A Necessary Skill For Every Senior Executive

senior executiveWhat skill does every senior executive has in common?

  • Is it an MBA?  No.  You do not need an MBA to succeed!
  • Is it an ability to achieve financial results?  maybe.  Achieving measurable results can always help, but this article is not about that
  • Is it ability to present well? Not always.  Not all executive are good at presentations, surprisingly

So what is the one skill that every successful senior executive has?  Listen to this 9 minute candidate conversation with Helena Light to find out.  I was even surprised at what she said and how executives practiced this skill every day.  You can also read the Audio Transcription of Our Conversation below

This is part 3 of the candid conversation series with Helena Light.  To listen to part 1 and part 2, go to

  1. How to Keep Your Job During Massive Layoffs
  2. Changing Careers – How to Interview Effectively

Your comments:  Were you able to guess the skill Helena was talking about?  Were you surprised by what she said?  Share your comments below and let’s have a discussion

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Best wishes to your career success!  I am always in your corner


Audio Transcription of Our Conversation

Lei: I also hear something that you didn’t mention but you–it’s implicit in you, is you’re so proactive in networking.

Helena: That is extremely important for anyone at any point in time in their career. You have to be.

Lei: Yeah. And how did you go about doing it? ‘Cause a lot of people have this, like, adverse reaction to, “Oh, I gotta make small talk.”

Helena: Yeah.

Lei: “It’s uncomfortable to go reach out to strangers.” What is your secret?

Helena: I think my secret is that I’m a curious person, so therefore it becomes natural for me to ask questions. I sometimes will deliberately ask somebody, in another division or another department… ‘Cause you know, we’re all in this one building together.

Lei: Right.

Helena: We’re sharing elevators together, we all know we work for the same place.

Lei: Right, right.

Helena: And we might just start talking together.

Lei: Right.

Helena: And we might say, “Hey, let’s have lunch,” and we’ll go to the cafeteria and have lunch and then I’ll learn something about what they’re doing.

Lei: Right.

Helena: Something that I may not even know exists at the bank. That’s really important; to spend the time.

Lei: Right.

Helena: And another observation I made, especially when I was on the corporate level, is that many of the people in leadership positions spend a great deal of time making sure they were politically set for the day, and they did this on a daily basis.

Lei: What does that mean, “politically set?”

Helena: They came in, in the morning, and they disappear. And you’d wonder, “Where are they?” And they would disappear for hours. Well, they were doing the same thing I was doing.

Lei: Networking, networking.

Helena: They were networking.

Lei: Outside of their jobs.

Helena: Exactly.

Lei: Not outside of the company.

Helena: Correct.

Lei: But outside of a direct interaction of their jobs.

Helena: And they went around to the important people, to their offices, saying “Good morning.”

Lei: Wow.

Helena: And they were very skilled at it.

Lei: And it sounds, also, like you didn’t have an agenda.

Helena: That’s right.

Lei: Sometimes, I think people–when they try to network with an agenda, “I’m looking for a job, I’m desperate for a job, or can you tell me something?” It becomes so imposing that I think the other side becomes like, “Oh, you need something from me and that’s the only reason you’re talking to me?”

Versus, like you said, your curious “Hey, you know, we shared same elevators. Oh, you do this? I do this. I’d love to have lunch with you. Can we just talk?”

And you establish common ground just because you work together.

Helena: Yes.

Lei: But sometimes you might find, “Oh, we both have kids at the same age.”

Helena: Yes.

Lei: It doesn’t necessarily haev to alwyas be a very pinpoint-targeted, every conversation results in something. It’s more about establishing relationships.

Helena: Correct.

Lei: It’s what it sounds like.

Helena: And I saw that repeatedly. I mean, and I’m going back to the PR department where we were directly in a direct line to the head of the bank. That’s a big deal. You’re not even allowed on the floor, and we had a direct conduit to that head of the bank.

And let me tell you, every officer made sure that they were in front of that head of the bank.

Lei: Right, because…

Helena: Because that was a huge opportunity, right?

Lei: Right.

Helena: And then if you’re at another level, and you’re head of the paper industry, let’s say. I watched how that person would disappear and I’d think, “Okay, I know what she’s doing.” And I’d see her.

Lei: Yeah.

Helena: Going around saying “Good morning,” and then sometimes that would lead into a conversation – a long one – and guess what else you’re getting? You’re getting information.

Lei: Inside information.

Helena: You’re getting inside information.

Lei: Casual… the true information, what’s happening.

Helena: Yes.

Lei: Because you never know who’s gonna say something to you that’s pertinent to your job, that has nothing to do with your job.

Helena: That’s right. You learn things.

Lei: Wow.

Helena: And sometimes you walk away saying exactly that. “Wow!”

Lei: But you are so observant. I think a lot of people… You know, and I’d love to hear, kind of, some advice you have for others, because we’re now, more than ever, in uncertain times. Now that it’s never–every job is temporary. There are so much re-org, even when the economic situation is going up and up.

