What Executive Leaders Really Think

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Executives are a different breed. Do you know how to speak their language? Think about what it would mean to your career, if you knew exactly what an executive was thinking.

Years ago, as I began my MBA program, I remember everyone introducing themselves as part of orientation. Part of the exercise was describing your last full-time job.

The answers, from around the room:

  • “Professional engineer”
  • “Analyst with Price Waterhouse”
  • “Investment banker”
  • “Entrepreneur”

..and then it was my turn.


Batman Stunt Show I punched this guy. And I liked it.

“Professional stuntman,” I said.

And, believe me, nothing says “Put Me In Charge” like show business – especially if it includes fake fights, explosions, and that sort of thing.

I wanted to get into an executive role. What kind of stunt was I trying to pull?


In my career, you could say that I have had some things that I have had to overcome. You could say that, and it would be an understatement.

More accurately, you might wonder if someone like me would ever have the potential to lead anything. I know I certainly did, and it made me work harder than ever to understand what was missing in my corporate career.

Yes, it’s true that my last job before I entered the MBA program was working as a professional stuntman. And it’s also true that I still do all of my own stunts.

In my career, I guess I’ve traded punches with the best of them. I’ve answered phones, delivered food, and done data entry work. I’ve also built and led teams on multiple continents, introduced innovative technology to some of the most advanced hotels in the world, redefined a company’s entire internet strategy, launched two businesses, and published a couple of books. My passion, today, is helping others to avoid some of the same mistakes I made on my journey.

My point, and I do have one, is that I have had to become a student of success, in order to accomplish anything more impressive than dodging a [fake] punch. In order to go from the green room to the board room, I had to understand the secrets of leadership – secrets that once seemed very foreign to me.

Hopefully, your path is not as strange and challenging as mine. But, because of my unusual circumstances, I have an unusual perspective. And for your consideration: that unusual perspective has created some unusual results.

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If you aspire to be a true executive leader, consider the following two questions that really define the essence of executive leadership.

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Understanding these questions will help you to tailor your remarks to create an effective conversation – and to handle the questions that may come up, based on your proposal, plan or idea.

At a deep-seated level, these ideas drive every executive conversation, when business decisions are at stake:

  • How much does it cost?
  • How much does it make?

Once I understood where an executive stood, I could craft my remarks and adjust my emotions accordingly. As a result, I moved my career from near-janitorial levels to the top floor. There’s probably an elevator reference that I’m missing right there, but if you are a regular reader of my stuff you probably don’t miss it at all.

Based on my experience, connecting with an executive leader requires a cohesive and brief answer to the following three questions:

  1. Why You?
  2. Why this?
  3. Why now?

Consider carefully these three existential questions. If you wish to propose, persuade or plan for an executive, it’s critical that you speak the language of leadership.

Start with what your audience – your executive – is thinking: How much does it cost and how much does it make?

And phrase your answer in terms that can be easily understood, based on the three questions above. Leaders don’t have super-powers; in fact, the way that individuals handle complex processes and decisions is based on simplifying the elements that make up those decisions. Learn to filter your suggestions, based on where your audience is, right now, and your message has a much greater chance for success.

Would you like to know how to present to an executive leader, investor, or Board of Directors?

My gift to you is Presentation POWER – a 60-minute .mp3 file that’s filled with my best tips. Check it out here: http://bit.ly/presentationpower

Photo courtesy of Mr Andy Bird. Batman stunt show pic from Spud Murphy. Used under creative commons, some rights reserved.

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