“To be an effective strategic communication advisor, I need to get a front row seat at the table.”
“Leaders need to bring communications people to the table sooner.”
“I’m not sure how I earn a seat at the proverbial table.”
These are comments I hear all the time, either from practicing strategic communication advisors or those who aspire to the role.
My response is now: Don’t obsess about whether you’re at the table. Instead, focus on delivering a big impact in small time intervals. Be brief, be bold and be indispensible.
While those of us who advise leaders might prefer a permanent seat at the table, it’s not going to happen. Leaders are in wall-to-wall meetings with other leaders, and don’t always want others to join them. Plus, leaders face many demands on their time, which makes meeting time more costly than precious metals.
From the advisor’s perspective, you have to admit that being at the table all the time is a huge time suck. As Dilbert’s creator Scott Adams recently wrote, “Every (corporate) meeting felt like a play date with coma patients.” Yes, you may hear thought-provoking discussions and see interesting interactions. However, interesting is not always useful. Plus, you’ve got other things to do with your time.
So the modern-day trusted strategic advisor needs to concentrate on leverage instead. Track your impact, not your time with leaders. For example, think about the value you can offer when you have clarity of distance—that is, you’re not in the middle of the meeting or in the heat of the battle.
With clarity of distance, you stand back, look at the forest and the trees, observe patterns and provide insights. You offer a fresh perspective, which can be powerful.
For example, I was recently working with a leader who came to me in a panic. At one of their leadership meetings, they realized they needed to quickly assemble a group of people from across the country to discuss a time-sensitive topic around a change initiative. As we discussed the issue and the agenda, we realized we could hold the first meeting by webinar, set the stage and do the planning. We could then resume the discussion four weeks later in person when everyone was already scheduled to get together in-person for another meeting. Our revised plan saved the organization thousands of unbudgeted dollars as well as wear and tear of the individuals involved.
Granted, clarity of distance isn’t always the right tool. For instance, when leaders expect you to explain decisions and describe actions, you need to be upfront and close to the content. After all, they need you to write facts, not fiction from your imagination. In these situations, if you can’t be at the table, you need to be proactive and book time with people who can serve as your subject matter experts.
The lack of access to leaders, at the table or elsewhere, is a challenge for strategic advisors, based on the results of the recent survey, Being a Strategic Communication Advisor. (For background about the survey Connect conducted this summer and the results, check out Being a Strategic Advisor: Be more, do less.)
Many of the write-in comments were about strategic advisors’ worries about not having easy access to the leaders they serve.
The strategic advisor job can be a lonely one, even though you’re not lonely at the top–which is how the CEO role is often described. You’ve got to be bold, brief, and be gone, which helps make you indispensible.
If you’re a strategic advisor who wants a sounding board of peers, you have a resource. The fall 2011 Strategic Action Group starts Sept. 16. It’s an easy, reasonable way to get coaching, mentoring and camaraderie. Come join us in our virtual group. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.
Don’t expect a table though.
Connect the dots plus dot the “i”s to be more intentional, inquisitive and inclusive
How well are you tapping into the skills and wisdom you need to lead in a BANI world?
All the old playbooks are out-of-date. Instead, you need to reach inside yourself, tap into your wisdom, and connect the dots for yourself and others.
To start, you can use these 5 tips to embrace your humanity and become a better leader.