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Build Solid Relationships With Senior Management

Nov 24, 2020 | 8m

Get Actionable Insights Into:

  • Avoiding pitfalls that may sour your relationship with leaders
  • Elevating your boss’ trust in you to get a leg up in your career
  • Proving your worth to your organisation 

How Difficult Can It Be?

Ten minutes. That’s how much time you are given to leave a positive impression on your company’s C-suite executives during your quarterly board meeting. Will you make it or break it? If you’re feeling intimidated, you’re not alone. While workplaces have evolved over the years, most companies are still governed by a hierarchical structure where senior executives sit behind closed doors. This creates a feeling of intimidation and a lack of trust, not knowing how your advances will be perceived. 

But you know that building good relationships with your bosses still needs to be done despite limited facetime. Indeed, as businesses increasingly expect senior leaders to manage more far-flung teams and spend more time with distant clients, opportunities for facetime are few and far between, and yet are a priority for employees looking to strengthen relationships with senior management. 

In traditional industries like Finance where establishing good relationships with C-suite leaders is crucial to advancing one’s career, it’s an even tougher feat. Everyone’s vying for the boss’ limited attention, and it’s common to see people go the extra mile by making dinner reservations or purchasing gifts for the boss’s birthday. Sometimes, it may even be tiring for you to have to constantly put up a fake front, in the hopes that someone in senior management will take notice of you and place you on a promotion panel. 

Common Mistakes People Make

In my experience, however, the top mistake people make when trying to establish relationships with senior management is not being  genuine or trying too hard. I’ve seen many cases where the manager doesn’t put in the hours or the work, and tries to claim credit for their employees’ work by selling it off as their own during a board meeting. They might also take advantage of their boss’ leniency. 

As someone who’s in senior management myself, I trust people very easily. I give everyone a fair chance to prove themselves. But I can also tell when someone’s trying to abuse my trust just to get ahead. It then becomes very difficult to rebuild this trust and to some extent, also destroys our relationship. Always remember that authenticity is the name of the game when it comes to building relationships. 

Another way to go about navigating this is to identify which type of boss your boss is. There are generally two types of leaders. The first is those who like it when others play to their ego, and the second is those who cannot be bothered with office politics. Differentiate between the two and play your cards wisely. 

Paving the Way for Relationship Building

There are three prerequisites to cementing a good relationship and these are usually prerequisites on the senior management’s part. First and foremost, the leader needs to make the first move in terms of showing how it’s supposed to be done. For example, by opening up and by initiating conversations. The second prerequisite is a feedback culture. Your company’s senior management should be implementing this culture in the true spirit of leadership. The third thing your senior management needs to implement is an open and honest dialogue with the team without the fear of repercussions.

In terms of having an open and honest conversation, I am the kind of person who has always been outspoken in talking to the seniors directly if there are certain things that I feel strongly about. These could be with regards to a problem in the organisation, or people that I can’t get along with. 

As such, every time I enter a new organisation, I try to spend time with people, who may be five or six levels below me, on a one-to-one level. I realise that this helps me to connect with them, and to understand what difficulties they may be facing. This helps to create a culture where people feel comfortable, and where they can trust that the conversation will remain between the two of you. 

If These Building Blocks Don’t Exist...

If these prerequisites are not in place, all’s not lost. Whether you decide to initiate something to bring the relationship to the next level will depend on your personality and your level of contentment in your job. People who stay quiet and don’t reach out to the senior management to change the status quo could feel that their job is important to them and they don’t have a better opportunity elsewhere. 

Otherwise, if you decide to push for an open and honest culture in your company, look for influencers. These could be senior leaders who might be willing to listen to you and implement changes to establish a culture where employees feel comfortable approaching senior management to have a casual chat.

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Zain Suharwardy

Managing Director

Accenture Song



Managing Up Career Advancement