Working Out Loud: Speaking to Leadership (Part 2 of 5)

anchoredSpeaking with Leadership and Working Out Loud

Part 2 “Speak Up”

  1. Show up whenever possible (Part 1)
  2. Ask to speak with senior leaders; chances are they will see you. 
  3. Advocate for yourself and others. (Part 3)
  4. Speak to the heart and mind. (Part 4)
  5. Have faith and courage. (Part 5)

“Senior leadership isn’t interested in what I have to say.”
“They (leaders) don’t care what we think.”
“We are just the hired help here.”
“I don’t have time and I am not really motivated”
“I have tried before and it didn’t work.”

I hear phrases like this often. I have heard people say what they can’t do and what leaders aren’t willing to do for most of my career. What I have found is that people make assumptions about leaders based on their personal perspective. The reality may be very far from a personal truth. In fact, there are many reasons why leaders want to hear from their staff. It is important to take into consideration that everyone is different and that organizational cultures are different. We have to be mindful of the approach in every organization but in my experience there are good people who are willing to spend time learning from their peers and staff.

**Note: When you are Working Out Loud, there should be a clear purpose articulated. It helps filter noise to signal as people try to gain clarity on your message.

Working Out Loud and Senior Leadership

A few years ago, my team was working on a project that would help grow business for our company. We were beyond excited and ready to get started. We had a client, a plan and support from our immediate leadership. Our team worked in a very specific business area; we were specialized to an extent. Our client / customer base was part of a specific practice in our company. When we discovered and developed this new opportunity, we thought that our company would jump all over it. We also thought that they had a process that we could follow or learn. We were wrong.

There wasn’t a process or practice we could follow and what followed was a series of rejection and overall negativity that could have stopped us in our tracks but that didn’t happen. Here is what we did.

  1. Read, Study, Learn, Write: Our team started working the 42nd hour in other words; we spent a lot of time working after hours. I don’t think we went Elon Musk but we met up, read books on the subject of interest, and we met with other industry experts and worked hard to write multiple aspects of a business case. On Sunday mornings I would blog about some of the things I learned but I would keep my writing generic to an extent. Our team figured that anything we were learning along the way could benefit others as well as ourselves. Writing also helped sharpen our understanding of the work and presented an opportunity for experts to help us.
  2. Shaping the Story: Who you are and what you do are important. Your company hired you for reasons beyond your knowledge, skills and abilities. You found a way to fit in and you are part of an organizational ecosystem. What does that mean? What is the story of you? We started by rewriting our resumes and we created multiple versions. We also wrote short biographies and created some high level presentations around our thinking.
  3. Learning Leadership: The corporate intranet is treasure trove of information. Every large organization I have worked with has a lot of information about their leadership in org charts but they also may have articles and biographies. The first thing I do is research both internal and external inter and intranet resources to learn about senior leaders. It is also general practice for me to know the people I work for directly. **note: Sometimes even leadership needs leadership.
  4. Schedule Interviews: Starting with my direct supervisor, we scheduled 10 minute phone calls or quick meet ups to discuss our ideas. In our case our supervisor was pretty excited about what we were doing. It was the next level up where we started to run into challenges but we scheduled meetings there too. When they didn’t want to meet, we scheduled meetings with their peers and folks above them. On one occasion, we scheduled a meeting with the most senior partner of our firm. When our peers and leaders told us that it would be impossible to reach him, we reached out to his Executive Admin and asked for help. We had an in person meeting scheduled almost immediately.
  5. Leverage the Network: We used our internal social network to build community connections. Our organization had over 22,000 people including a multinational presence. We used our understanding of community management and social networking to discuss our ideas. We asked for help in our communities and we were active contributors. We used the concept of “batching” work.

Nothing is Easy

Our team turned an opportunity into a great deal of money.  It wasn’t easy; it took hard work and a lot of writing. We also had a lot of rejection. Many folks in middle management rejected us even when we offered our work as part of a partnership. For every few that rejected us, we found friends and champions.

The most compelling aspect of this story is when we traveled to visit the senior partner. In hand we had a few slides talking to our thinking. We had sent some read ahead material that he didn’t have a chance to look at. We had a few discussions with his EA to learn about the best way to communicate with him. We sat down in his office and he asked, “How can I help you?” We were ready to answer that question. He listened intently, gave us direction and proceeded to help us. He also mentioned in our discussion that he had wished others would reach out to him. Most often, it is lonely place at the top with a lot of information prepared and filtered. We didn’t have a problem sharing our perspective and he used that perspective to help shape some of his strategic initiatives.

Part 3.. Advocate for yourself and others..

What is that story of you?

What can you do to advocate for yourself and others?

Why is it important to advocate for others at times over yourself?

What are tools that you can use?

How can this be applied to your business or organization?

4 thoughts on “Working Out Loud: Speaking to Leadership (Part 2 of 5)

  1. Don’t you think you were successful because of the support of your immediate supervisor? In most corporations I have worked for, that support can be difficult to obtain. Many are scared of rocking the boat or of you looking “smarter” than they are or will flat out steal your idea and take it up the line.

    If you continue your efforts going over your own supervisor, you will be hung at noon (figuratively speaking, of course). It is the culture of an organization that can stop you dead. Also, not to be a downer but many top leaders are insulated by those below them. If they really want feedback and ideas perhaps they should reach down.

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