How to Get More Invitations to the C-Suite and Be Heard Part 2

Be Quick, Be Careful, Be Candid, Have a Management Mindset

My practical and empirical knowledge combined with the research of others demonstrates consistently that bosses expect these crucial attributes and behaviors from trusted strategic advisors: 

  • Real-Time Advice: Typically, staff advisors come to listen to their leadership then, head back to their office to figure out how to help them or if they can. The trusted strategic advisor gives cogent advice on the spot without having to leave the room. 
  • Candor: Truth with an attitude delivered immediately. Something that Public Relations practitioners have difficulty with as evidenced by the recent research by Dr. Marlene Neill revealing ten troublesome issues that practitioners face every day. If your reaction to this definition is, “Jim, you don’t know my boss!” That’s probably true, but it’s time to leave the organization if your boss has a problem with candor.  
  • Coach at Every Opportunity: This is really what one of the greatest values we provide to those we advise. Coaching rather than having a specific answer for things, is the art of options, and suggestions, that is offering three approaches to respond to an issue or question before management.
  • Consequence Analysis, Being Insightful: This is the trusted strategic advisors greatest challenge, to be more than relevant, and to be able to comment on much broader areas than just what the news media is going to be doing or thinking.
  • Knowing What is Important: Senior people, contrary to their behavior, are interested in input on what they should be dealing with and should be thinking about or in fact are dealing with or thinking about. How does one find this out? Ask and keep asking. Be an intelligence collector and sharer.
  • Early Warning: Another value of the trusted strategic advisor is their knowledge of what’s happening throughout the organization. Rather than being the first to acknowledge what others have revealed or spoken about, your credibility is really built on being the first person to alert management to issues and questions they need to be concerned about. When I asked top leaders what the worst problem is they face every day, almost unanimously it is, “Being the last to know.” The trusted strategic advisor worth their salt, skips all those filters, sidetracks, and barriers to information and brings intelligence information immediately to the attention of top people.
  • What To Do Next: Seems ironic but one of the great problems in leadership is knowing what to do and what the next steps are. In dozens and dozens of conversations over the years with leaders and managers who were having difficulties, offhand I would say 90% of the problem came from really not knowing what to do next and not being able to get some reasonable advice on what those actions and decisions and problems should be or are. This questions actually is at the top of every leaders list, “What the heck do I do now?” One of the great techniques of the trusted strategic advisor is the, “What if” exercise. What if this happened? What if that happened? What would you do? What would you say? What would you decide? What is the first step you should take? If you can play a role in the, “What’s next?” game. You’ll be among the first to be invited to every important meeting.

Now, let’s talk about the current reality.  

The purpose of examining this list is a way of analyzing yourself, how you operate, what you think about yourself, and how you approach the task of being a trusted strategic advisor.

This is hard but please listen up.

Public Relations tends to rely on what I call the Liar’s List of communication tactics. This is the tendency to avoid positive declarative, definitive, evidence-supported communication in favor of nine alternative communication strategies:

  • Allegories
  • Analogies
  • Euphemisms
  • False Comparisons
  • Lies
  • Metaphors
  • Similes
  • Stories
  • Verbal Translation, “In other words…”.

Each of these techniques are obvious attempts to state anything but the simple plain truth. This is the list liars use by those with whom we disagree or who are disagreeable. The two most abused of these techniques are metaphors, explaining something and using a substitute reality, and stories, which unlike life, have obvious beginnings, middles, and ends, usually attention-getting opening, statements, and a conclusion in the form of a lesson, message, conclusion, punch-line, insight, moral, or self-evident truth. If only life would behave this way.

The whole problem with stories is that they are completely artificial (euphemism for lies). Life does not have a sensible beginning, middle, or end, A Situation rarely starts with snappy opening headlines and rarely concludes with the definitive statement of purpose, accomplishment, or an obvious ending. They are fabrications. The truths of stories are almost always fabricated. So now you’re asking me, “What if a story is half true…?” Half a truth is always all lie.

Too often, one of the biggest values senior executives can count on us for is our skill in creating an alternative universe of information about something that may be difficult, unpleasant, or unwanted to communicate. That is intentional untruthfulness.

The goal has to be candor.

