Ever find yourself alone in the elevator with the CEO, palms sweating, tongue tied, wondering if you should introduce yourself (again) or if it would be better to just leave the executive in peace?
One of my early corporate jobs required me to walk a particularly long and narrow hallway several times a day. I have vivid memories of that long, awkward journey—me at one end of the hall, not sure when it was appropriate to look up and acknowledge the CEO, who was frequently coming from the other direction, or if I should just pretend to be engrossed in the contents of the manila folder I was probably carrying.
Here's what I learned: take your cues from his or her body language. If she's clearly lost in thought or looking up notes about an upcoming appointment on her phone, she may not appreciate the interruption. However, if there are no outward signs of preoccupation, I recommend erring on the side of being friendly and open rather than silent and intimidated.
Apart from random interactions in hallways and elevators, how can you catch the eye of the CEO in a way that will provide long-term opportunities for you, without throwing your colleagues and superiors under the bus?
As a current CMO, who has managed to earn the trust of several CEOs, I can tell you the answer is simpler than you might think. These six tips will definitely help. Just be careful not to take your efforts too far; overstepping your role could bring you the kind of attention you're not looking for.
1. Introduce Yourself
We've established that encountering the CEO unexpectedly should not inspire a sudden interest in examining your shoes. Most CEOs I know welcome the opportunity to get acquainted with people at all levels of the organization. Be brief, specific and positive in your introduction: "I don't think we've met. I'm James, and I've been a copywriter here for 2 months. I'm excited to be here."
If you have met the CEO before, but you're not sure he'll be able to place your name or face, give him a bit of context and a topic to talk about: "Hi, I'm Amy from sales. I attended that quarterly review last month, in place of my boss, Stan Baldwin. I have to say things really are looking up this quarter."
You Know You've Gone Too Far When… You're talking so rapidly that it takes a minute to register his response: "Okay, nice to meet you. You can let go of my hand now." Also beware of overintroducing yourself or getting into creepy/stalker territory: "Hi, I'm Jonas. I've been here 10 years now. We sat next to each other at sales conference last year? You ordered the halibut for dinner that night and spilled tartar sauce on your tie? Man, I loved the navy shoes you wore that night."
2. Volunteer for Projects
CEOs tend to have far more ideas than they have people to execute on those ideas. If you're in a meeting, and a project opportunity arises that happens to be in your wheelhouse, raise your hand. Volunteer. Even if it means working through the weekend. This is your chance to be seen by the CEO—to show some initiative and passion.
You Know You've Gone Too Far When… You're a marketer volunteering to take on the balance sheet. Make sure you're qualified to complete the task. Also, be careful not to over-volunteer—to the point that you're elbowing your colleagues out of the way. You don't want to catch the CEO's eye in a way that makes everyone else hate you.
3. Show Up Early and Stay Late
If you want to disappear into the crowd, show up at 8:30 a.m. and leave at 5:05 p.m. every day. If you want to be noticed, be the one who's at your desk working by 7:45 a.m. every now and then. If you're the only one present when the boss arrives, she's more likely to notice you and possibly even stop by your desk to ask about the project you're working on.
Staying after hours can have the same effect, as long as you have a legitimate work purpose for being there. You don't want to get caught pretending to burn the midnight oil while actually watching Vine videos. (Chuckling audibly while alone at your desk is a dead giveaway.)
You Know You've Gone Too Far When… Your boss notices the same red Honda following her out of the parking lot every evening, precisely one minute after she exits the premises.
4. Ask Your Manager for Help
If you have a good relationship with your direct manager, don't hesitate to ask directly, "Hey, I've never had a chance to see our CEO in action. Could I attend an upcoming meeting or event with you? I'd like him to know who I am when opportunities come up." Most managers who are secure in their own positions will have no problem with that.
You Know You've Gone Too Far When… Your manager thinks you're trying to leapfrog over him. Remember, your boss has the same need to be noticed and valued by the CEO as you do, so never try to make gains at his expense. And be mindful of your proper place when you're in that coveted meeting. If you usurp all the attention and your manager fades into the background, he's not likely to invite you again.
5. Don't Overstep Your Bounds
Catching the CEO's eye can be a great boost for your professional goals, as long as you're not noticed for the wrong reasons. Respect hierarchy and company protocols. Don't breeze into the CEO's office unannounced for a spontaneous chat, "Hey, dude! How's it going?" Don't ask for an office your first week on the job, even if there's one just sitting there empty, especially if employees with greater seniority are occupying cubicles too. Don't be the one who's always doing all the talking—jumping in to answer every question, repeating other people's points just to have something to say.
You Know You've Gone Too Far When… The CEO ignores your raised hand and asks, "Does anyone else have an opinion on this topic?" It's also a bad sign if she sees you in the hallway, freezes, makes an abrupt about face, ducks back into her office, and doesn't answer the door when you knock.
6. Learn to Write and Present
No matter what your functional area of expertise may be, learning to write well and confidently present your ideas will set you apart. These two skills are essential for those who aim to climb the corporate ladder. Your CEO may sit through a half-dozen or more presentations every week. If you're more articulate, prepared, thoughtful, humorous, and/or convincing than the average PowerPoint narrator, the CEO will remember you.
Likewise, if you're ever asked to write a report or status update to send to the CEO, you'll get bonus points for expressing yourself clearly, concisely, and coherently. Don't use this opportunity to show off your vocabulary or your deep knowledge of company history. Be brief and be gone.
You Know You've Gone Too Far When… You hire clowns and jugglers to add pep to your annual budget presentation. Actually, I take that back. When it comes to writing and presenting, you really can't ever be too good, too engaging, too polished.
Impress for Success
Attracting the attention of the CEO in the right ways, at the right times, and for the right reasons is more than just a good way to gain a powerful ally. It can also give you opportunities to observe him or her in action and learn valuable skills for succeeding in the corporate environment.
If you'll continually work to improve your written and verbal skills, take advantage of opportunities as they arise, and be eager and willing without overstepping the boundaries of good taste, you may just find yourself on the path to promotion.
About the Author
Joe is a senior B2B tech marketing executive (currently CMO at Workfront) with primary emphasis in SaaS, mar-tech, and customer experience sectors. He loves brand-building, demand generation, PR/AR, and creative campaign development and prides himself in providing a good blend of strategy and execution.Follow on Twitter More Content by Joe Staples