When You Come Before the Powerful

What do you do when you are asked to meet a powerful person? What would you do if you invited to see a president, or a king, or a prime minister?

You might think, “That would never happen.” 

But what if it did. What if you were five a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? How would you prepare yourself?

I find that as my clients grow in their influencing skills, they set a ceiling on their expectations as to whom they might be able to influence. Yet, as someone becomes good at their job, as they become exceptional in their work, it will often draw attention from high places.

“You Can’t Be Very Successful…”

My son, Antony, found that, as head of a successful start-up, Brilliant Noise, in Brighton on the south coast of the UK, he was invited one day to an awards ceremony with the Queen. He didn’t normally wear a tie, but my daughter-in-law put one in his jacket pocket as he went out the door.

He decided not to wear it.

Her Majesty was charming as ever and smiled (see picture below).

The Queen greets Antony Mayfield

Her consort, Prince Philip, however, said, “You can’t be very successful. You’re not wearing a tie!” This triggered a whole debate in the letters to The Daily Telegraph over the next few days. 

But what if it had been more than an awards ceremony? What about being invited into the counsel of the great? What would you do?

When You Come Before a Ruler

Kris Vallotton talks about protocol being a necessary observance if you want to be heard by a ruler. The senior person needs to see you a trustworthy, he says.

Those in senior positions are vulnerable. So, do not give off any signals that you might be unreliable, such as criticising colleagues, or indulging in any kind of blame-shifting.

Part of the protocol is respecting the time you are being given. If you ask to see a senior executive, or even a group of them, always aim to finish early, as this can have a number of outcomes:

  • It shows respect for their time
  • It reflects positively on you as someone who is not likely to drain them
  • You are more likely to be 
    1. Given more time
    2. Able to get further meetings.

This relates to another area: be brief and to the point. Don’t waffle. If necessary, keep your preamble short, such as,

I understand you are concerned about … and would like my recommendation…

View each meeting as part of a larger, longer process of relationship-building. This is rarely merely about the matter-in-hand, or even reaching a decision; it is more to do with helping them see your value in helping them execute a difficult job. It may seem like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you, but if you make a positive first impression, they will move their diaries if they want more of you.

Wolf Hall

I found the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall absolutely fascinating, not least in this respect. Thomas Cromwell had nothing going for him and at the time served the unpopular and vanquished Cardinal Wolsey. He was summoned to see the all-powerful and dangerous King Henry VIII. Yet, in the book and the series, Cromwell didn’t go in trying to make himself look good at the first encounter. he just was good and gave wise advice when asked. That was the start of his rise to become the second most powerful man in England.

So, adjust your style to theirs.

And should my son have worn a tie? What do you think?

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