Be More Careful

  1. Our function has a reputation for avoiding conflict and candor. This is one of the reasons we’re often left out of important meetings at senior levels. If the issue is important, management is still taught to arrive at important decisions through conflict and aggressive argument. If that makes you feel uncomfortable it shows quickly and without mentioning anything to you, you will be automatically excluded from meetings where intensive discussions take place. Advising leaders requires a tough stomach.
  2. Also, we tend to avoid naming what we see, or worse, we find ways to euphemize and therefore avoid getting the benefits of candor and clarity. Anger, even violent anger being described as, “Tempers boiling over…” or, “Softening harsh language. Truth is usually blunt and hard.
  3. Our inability or unwillingness to accurately and dispassionately assess skills, competence, strengths, and weaknesses of other members of the senior team and staff. We don’t have much of a taste for evaluating the skills of others the way senior executives must. Most of the major business problems organizations face are created by people in positions of importance. If there’s one thing that most senior leaders need it is staff who can accurately, helpfully, and purposefully assess strengths, weaknesses, shortcomings, skills, apititudes, accessibility, and other attributes of those on the senior team including themselves. If that responsibility tends to make you uncomfortable, you become less valuable in everything else you do for the senior team.
  4. The notion that we are an organization’s conscience. This is a pretty big and important burden. One of these days I hope that someone actually defines or lays out a job description of corporate conscience. The idea seems to work in some organizations. I’ll be writing about this in a future Jim’s Wisdom. Many of those who consider themselves corporate consciences also consider themselves experts in ethics. Sometimes accurate, but often oversimplified.  

Changing the Management Mindset

A number of years ago I was a senior advisor to a fortune company going through a very devastating criminal proceeding. People had died, were injured, the behavior of certain individuals at the company was intentional, several were prosecuted and six went to prison. The Chairman was acquitted during the trial and retired.

The company itself, however, took it’s problems seriously and worked to begin to understand how a company this successful and this important, saving lives every day could get into the mess that they had.

They hired several forensic compliance consultants to interview many employees to get a sense of what employees expected of company leadership during times of crisis. Here is that list. For those of you who act as corporate consciences, I urge you to examine this list and see if you could actually deliver useful advice to senior management based on employee expectations.

Employee Expectations of Leadership During
Emergencies and Tough Times (i.e. All the Time)

a. Find the truth as soon as possible: Tell that truth and act on it immediately.

b. Promptly raise the tough questions and answer them thoughtfully: This includes asking and answering questions yet to be asked or thought of by those who will be affected by whatever the circumstance is.

c. Teach by a truthful parable: Emphasizing wrong-way and right-way lessons.

d. Vocalize core business values and ideals constantly: These include the values and ideals, the ways and behaviors that employees bring to work each day.

e. Walk the talk: Be accessible; help people understand the organization within the context of its values and ideals at every opportunity.

f. Help, expect, and enforce ethical leadership: People are watching; people are counting; people know when there are lapses in ethics causing trust to be broken. When bad things happen in good organizations, it’s those occasional lapses that deepen the troubles.

g. Preserve, protect, defend, and foster ethical pathways to the top of the organization: Constantly identify, explain, explore, and warn about situations where ethical processes can be compromised, especially among executives who are on upward career trajectories.

h. Be a cheerleader, model, and teacher of ethical behavior: Ethical behavior builds and maintains trust. In fact, to have trust in an organization requires that its leaders act ethically constantly.

i. Make values as least as important as profits: Research shows that most people seem to enjoy working more when they are with organizations they respect, people they trust, leadership they can rely on, and who respect them. Wherever you find an organization or company that puts values on the same level as profits, there is often even more loyalty and support because companies who do this sacrifice for principle. Everybody notices and wants to be a part of these kinds of organizations.

j. Be respected: Research also shows that respect is more desired by employees than any number of perks and preferences. Respect is what draws employees back to work each day.

How to Get More Invitations to the C-Suite and Be Heard Part 1

Irritating Habits to Avoid
Better Habits to Improve Your
Access, Influence, Impact, and Inclusion

Having spent the vast majority of my professional career in or very near the C-Suite of my clients, more than 400 companies in 42 years, I had the opportunity to view a wide variety of advice givers to senior people and organizational operators.

