To the point

Aug 13, 2018

If you request even a minute of precious time to meet with your firm’s leader, make sure you don’t waste the moment.

If there is one thing I have learned growing up in an increasingly social society, it is that it helps getting to know the right people in the right ways. It doesn’t matter if it’s the mayor, the guy who owns the food truck, or the new VP of the firm you’ve always wanted to join. You need to expand your social reach, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone.

I’m a firm believer that you will experience the most personal growth in the time that you are highly uncomfortable. I’m typing this article from a bumpy seat in an economy-class seat and I can promise you no one is looking comfortable around me right now. But we’re all headed somewhere to experience something, and being uncomfortable for a brief moment is almost always a part of that journey. The same can be said of some of the top leaders in our industry. They are heavy travelers, experience great discomfort – and their personalities often reflect exactly that.

So, how do you handle yourself when you are trying to engage a leader who is heading from here to there, over-scheduled, and almost always under a time crunch? Here are a few tips on how you can approach and have a conversation with any type of leader, especially those who have a lot of other things to do:

  • Help! The main reason you will find yourself approaching leadership is to look for help or guidance. You have to approach this type of interaction with a plan that shows a well-defined thought process followed by objective thinking. Leaders do not want to solve your entire problem for you, nor should they. Their role is to assist in the improvement of the final product without immersing themselves in the project.
  • Come correct. Many people make the mistake of beating around the bush. Establishing a good flow or a cordial base to the conversation is important, but not when you are dealing with someone who is almost always short on time. Be direct, both in your statement of the problem and in the proposed solution. Here is a simple example: “Hey Judd, we should look at eliminating the XYZ Program. It’s a redundant process and is keeping Joanie here late a few times a month which is pushing her into overtime.” Just make sure you find the right mix of assertiveness and respect in your tone.
  • Paint the picture. After approaching the leader and stating why you are asking them for their time, let them know how you came to your conclusions. Trust your instincts and deliver this part of the conversation with conviction. You may be wrong, and if you are, you should always receive any feedback in a positive manner. If you feel like you have made a misstep in the conversation, do your best Bob Ross impression and make it “A happy little accident.”
  • Follow up. Make sure you follow up with the end results of the initial conversation. They should hear your success stories as often as they happen. The same goes for your failures.
  • Face time. All of the above interactions are most effective when done in person. Hesitating to take advantage of your leader’s open-door policy is an opportunity you can’t afford to squander. Sending an email or text message just isn’t the same, and will not garner the feedback you want, or need, to succeed.

Take my advice and there’s a good chance you’ll form a great working relationship with your leader. And keep this in mind, too. Leaders at your firm may not always have a title that displays that they are a leader. They can be found from the front desk all the way to the C-suite! Regardless of who they are, treat them the same: Don’t waste their time.

Chad Coldiron is Zweig Group’s director of executive search. He can be reached at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.