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Studying Executives In Their Native Habitat

OzTeaching a course in Executive Leadership at Drake this semester has been an interesting change of gears from the leadership class I taught last year.  I've served in various executive roles and I've been exposed to the good, bad, and ugly of executives in my employee and consulting careers.  Still, to many, the executive is that elusive "man behind the curtain" whom nobody really understands.  Is he "great and powerful" or just a "humbug"?

The first guest speaker I brought into class was Sue, an executive assistant with a locally large employer in town.  She entertaininly provided my students with many insights about the life and times of an executive's life, but since many of my students are far from being an executive yet, her most valuable advice was how to approach and interact with executives.

In her own words:

Be Bright

Be Quick

Be Gone

This person did not get to where he is by needing you to read him every page of 100 page deck; in fact, do not show up with a 100 page deck! Schedule your meeting for 30-minutes (or as requested by the exec or his assistant); be organized so you can cover the information, answer any questions, note any take aways and leave before your allotted time is spent.  Be pleasant and smile-- remember he’s a human being and usually very approachable.  Leave the brown nosing at your former employer’s---everyone knows when you’re baffling with bull because you aren’t able to dazzle with brilliance.  Also, read the body language; know the clues as when to move on, whether to the next topic or out the door

Sage advice.  My dad used to say that the perfect 3-point sermon was to stand up, speak up, and shut up.  It looks as though the same principles apply in dealing with executives.


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Just stopped by and noticed your Wizard of Oz reference here. I had a blog of my own about that this week as well! Granted, mine revolved around Happy Meals and not executives--- but you get the idea! :)

Hope all is well at work and teaching!

Eric Peterson

Thanks for the hints Tim. I think this advice will help out your Project Management class pupils (aka...me) as we meet with executives from United Way and Iowa GoGreen. We appreciate your "indirect coaching" (whether purposeful or not)!

Wendy D.

Being a person of many words, I have had to learn the hard way whether in a meeting or casual conversation with execs that less is better.

It is finally sinking in they do not care for long explanations and lots of detail about how hard I had to work on a project to complete it. They don’t care about the long hours and sacrifices it took to get the job done. They just want the facts – and quickly.

It is not that they do not care about their subordinates (although some may not). They just have little time, often filled with long meetings and reports.

I love what Sue said: Be Bright, Be Quick, Be Gone.

So True!

Timothy Johnson

Eric and Wendy - yes, lots to be learned from brevity

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