Meeting a C-level executive can be intimidating, and it's easy to say the wrong thing.
"My first meeting with the CEO of a Fortune 1000 firm was a complete disaster," explains Mark Stelzner, founder of IA HR, in a recent LinkedIn post. "It was 15 years ago and despite the cool breeze that was blowing outside, I was sweating bullets. This guy was a titan of industry, so my mind jumped frantically between the thrill of the opportunity and the terror of screwing it up."
Entering his office with a huge smile, Stelzner instantly "vomited verbal nonsense." "With a furrowed brow, he peeled his fingers away from my death grip, sighed heavily, and looked at his watch. The meeting lasted seven minutes."
Stelzner says he has learned a thing or two in the decade and a half since that uncomfortable first encounter. More specifically, he has realized that in order to avoid career-limiting sessions like his own, and to successfully maximize your time on "mahogany row," you'll want to say and do the following three things whenever you meet with a CEO:
1. Ask questions.
Come to any meeting with a CEO prepared with very specific questions — and ask for help, Stelzner suggests. " I know, I know … you're worried that you'll look weak," he says. "But face facts — the person in front of you ascended for a reason, so take a moment to benefit from their wisdom, guidance, and experience."
2. Feed their ego.
"When someone decides that their purpose in life is to lead a multibillion-dollar firm, they just might think a little bit highly of themselves and their abilities," he says. "But let me caution you — no one likes a sycophant, and CEOs can see suck ups coming from a mile away."
So don't explicitly and directly compliment her. Instead, find an indirect and more subtle way to feed her ego.
For example, if the organization recently expanded geographically, you might mention how well the growth strategy has been perceived by the new markets.
3. Say "thank you."
This may seem obvious, but do take a moment to thank them for their time, he says. "Nothing is more valuable to a CEO than their time."
It doesn't matter if you send a handwritten note or an email, just be sure to let the CEO know that you are grateful.
And don't stop there, Stelzner says. It's absolutely critical that you also thank the CEO's executive assistant. "Be effusive because assistants are both gatekeepers and trusted advisors, and you will not get anywhere with the CEO without their help."
Whatever you do, stay cool. "They're just people, and some may even have a sense of humor," he concludes.
Click here to read the full LinkedIn post.
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