Most people would agree that when communicating details, the audience will determine the level of depth to pursue, the vocabulary to use and the general focus of the message. Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of Virgin Group asserts that communication is “the most important skill any leader can posses”. In conversation, emerging leaders (those transitioning from management or individual contributor positions) must learn to step far enough away from the operational focus they are accustomed to and embrace topics of discussion at a level more relevant to the executive audience; all without diminishing or understating the importance of operational details. Many individuals who find themselves in this situation are not actually executive level leaders but are called upon to either provide an overview from their perspective in the absence of that role or to be present in hopes that new faces and perspectives will lead to fresh ideas. This can become quite the balancing act – but it is doable.
Leading Edge: If you are called upon to participate in this setting, I have one piece of advice: Listen for the need or purpose of the meeting. As managers and individual contributors, group meetings are often driven by process improvement or quality assurance, where answers to questions are presented and next steps for accomplishing the goal or fixing the problem are assigned. Efficiency is key in these meetings and time is valuable. Each member participates from the perspective of her/his own area of expertise and seeks to make the work manageable and profitable for their individual areas.
In executive meetings, areas of the organization are discussed in a manner that may not necessarily end in the formulation of a solution or the implementation of a process to improve efficiencies. Sometimes, there is high level information or idea sharing which leads to further meetings – rather than to a solution. An example of one such discussion includes organizational goal setting (identifying what success will look like in ten years and how to accomplish it).
Another example could be the presentation of a new product line or service opportunity; a decision about which will affect multiple teams. The discussion prompts the finance team to explore contractual agreements rather than manufacturing the product or providing the service onsite, leads the production team to analyze productivity and provide insight into the feasibility of the decision, and motivates the research and development team to pursue alternative product specifics in search of a better quality option.
Once you’ve been invited to the table, emerging leaders will be expected to move back and forth between management and executive leadership roles. Recognizing your audience and understanding the purpose of each gathering is key to being able to communicate at various levels within your organization. If you’ve been invited and you don’t have this information ahead of time, take note of who else is in the room and LISTEN for the need. As an individual contributor or manager, you have been asked to participate for a reason. You are valuable to the organization. Make the most of every opportunity you are given to prove that you are the next executive team leader that your organization needs.