It in all candor I have to observe that the profession of public relations is in the middle, to be charitable, of those whose opinions are valued at the highest level of organizations. I wrote and published a book about this in 2009, “Why Should The Boss Listen To You, The 7 Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor”. © 2009 Jossey Bass Publishing

The subject comes to mind again and again because although I now spend far less time consulting, I still am often engaged at the top levels, after all these years. The irony and reason for this discussion is that while the behaviors of staff professions have improved steadily and striven to become more relevant to the concerns at ever higher operating levels, my profession continues to struggle for attention and once having gotten it the problem of actually being heard, continues.

There are five easily observable, and especially irritating habits to avoid that get in the way of the creative sensitivity and empathetic approaches we always tend to bring to executive decision-making. These higher-value behaviors and experiences are eclipsed by other behaviors that obscure the most important attributes of our profession. Examples of behaviors to avoid include:

1. Timidity and Hesitation – Public relations and communicators tend to speak later, sometimes not at all. If you’re spending time inside the C-Suite, those who are running the place and who requested that you be there are watching, and waiting. If you fail to contribute, you will rarely be invited back.


2. Mindless Editing – When all else fails, it seems the one thing we tend to do automatically is edit anything in sight. Whether it’s a news release, memo, or proposal. We are always marking things up. As advisors to senior people, we fail to realize how annoying this can be. In fact, many of us believe editing is our franchise to be in these meetings. It’s especially irritating to the top level of executives who are generally in those positions because they’re running the place.

I’ve never seen any studies but my assumption based on my experience is that improved understanding, clarity, idea value, and powerful concept improvements are very rare in PR editing. We tend to exchange words that reflect more our limited understanding of the organization or a staff perspective rather than a management perspective. Editing often changes or obscures the truth. Ask if the change proposed preserves or obscures the truth.  

I warn those seeking expanded access, impact, influence, and inclusion wanting to be trusted strategic advisors, “If you are going to hold a pencil in your hand, a better use than editing could be to take notes to remember things to talk about or question, as opposed to the automatic red pen markup. Editing should add significant knowledge or insight. If all you’re doing is word shuffling, or using truth-avoiding techniques like allegories, metaphors, or analogies…stop.”

3. Remember – The vast majority of bosses feel that they are good if not great communicators, important if not gifted writers. That’s why there are crucial questions editors need to address as they pick up the red pen. Does your editing checklist include:

  • Increasing strategic value or insight.
  • Stating the obvious, you should be the first.
  • Add candor, “Truth with an attitude delivered right now.”
  • Simplify and add meaningful specificity. (Reduce the wandering generalities, “We are a great company.”
  • Add inconsistency (A key ingredient of strategy).
  • Add pattern intuition.
  • Reveal new constructive approaches to established norms, tasks, and challenges.


  • Add significant new knowledge or insight to the existing context?
  • Add some facts and data that make the management objectives more powerful, focused, and useful?
  • Add or suggest examples that improve the power, memorability, and importance of the content and context?
  • Provide or develop insight, clarity, moral, bottom-line, lesson, or self-evident truth?

4. Understand your true relationship with those whose language you change. The relationship between leader and communicator is far different than the leader’s relationship with other consultants. The difference is, listening to an accountant, a lawyer, an engineer, a subject-matter expert or a scientist, fields of interest where leaders need these specialized knowledges. When it comes to communication, expect bosses, sometimes everyone in the room, to be mentally debating what you say rather than listen to what you have to teach. This behavior is why we so often feel our conversations and advice-giving is not heard. It isn’t. Often, when you finish explaining, you discover that the boss is just waiting to talk. Repeat yourself.


5. Say things that matter. Move the conversation along constructively. Question, rather than challenge the value of other ideas if you can improve their value or demonstrate more important sensitive or powerful information. Strive to make significant additional points. Abide by three powerful editing rubrics:

  • Say less, but make it more important, surprising.
  • Write less, but make it more interesting, memorable, helpful, insightful, and useful.
  • Go for the truth first.

In Jim’s Wisdom #51 (May ’24 Savvy), I’ll expand further on these irritating habits:

  1. Euphemizing everything. As consultants, we seem to have great reluctance to speak truth to power or to speak truth in any venue.
  2. Reputation we have for avoiding conflict and candor.
  3. Our reluctance to assess the skills and competence, strengths, and weaknesses of colleagues and members of the management team and group, upon executive request.
  4. For some of us, the notion that we can be an organizational conscience.
  5. Reviewing employee ethical expectations of leadership during urgent or emergent situations. 

Happy to talk about any or all of these ideas. Just pick up the phone, (203) 948-7029, text that number, or email