5 mistakes senior leaders make

when presenting to other senior leaders


Published on: August 2022

Written by: Elizabeth Freedman

I work with senior leaders who spend a good portion of their time in meetings with other senior leaders.

You’d think that because these leaders are facing similar challenges, at similar levels, communicating and influencing would be somewhat effortless between them. After all, who understands the challenges of senior leaders better than another senior leader?

Therein lies the rub. It’s true that senior leaders share plenty in common with one another, including similar blind spots, which is why the same types of communications challenges often come up between them. Here are of the most common mistakes we see leaders make and how to rethink communicating with your colleagues at your next meeting.

Remember that you’re never there to just inform one another

Bringing a group of senior leaders together is an expensive proposition. It’s why if you’re asking your highest-paid people to meet, it should only be for a handful of reasons: To make a decision, agree on a path forward, address an urgent matter, debate an important idea, and so on. Bringing senior leaders together to simply inform one another, provide updates or discuss problems with no real resolution is low value for them and their organizations. If you want to inform, share a pre-read, or send along a dashboard link.

Focus on how to move from informing to action

To get at this, stop talking about what you’re working on and start shifting the conversation to produce more results to come out of the conversation. If you’re leading a discussion with other senior leaders, always decide what result you’re there to achieve ahead of time: A decision? Agreement on a plan of action? Alignment around a commitment? Then, determine how you’ll achieve the result in the time given. Don’t underestimate how much more impact and value you can immediately create with those two simple steps.

Own the fact that you are there to sell

Producing results is not a neutral activity, which is why if you’re leading a discussion with other senior executives, remember that you’re there to sell your colleagues on a course of action. Just because they are your peers doesn’t mean they want the same things—or that they are automatically on board with your agenda. It’s your job to persuade, to influence, to break through the noise and get this in-demand audience to care. Sharing compelling data and information may be a helpful starting point, but if you’re meeting with other senior leaders, those are table stakes. To win hearts and minds, do more to put your audience at the center and engage them on how your idea will help them win.

Make the audience the star of the movie

Think about your discussions with other senior leaders like movies, and if the star is you instead of them, you’ve lost the plot. To influence, help the audience see how they benefit in the future you’re describing. To do that, storytelling is key. Your executive peers can be the toughest audience a leader can face. It’s all the more important to paint a compelling picture of the future state. Describe the potential opportunity in realistic, credible terms, walk the audience through a path to achieving the future that feels doable. It may be tempting to boil the ocean or go heavy on the doom and gloom language (“we’re going to be out of business in five years if we don’t start now”), but a little goes a long way. Most of us don’t want to star in a depressing movie, so to influence, work on a compelling narrative that your audience wants to be part of.

Play to win

The biggest mistake I see senior executives make with one another in meetings? They play not to lose, instead of playing to win. In practice, this might look like keeping comments safe when sharing ideas, checking out or multitasking, keeping quiet, refusing to challenge each other in meetings, or not holding peers accountable to achieving results in discussions. The impact is that we miss the opportunity to have the types of high value, business-moving conversations that senior leaders can and should be having. To get at this, self-awareness is essential, and it may require you to do more to make sure your leadership voice can be heard. For many, this may require preparing differently, sharing ideas in a bolder way, or doing more to make sure the value of your ideas is obvious to the audience.

There may be no single action a company can take to improve its business more powerful than this: Enable your senior executive peers to engage in high value conversations with each other, more often, because when this happens, the benefits are far and wide. Decisions get made, alignment is strengthened, and that accelerates results for companies. Equally important, when senior executives show up differently for each other, they create new norms, elevate the culture, and set an even higher standard for performance.

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