In my work as the Executive Director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre I get a lot of great questions from high potential women on how to best advance their careers. To date, I’ve had the honor over working with over 500 women in various companies and roles in their efforts to advance.
Recently someone asked me how to prepare for a “coffee talk” with a senior leader in her organization. Her question was “How can I create a great impact in this conversation and start a strong relationship with someone who might sponsor my career one day?”
So many highly talented professionals get invited into these casual skip level meetings but they often don’t think through a strategy to leverage this opportunity to build a stronger relationship and potentially create a sponsor to support them in their career goals. So here are a few quick tips:
- Be intentional: Set a clear intention for this conversation and how you’d like this person to feel after the conversation. An example might look be: “I want Jane to feel that I admire her work within the organization and I want her to know that I’m strong in sales and hope to lead others one day.”
- Show your admiration: Everyone appreciates being valued and recognized, even top executives in your organization. If there is an aspect of this executive’s work that you admire, it never hurts to share this as you get to know them better. Show them that you don’t just respect them for their title but more for the great work and leadership they bring to the organization.
- Get curious about their perspective: Take the opportunity to ask them to share their perspective on how they see various business issues, projects or opportunities. Given their role in the organization, they often have a different perspective and vantage point. By being curious and you can learn a lot about a leader. The more you know about how they view things, the more value you can bring to your relationship with them.
- Share your personal brand: Be sure to think through a quick sound bite that highlights a few recent accomplishments you are proud of or a few unique strengths you bring to the team. Remember that your work alone can’t actually speak for itself, so it’s excellent if you can help highlight these accomplishments and your strengths in an authentic way.
- Invite them to walk in your shoes: Once you’ve shared your personal brand, it’s a powerful question to ask your potential sponsor what opportunities they would be thinking about if they were in your shoes. There is specific magic in this question as it encourages that executive to really comprehend your strengths and connect those to opportunities they see in the organization.
- Think “mutually beneficial”: The best relationships in business and in life are beneficial for both parties involved. Many times, professionals assume that executives have everything they need or they only focus on what’s in the relationship that could benefit them personally. The truth is, by asking this potential sponsor what you could do to help them demonstrates that you aren’t looking to build a one-sided relationship for your own benefit alone but that you are also looking out for their interests as well. This simple step will help you build the respect and trust that will act as the foundation for a long term strong working relationship.
So many professionals miss the opportunity to make a great impression in these casual conversations. By being a bit more thoughtful about this upcoming discussion, you can set yourself apart from the rest and make a great lasting impression.