I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill of articles about attracting or managing the Millennial generation, and I am a Millennial. So I’m going to flip the script and drop some knowledge on my generation.
This attention our generation is receiving will run its course as we climb the ranks in corporate America. The focus to appeal to us will reverse and I am already experiencing it. The senior level roles demand healthy interactions with all levels of an organization, but a barrier for junior associates is getting this experience to advance.
Since we are in the heart of the baseball season, I’m going to give you my recommendation on how to manage and attract leadership, as if we were ball players.
Getting Called Up to the Majors
In a junior role, your interaction with leadership will be limited. It’s just the nature of the hierarchy. I didn’t feel the true weight of this structure until I entered a Fortune 100 organization. I detested any time that my work was being presented to leadership by anyone but me. But there are ways to break this mold at a junior level to get your time under the big lights and gain experience early in your career.
One path is to have a unique skill. This provides opportunity to be called up to fulfill a specific need. I was months into a junior role and was tapped to join a special project sponsored by our EVP. I was fortunate to take a place at a table way above my level, providing direct exposure to the C-Suite that some wait for years to have. While this provided an opportunity to showcase my skills, more importantly, it exposed deficiencies in my skill set that I could target in a development plan. I received a rare growth experience simply because I possessed a single unique skill.
While I got lucky having a specialty, another track is to take on distinctive projects. In my case, I undertook a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification program; an opportunity passed up by many others. At the time, I thought it would simply be a valuable learning opportunity and a resume builder. The hidden gem to this project were the several opportunities offered for me to present my work to leadership. I found a spotlight that led to a promotion because of the face-time this experience gave me to influence both my peers and leadership throughout the project.
You Better Hit
So you get your break. You get called up and have the opportunity to interact with the C-Suite. Well, you better come with your A game. Before walking in that room, have full clarity on why you are there, what are the expectations, and come prepared to fulfill the need.
Pay Attention to the Third-base Coach
Interacting with executives in a junior role, it’s imperative to always gauge the situation. Watch for signs of when is the most fitting time to speak. In a group setting, eye contact is the most powerful signal to asses when is the appropriate time to contribute. Ignoring signals can lead to over-communicating or speaking over leadership. This is an easy way to be thrown out at home.
Being able to communicate a simple, precise thought is crucial in influencing at a high level. Coming out of that special project, this was a major area of development for me. Being able to structure your thoughts and deliver only necessary details, whether through conversation or email, provides insight on your readiness to advance.
Stay Away from the High Pitch
Inevitably, at some point in your interactions with leadership, you will be asked a question that you can’t answer. Don’t attempt a response if you don’t have the answer. It’s better to be transparent about not having an answer than to take a swing at something that’s not in your hit zone.
Senior level roles require an acumen for your ability to have strong interactions with leadership. As you career advances, this will be a requirement in job descriptions. Discovering paths to get this exposure, and identifying areas of opportunity to improve those interactions are skills to develop as quickly as possible. During interactions with leadership, make sure you are performing as expected and work towards demonstrating qualities above your level. Learning the skills needed to influence at the executive level can help solidify your standing as a pro player.