Leading Up: Gaining Influence and Driving Change in the Executive Suite

August 4, 2023


Melinta Case Study


As leaders, we often focus on hitting key metrics or managing our teams and as a result may run into obstacles that impede these objectives. However, it’s equally important to consider how we can influence executives and alter narratives to seize opportunities or address significant challenges within our organizations. As an executive business coach at Velocity Advisory Group, I have encountered leaders who struggle to gain influence with executives, which led to developing a process that has had a significant impact helping these executives alter a narrative or make a critical decision that could impact the organizational path to success.

Understanding the Mindset of Executives

When aiming to initiate influence or change a narrative, it’s essential to understand the mindset of the individuals we’re communicating with. It’s a common mistake to assume that others will automatically see our viewpoint when we express it briefly in a conversation or email. The reality is that your peers and C-levels may have different priorities, are under duress, and face distractions that prevent them from fully receiving our message. And just as challenging, they may hear a small component of what you are trying to express and relay your message incorrectly to their peers thus watering down the impact. To ensure our message gains the required attention, we need to construct a well-thought-out communication strategy, and also have the conversation at a time and location where we are heard, and they are ready to hear. 

Constructing a Clear Message

To effectively communicate our ideas, we recommend utilizing a simple PowerPoint deck that walks executives through our thought process and presents a comprehensive view of the situation. This deck typically consists of six key components (which you can freely adapt based on your situation):

  1. Overview: Provide a summary of the topic and explain its significance to capture their attention. These discussions should be held for really important topics, and this component reveals that what you are going to talk about is critical. 
  2. Situation: Present the current state of affairs, highlighting the challenges or opportunities that demand attention.
  3. Historical Context: Remind executives of the events and circumstances that led to the current situation. Share the story behind the data or the challenges you’re currently facing. Try to get some emotional buy-in here. 
  4. Team Impact and Anecdotes: Demonstrate how the proposed change or decision impacts the well-being of key stakeholders, such as employees and clients. Include anecdotes or testimonials that support your case and make the situation relatable and tangible.
  5. Key Data and Analytics: Support your arguments with relevant data and analytics. Show historical data and emphasize the potential benefits of the desired decision or action. This could include data that would demonstrate revenue growth, reduced employee attrition or improved QA metrics. 
  6. Ask For What You Need: Clearly articulate your recommendation or proposal. This may involve requesting resources, support, improved communication, or additional time. Be comprehensive in outlining your needs and desired outcomes and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.

Giving Your Message a Memorable Name

To enhance the impact of your message, give it a unique name that resonates with executives. Words often carry associations and meaning, so choosing a name that connects with your objective will make it more memorable and relatable. This also helps with conversation recall and context. 

Having the Conversation

When delivering your message, opt for an in-person conversation in a neutral space. Avoid situations where power dynamics heavily favor the person you are communicating with, such as having the conversation in their office or a boardroom with their peers. Create a safe environment by printing out the deck and guiding them through your thought process step by step. If they attempt to rush the process or get straight to the point, feel comfortable slowing them down and reassuring them that you’ll reach the conclusion in due time.

Success Stories with the “Leading Up” Approach

Many leaders who have embraced the “Leading Up” approach have achieved remarkable outcomes. They have successfully implemented new software, obtained additional headcount, secured prominent speaking roles at company retreats, and even saved their jobs. The power of this approach lies in its ability to engage executives, foster collaboration, and drive meaningful change. And while we may feel that this process takes time, in reality, taking this extra step to clearly convey the situation typically gains communication clarity, increased visibility across leadership resulting in faster decisions being made thus alleviating your frustration of a lack of decision making. 

Gaining influence and changing the narrative with executives requires a thoughtful approach. By constructing well-structured messages, giving them memorable names, and engaging in direct conversations, leaders can increase their impact and drive positive change within their organizations. Embrace the “Leading Up” approach and seize the opportunities that await you in the executive suite. 

Learn more about how to drive change or how our Executive Coaching can help you! Looking for more information? Email [email protected]