How to demonstrate your value to your exec

Guidelines from leadership expert focus on key actions, words that will earn you trust, respect in company C-suite.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s new distance-learning portal, RaganTraining.com. The site contains more than 200 hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses. For membership information, please click here.

The executives you work with pay little attention to you.

They are so busy that they can’t find time to meet when you have an idea to discuss. When things run smoothly, they take credit. When something goes wrong, they are quick to assign blame.

Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to be that way.

There are skills you can develop and tactics you can employ to get their interest, build rapport, and demonstrate that you are adding value to the company, said Sabina Nawaz, founder and CEO of Nawaz Consulting.

Before starting her business in 2005, she spent 15 years at Microsoft, moving from “geeky developer writing code in the hallways” to senior director of leadership, management, employee development, and succession planning. She shared her expertise in this Ragan Training session, “Make a difference with your exec.”

Executives have lots coming at them

Most executives—especially those who are new to a company—face a “ton of stimulation,” she said. They have many challenges to manage and face “lots of interaction and a bunch of responsibilities, deliverables, and timelines coming at them.”

To break through, you have to exercise leadership, she said, quoting President Dwight Eisenhower: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

“You have to create motivation in them, make them think it is their idea, in fact,” she said.

Most executives are hardwired for WIIFM—What’s In It For Me? Nawaz said employees who want to get their attention have to communicate the personal features that are valuable in a colleague—education, experience, and other attributes. Then those attributes must be put to work to generate benefits for the company—and the executive.

This is excerpted from a Ragan Training video titledMake a difference with your exec.”

A fancy degree from a good school isn’t enough, she said. You have to show that you bring value to the company in how you think and act. Because each executive has a different WIIFM quotient, you will have to customize your benefit statement for each one.

Making an emotional connection

She said to first focus on the why when you pitch the benefits of a particular proposal to an executive. The “why we must do this” behind a project or strategy will often provide an emotional hook that will connect with the boss.

“People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it,” she said.

The why should be followed by the “how we will do it” and the “what will it yield” as the benefit statement is presented. Moving from the why to the how to the what is an effective way to deliver the message.

In describing the benefits of an idea, keep the “you-to-me ratio” at 3-to-1. Research shows that the emphasis must be heavy on the “you” to keep your executive engaged, Nawaz said.

As you brief your executive on the project’s potential, tell a compelling story, she said, and keep in mind the qualities that make up a good tale. Incorporate characters, heroes, excitement, and emotion. Make the benefit story interesting and memorable.

Keep the five most persuasive words in mind

Free, because, instantly, new, and you are five of the most persuasive words in the English language and should be used to whenever appropriate, she said. Using the executive’s name-but not overdoing it-is also recommended.

“Nothing lights up your own brain like the sound of your name,” Nawaz said. “People are more likely to trust you and be influenced by you and be loyal to you when you use their name.”

Also, provide a “visceral experience” in your presentation to executives, one that will bring tingles to the back of the neck or “jolt them in some way,” she said.

She gave the example of a manager at John Deere who dumped 424 pairs of gloves on the boardroom table to jolt executives to take action. The gloves-with widely varied styles and prices—were collected by a summer intern from Deere factories. The manager showed how much money could be saved if glove purchasing were standardized companywide.

Show courage, take a risk

It takes courage to do something as risky as the glove-dumping display, but the risk is worth it.

“You have to get away from PowerPoint, you’ve got to get away from Excel and give them some sort of visceral experience.”

You’ve also got to project executive presence, to show you have gravitas, she said, and listed six components-confidence, decisiveness, ability to speak truth to power, emotional intelligence, reputation, and vision.

She cited a survey that said 67 percent of executives believe that gravitas (serious actions and dignified behavior) is more important than how you speak (28 percent) or how you look (5 percent).

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