by Margaret Locher

Five Approaches That Don’t Work With the CEO

May 23, 20073 mins

Don't fall too far into one of these roles when pitching ideas to C-level executives.

CIOs adopt a variety of personas when they pitch ideas, says Jeff Thull, author of Exceptional Selling and president of the Prime Resource Group. Instead of helping to prove their case, these personas often create barriers to effective communication. “When you add in the IT personality,” says Thull, “discussion can quickly devolve to an ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ debate.”

Here, according to Thull, are five personas CIOs adopt that can cause other C-level executives to react negatively.

The Teenager

Most of our behaviors are learned from interacting with our families. If you ever watched an older sibling try to get Dad to lend him the car, you saw a presentation that included healthy servings of self-justification and whining. According to Thull, the less sophisticated a person is about communication, the more he draws on these learned behaviors. CIOs should be careful to avoid the whiny note when explaining their ideas, and they need to communicate the value proposition for the whole business.

The Parent

The flip side of behaving like a teenager is acting like the parental unit. Do you remember how Dad and Mom either tried to bribe you into cleaning your room or threatened you in the thundering tones of absolute authority? CIOs need to remember that a) they’re speaking to adults and b) they have no special position or authority inside the boardroom. Neither wheedling nor bribery nor thundering is going to work.

The Professor

A lot of IT people assume the role of professor. They act as if they have all the answers, and they get frustrated when the student (say, the CFO) isn’t learning fast enough. Impatience with your peers is always a mistake. If you’re trying to convince someone that a new approach or project has merit, present the value proposition, outline the risks (fairly), and then shut up and let your peers connect the dots. They’re usually just as smart as you are.

The Policeman

If you assume an accusatory tone when speaking with your peers, at best they’re going to feel defensive and at worst downright annoyed. If something is going wrong, start by asking a question. What do they think is the problem? Making it a conversation will prevent people from feeling attacked or lectured. Remember: No one handed you a badge when you became CIO.

The Doctor

If you must assume a persona, this is probably the best one. Prior to prescribing a course of treatment, a doctor makes sure the patient understands what’s wrong. If your peers aren’t aware that there’s a problem, they won’t be receptive to the cure. Someone with high cholesterol doesn’t know it until he sees the results of the blood test, so it’s important that CIOs have metrics to make their case. But don’t carry this persona too far. Your peers will not wait months to see you or sit in your waiting room while you practice your putting.

Margaret Locher is a freelance writer based in the Boston area.