“Your career success is based on having the right person speak for you when you are not in the room.”
Career advancement, especially to the most senior roles, is analogous to politics; in that, your success is based on people making decisions about you (voting) when you are not in the room. Now, there is one very big difference—in politics you win by getting the most votes; in business you win by getting the right votes. In other words, career success boils down to having someone in a senior, decision-making role voting for you. The question then becomes “How do you get someone at that level to be your advocate/sponsor?” Here are the three things you need to do:
Speak the same language as they do. Specifically, find out the two to three things that executives, starting with the CEO, value as most important for the success of the organization. Use the exact same words as they do. To learn the language, read the CEO’s letter in the annual report, listen in on the quarterly earnings reports, and read analyst presentations the CEO has done. The bottom line being, to influence people, you have to speak their language and care about the same things they do.
2. Make a personal connection with one to two influential leaders. To form the
connection, always take the time to find out what their personal story is. (e.g., where
are they from? How did they get to where they are? What do they like doing? Etc.) In
addition, when you get a chance, tell them your story. Stories and experiences are
what connects people. For example, one of my biggest sponsors and I made a
connection when he found out both of our fathers died at a very young age, which
caused us to start working at a young age. In another situation, we both loved
baseball. Connections can always be made whether it is a love for dogs, travel, sports,
music, etc. The key is for you to take the time to form them because connections
make it personal. Speaking the language makes it business. Do both and you will have
two of the three things needed to get votes.
3. The third thing is to let it be known that you want to work on an initiative that is
important to the organization’s success. You will find that out by doing the first
thing. Next, you want to seek out the leader of it and ask to be on it. Note: Let your
boss know what you want to do when you have career discussions. If your boss isn’t
supportive, you will then have to take a risk and go to someone working on the
project who has the influential leader’s ear and let that person know. For example, I
once had a very unsupportive boss, so I went directly to the leader of a big
optimization initiative and presented my ideas on how additional things that could
be done. When my boss found out, he was madder than hell, but the other leader then
asked me to join his team. The rest is history.
In closing, to get the right people to select your name when they are in the voting booth you have to speak their language, make personal connections, and let them know how you can help them be successful. Also keep in mind that you don’t have to change who you are or compromise your values to get people to vote for you. You don’t want their vote if they ask you to do either of those things. Be clear, be understanding of others, and you will be successful.