Executive Hot Buttons—Press With Caution
It can be stressful at the top where pressure might not bring out our best.
Executives are vulnerable all the time to the unexpected. The winds of marketplace change are always in their faces. The potential for bad decisions by managers and misconduct by employees is also ever-present.

Although executives can’t escape the unforeseen risks that come with the job, they will often show us how they cope.

Making the complex simple…

Executives are expected to focus on the big picture. They rely on the managers and subject matter experts, like us, who provide information, recommendations, and analyses needed to make their decisions.

Our obligation is to influence executive decision-making so our companies move in the right direction, treat employees fairly, and deliver quality products/services to customers in an ethical way.

Our ability to present information convincingly to executives means knowing what to say, how, and when. Timing in life is everything!

Executive responsibilities are complex, but often what drives individual executives is simple by comparison.

Triggers and principles…

I’ve worked with a fair number of executives over the years as a manager and as a consultant/coach. Each one was different but the process for working effectively with him/her always meant managing the conversation so we could hear each other.

We don’t always come to an executive with the information or ideas they want to hear, but we need to be sure they can and will listen.

To do that we need to understand what words and issues set them off as well as the principles that drive them.

Here’s how it worked with several executives in my professional life, labeled by their hot buttons—the factors that put their teeth on edge:

Ignorance and Poor Preparation–Knowledge mastery was what gave you credibility with this executive. His overriding leadership principle was to understand fully all aspects of the business: It was his source of certainty and influence. If you wanted to get heard, you needed to be completely prepared, humble in what you might have missed, and willing to dig deeper.

Weakness and Lack of Commitment—With this executive, an unwillingness to stand by your ideas and/or take ownership of your position resulted in immediate rejection of your proposal. If he could intimidate you into abandoning or waffling on your position, it was deemed unworthy. If you wanted to come out ahead, you had to be prepared to state a strong case and stand up to the grilling.

Superficial Analysis and Detail Errors—Mistakes in calculations and logic, no matter how insignificant overall, called all other material into question. It provided occasion for this executive to nitpick other details of your proposal and negate the entire work. To stay out of this quicksand, you needed to scrub all data and proofread multiple times.

Not Seeing the Big Picture—Proposing narrow solutions and initiatives that failed to incorporate the needs of the entire organization came across as self-serving and unsupportive of the company vision. This executive became exasperated when proposals failed to take a comprehensive view, leading to lost confidence in her managers. The key is always to address the potential impacts and implications of anything you propose within and outside your organization.

Look within…

We each have hot buttons, so look within to see what yours are. That will help you understand why executives jump out of their skin for some things and not others.

For me, unfairness to others, not doing the right thing even when it’s hard, haphazard work, and not living up to commitments are my hot buttons. They make my heart pound and my ire rise.

Our principles drive us just as an executive’s does. The stakes can be very high for them, so it’s predictable that they would react strongly when someone pushes their hot buttons.

So take a moment to think about what drives the executive or manager you work for and how you might approach him/her the next time you have something to propose. That bit of insight can make all the difference.