Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Managing upwards

Can you talk comfortably with your CEO and senior management?

Can you relate to this?

Sue recently wrote to me:

"I wonder why we sometimes avoid speaking with people our senior at work? 

When I changed positions and organisations I vowed that I would be more open to people my senior in the workplace. This was for two reasons: first to be more approachable and second to further my career by being 'top of mind' so to speak. But again this hasn't happened very easily. I still avoid speaking with the CEO, so is it to do with a fear of rejection of some sort?

In one position I had held for a long time I had no fear of the CEO and ended up doing an interview with them for an assignment I was doing about leadership styles. I felt very comfortable in that organisation and had a good depth of knowledge so was very much an 'expert in my field'.

But I would like to be able to join an organisation and feel comfortable speaking with seniors even without a so called 'expert' hat on.

I wondered if you could shed some light on this, or whether other people may have approached you with the same issue."

How's your EQ?

As I read through Sue's email, a number of thoughts were running through my mind. My first response is ‘well done Sue' for recognising that her ‘fear' and discomfort may not only make some work relationships uncomfortable but also could be career limiting.

There is no doubt in my mind that success and indeed strong leadership at work is built on good relationships and the capacity to have them. This depends on the ability to communicate well with people at all levels of the organisation up, down and laterally.

To make the journey up the career ladder, expertise and skill are essential but are, in my view, simply the platform from which other much more important capabilities must spring or develop.

I am, of course, talking about emotional intelligence. Most readers will know that the core skills of EQ are:

  • the ability to recognise what emotions we are experiencing and when;
  • how they impact us and others, and to manage both those impacts;
  • to recognise what emotions others are experiencing;
  • to understand how that might be affecting them; and then
  • to take all that information into account in whatever decisions are made and/or actions carried out.

EQ also involves resilience, motivation and persistence. I think that a heap of courage is also involved particularly in situations like Sue's.

Check out your amygdala

Sue is certainly sufficiently self-aware to know that an emotion, probably fear but there could be others, is impacting her ability to develop rapport with people her senior at work. Her next step is to see where that is coming from and then to manage it.

Sue says she has had both successful and not so successful experiences with CEOs before. When it was successful, Sue said she had no fear and "was very much an 'expert in my field'". So is it fear of not being seen as having expertise that is holding Sue back?

We know that The Almond Effect® can cause us to react inappropriately or retreat from an invalidly perceived threat.

So Sue should be looking into the emotions she is experiencing and asking ‘Where did that come from?' In fact to assist her, I'm going to send Sue a copy of my e-book Where Did That Come From? How To Stay In Control In Any Situation. Proven Tips To Manage The Almond Effect®

Of course, I would encourage Sue to continue to build her expertise.

See them as a person first

In addition my advice to Sue would be to stop thinking about the title or level that someone has in the organisation. Instead train yourself to see them first and foremost as people with jobs to do.

When Sue meets these people, she should take a genuine interest in what they are doing; ask or say something about that and think of/suggest ways in which she can help them achieve their goals. Sue can talk about what work she is doing that is contributing to the overall goals of the organisation.


If Sue feels uncomfortable initially about that, she should at least find out what else interests the CEO and other senior people so that she can make a comment about that.

A key component about the ability to build relationships and to influence others, is 'likeability', i.e. that we like and respond to people who are like ourselves. That makes sense from an evolutionary perspective - we are not threatened by members of our own ‘tribe'.

I think Sue should also actively confront her ‘fear' and seek out the opportunity to work directly with the senior people. When this happens Sue needs to get information from the senior people about how they like to be worked with!

If Sue does this, she will immediately improve the quality of her dealings with senior people - she is giving them what they want and in the way that they want it. It will also diminish her fears as she has removed uncertainty about whether she is doing the right thing.

I have a small presentation on Managing Upwards if you want to this information. Email me Anne@AnneRiches.com if you would like a copy.

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