Successfully Convince A CEO In 3 Steps

Here is your chance. You don’t want to blow it.

You have a meeting scheduled with a CEO. Your goal is to convince them …

  • To spend $1 million on your product or service or to make a large donation to your cause
  • To hire you, promote you or give you your dream job
  • To invest in your idea

Ineffective Ways To Convince A CEO

Many people “show up and throw up” and push a lot of information at the CEO – either verbally or by PowerPoint. I’m not sure why so many unpersuasive people follow this approach. Maybe it’s to “show you know what you are talking about.” But it does not make a CEO say “yes.”

Another bad approach is to phrase your request as a “we ought to.” CEOs don’t decide to do things just because other people say they ought to do something. Or worse yet is when people only talk about why they want something to happen, fully ignoring the wishes, concerns and perspective of the CEO.

Successfully Convince A CEO In 3 Steps

1. Seek first to understand the CEO’s perspective – that is Stephen Covey’s advice. It needs no further explanation. Your first step in discussing a topic with a CEO is to put all your energy into asking probing questions, listening and learning what the CEO thinks about a topic and why. Forget about your agenda or your needs for a moment.

2. Reflect the CEO’s perspective to their satisfaction. This step is hard. Most people cannot objectively reflect or restate another person’s perspective about a topic without putting their own personal slant on it. I first learned this step during my psychology PhD training in a class on conflict resolution. At this step, you must restate the CEO’s perspective on the topic simply and without putting words in their mouth or trying to spin it in your favour. You know you have succeeded at this step once the CEO says the magic word. The magic word is “exactly.” This means that the CEO believes that you understand their perspective. Then, and only then, have you earned permission to move to the final step.

3. Propose your idea as a way to help the CEO achieve their goals. The mindset for this step is not that you are about to trick or fool a CEO into doing something that’s not good for them. Your mindset is that you are about to convince a CEO to do something that is good for them. (And by the way, if what you are about to propose is not in the CEO’s best interest, then don’t propose it!) A simple way to propose your idea is to say, “Your goals are X. Your concerns are Y. So, I propose you do Z.”

And, contrary to popular belief, great ideas don’t sell themselves. It takes a skilful leader to successfully convince a CEO.

Geoff Smart is chairman and founder of ghSMART. Geoff is co-author, with his colleague Randy Street, of the New York Times bestselling book Who: A Method For Hiring and the author of the #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) Into Government. Geoff co-created the Topgrading brand of talent management. He is the founder of two 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations. SMARTKids Leadership Program™ provides 10 years of leadership tutoring, and the Leaders Initiative™ seeks to deploy society’s greatest leaders into government. Geoff earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics with honours from Northwestern University and a Master’s and Doctorate in Psychology from Claremont Graduate University.

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