in the C-Suite, we have garnered a few key basic observations which may benefit many who follow “A Fine Line”. In addition, those of you in the C-Suite who read my blogs will appreciate these tips to your employees and others, as well.

Take note: there are a few stereotypical traits, which more often than not are accurate for most C-suite players. These folks think fast. They make hard decisions fast. They need and want to be in control. They do not suffer fools. They want direct conversation and direct answers. If they ask what time it is – give it to them; they do not want to know how to build the watch.

For some reason, many feel the need to give long-winded explanations, descriptions and lengthy narratives when asked a pointed question. Perhaps they think this will be the chance to show the big cheese how smart or thoughtful we are. Big mistake. If you are asked a direct question, give a direct answer. If the answer is not what you think the executive is wanting hear, give it to him anyway, then offer a solution or the contingency approach you  suggest. For example, if you are asked to rank progress on a scale from 1 to 10, give them a number between 1 and 10. If you are asked if you are going to meet your quota for the quarter, give a yes or no answer as best you can, with a small commentary at the end, if necessary. Never offer the verbal commentary at the beginning – it sounds like an excuse or like you are avoiding a direct answer. Regardless of whether the answer is what the executive ideally wants to hear, they will appreciate the direct candor and refreshing honesty.

To truly connect with credibility at the C-level, we need to meet these “take no prisoner” executives where they are. Direct. No nonsense. Quick and to the point. Period.



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5 Responses to “How to Connect to the C-Suite”

  1. Diana Echols says:

    Kristin
    Brava! Totally agree. I would add two things. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make it up. Say “I don’t know but I will find out”. That leads to the second thing. Prepare. Try and think of questions they will ask. Find a mentor to prepare with. Successful preparation will reduce having to say I don’t know. But if you don’t, don’t fake it.

  2. Virginia Brooks says:

    Kristin,

    This advice is a breath of fresh air. I would add, if you make a mistake, own up to it directly, and then say clearly how you are rectifying the situation. Hiding out behind a smokescreen of vague answers only makes the matter worse.

    Thanks for this very valuable reminder!

  3. Pat Molloy says:

    Excellent advice.

    Interestingly, whereas it used to be that sales managers told reps to spend 4 to 6 hours a day in customer calls, I have recently observed sales managers (enlightened ones) telling their reps to spend at least 4 hours preparing for an executive level call!

  4. Cynthia Reavis says:

    Great advice Kristin. Diana’s and Virginia’s are great as well. Often times we want to impress the CEO when they just want the facts!

  5. Dale Hintz says:

    You are right about the need for speed and directness. But sometimes the CEO’s question is formed too quickly. Make sure you understand the question. If you need clarification – ask. Or if you think there may be another way to look at the question – propose it. The CEO wants ROI results so if honing in on a better solution by peeling back another layer then do so quickly and directly.

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