Going one-on-one with your CEO

It’s your big moment: You have been given a chance to brief the chief executive officer of your organization. Some people interact with the CEO routinely, but this is a first for you.

On his Great Leadership blog, executive development expert Dan McCarthy offers advice on how to make the most of the opportunity:


Ready yourself as you would for a job interview and find out all you can about the chief executive. Read about him or her on your company website and elsewhere on the Web, look at any recent speeches, and talk to others who know the chief executive.

None of this information may be used directly in your presentation, but it will give you a sense of familiarity, knowledge and comfort.

Be an expert

Give yourself permission to be an expert. The CEO can’t be an expert in everything, and you have been invited to the meeting because you are an expert in this area. So act like an expert.

Appreciate the CEO’s perspective

Keep in mind the chief probably spends the day in a blur of meetings, each with a different topic, on which the participants expect the boss to be vitally interested and make a high-level decision. While this meeting is a big deal to you, it’s part of the day’s routine for the CEO. Understand and appreciate that dynamic.

Define a ‘win’

Determine what you are trying to achieve as a result of the meeting. Are you looking for approval, and is that reasonable? Or are you simply looking for interest and a definitive next step?

Write a brief summary

Prepare a one-page summary that you can give to the CEO, highlighting the main points. “Anything more will be ignored and discarded. However, bring all of those reports and supporting documentation with you, in case you need them to respond to a question,” Mr. McCarthy writes.

Honour the executive assistant

When requesting the meeting or responding to the invitation, treat the CEO’s executive assistant with utmost respect, rather than being overly casual. If you are offered the chance of an early or late meeting time, take the early one as it’s less likely to be rescheduled.

Make a good first impression

Plan for the worst: Allow lots of time if you need to travel to the meeting, and make sure you are at least five minutes early. Don’t hover over the executive assistant, who has better things to do than keep you entertained.

Wear a suit – if in doubt, overdress Mr. McCarthy suggests – and greet the CEO with a smile and a firm handshake. Wait to be offered a seat or let the chief sit down first so you don’t grab the boss’s favourite chair. Let the CEO set the tone as to whether there should be small talk.

Be quick

CEOs are quick studies and action-oriented, so state what you are looking for, or what you have been asked to provide, right up front. Then present the background and reasons. Expect to be interrupted. Answer directly and concisely. If you don’t know the answer, don’t bluff; say you’ll find out.

“If challenged, and you disagree, don’t automatically back down and agree. Remember, you’re the expert. If you back down too readily, you’ll lose credibility. However, don’t be stubborn – know when to back off and drop that bone,” he advises.

End early

If you have achieved your goal, let the meeting end. If you finish early, the CEO will appreciate the gift of time you have provided.

By Harvey Schachter

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