And so lots of people needs to manage the situation of, let’s say, family-wise, they need this job. They cannot go somewhere else. They cannot move, and a lot of people just sit around waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Helena: Well, that’s the other thing I noticed. The unsuccessful people – and I’m even going back to the insurance industry, as well – those were the ones that sat in their chairs, behind their desks, and never got up.

Lei: Yeah.

Helena: And they get blocked out, fired, something would happen. They had no communication. And there are some people that are scary that way. They don’t talk. I mean, they’re just in their offices.

Lei: But they could be very smart.

Helena: They can be very smart and very good at what they’re doing, but they’re just sitting there, and they’re doing their job and their head is down. But if they don’t come up out of that chair and talk to people, they could be phased out very easily, unbeknownst to them that this is coming.

Lei: Right.

Helena: And so it’s important to get up out of your chair, and I know that it seems frivolous, but it isn’t.

Lei: Yeah.

Helena: Because some of those conversations can be important. You have to understand you’re in a big environment. People are walking around.

Lei: Yeah.

Helena: It’s not like you’re the only one walking around.

Lei: Right.

Helena: Or even when someone passes you by.

Lei: You could–you have the opportunity.

Helena: You want it, you have the opportunity to say something. And it doesn’t mean you’re doing this all the time.

Lei: Right, right.

Helena: But you’re doing it.

Lei: Right.

Helena: You’re still doing your job.

Lei: Even at the printer, if the printer is not working.

Helena: Exactly.

Lei: You share something, you take the initiative to say, “Hey, I don’t think we met.”

Helena: Yeah.

Lei: “I just joined this division. What do you do, what’s your name?” And then, it’s like over time you build that relationship.

Helena: Yes.

Lei: I think the point… And I’ve learned this the hard way, because I’m one of those people with our head down. I was very… Not very introverted, but I think I didn’t know for quite a few years that part of our jobs is not in the job description; that you actually have to proactively network, proactively self-promote.

Helena: Correct.

Lei: And it doesn’t always have to have a result, because I’m such an engineer, right? I’m like, “The conversation needs to have a goal that is met, otherwise it is not useful.” I’m not kidding, I think I’m wasting my time.

Helena: Yes.

Lei: And that wrong perception, I think, definitely dinged me a couple times where I did get side wipes from something I totally didn’t see coming. To hear that not only you did it proactively, and you did it well, but you saw the role models in successful executives and that’s what they did.

Helena: Yes.

Lei: And that is a bulk… I mean, daily, a bulk part of their job.

Helena: Daily, every morning. Yes.

Lei: Is mind boggling. I think it changes the perception of when you do something you think is frivolous, and almost friendly, and social, you’re actually acting more like an executive.

Helena: Exactly.

Lei: And the sooner you do that, the sooner you get used to it, the power of it will help your career, will advance you. This is so great.

Helena: And then the other one is, you know, yeah. And take advantage of your meetings. I mean, you know, departments have meetings together, usually weekly. And you know, look around at those meetings. Look at the people that you’re having those meetings with. What are they saying, what are they doing? Who should you get to know?

Lei: Yeah.

Helena: This is valuable information at a meeting.

Lei: Yeah.

Helena: Very valuable.

Lei: And it’s interesting. It’s okay to just go up to someone, especially in the same company.

Helena: Yeah.

Lei: And say, “Hey! I’m either new, or I just met you new.”

Helena: Yeah.

Lei: “Can we do a 30 minute meet and greet? Or hey, can we have coffee? I heard you’re doing this, that’s really interesting. I’d love to hear about it.”

Helena: Yes, yeah.

Lei: Because people love people who are interested in them.

Helena: Yes they do.

Lei: It doesn’t matter…

Helena: They’re open to it.

Lei: Yeah, because you’re not saying, “I need a job. Can you tell me about your department? I’m kind of close to being laid off.”

Helena: Right, right. Yes. [Laughs]

Lei: That feels very, like, imposing.

Helena: You should never do that, yeah.

Lei: Exactly. Well, no, believe me. I think people… I think one thinks that’s what they need to do when they’re networking, but two, when you’re in desperate times you will do that, and if you didn’t network before them, it becomes a very unpleasant experience for you and for them. And then you build this stigma of “I can’t network, and it doesn’t work.”

And I think this story tells me something different that I didn’t even appreciate about, yes, you know, when you say that, I’ve just started this new job and the senior exec is walking the floor.

Helena: And then you want to create a mentor, too.

Lei: Yeah, yeah.

Helena: So you never know, one of those people could be–could become your mentor.

Lei: Yeah. And it happens very naturally instead of very forced.

Helena: Yes. Exactly.

Lei: Thank you for this story. This is very awesome.

Helena: You’re so welcome.

Lei: Thank you.

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