We all dread it- the time we present our thought or idea and then someone shoots it down or challenges us on it. When we work with emerging leaders we are constantly told, “When I present to the executive team they always challenge every thing I say. After they are done ripping apart your presentation you wonder why you even made the effort. I mean one minute they want more information and the next they are telling you you have too much information! You can’t please them!”
The reality is that most people who make it to executive positions are great at Critical Thinking. This means they are used to seeing things in a way that most people don’t. So while you are presenting X they are seeing Y. They question and challenge until they feel you have looked at Y as well so in the process you feel like you have been stepped on and left like a limp rag.
So here is the truth- you will NEVER be able to STOP executives from challenging or asking you questions. It is in their nature to question, probe and challenge all angles.
What you can do though, is make sure you manage the flow and types of questions by how you present your ideas and thoughts. Make sure you tie what you say to the corporate objectives. Make sure you think and speak from THEIR perspective, not yours. Make sure you challenge and point out flaws you see in your own plan BEFORE they do. Show them that you own a seat at their table, not that you are a visitor to that table.
Be respectful and realize they may have information you don’t know about so take time to extract that knowledge and make sure it aligns. Go with them rather than against them when they challenge you.
Imagine they are challenging you on why your project costs jumped when you know it is because they told you last time to add new features to the project. You might say something like, “So if I am understanding you correctly you are wondering if the costs for this project are even realistic since they aren’t what was first projected. You are right on that they aren’t what was first projected. Why they are different is because we were asked to add the following (list them) and that add ___ to the cost so it has significantly gone up. Knowing that, are you all feeling like you want to get rid of what you had asked us to add and go back to the original budget?)
Take action by asking yourself, when I speak to the board do I act as though I am a visitor or do I take accountability to own my seat at the table?
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