How to influence up when up is the CEO


If you want your voice to be heard, first you need to learn how to speak. Bryan Whitefield shares how get your point across to your boss

Do you love your boss? Do you really, really care about them? If you answered an unreserved “yes” then you are on a winner if you want to increase your influence with them. Your boss is more likely to listen if they sense you are well-meaning in providing your advice.

This is just one simple example of how each of us put up barriers to bad advice. No one wants to be hoodwinked. So one of the first barriers we put up is our well-meaning sensor. In fact, we all have many, many barriers to bad advice that sometimes work against us.

What about your boss? What barriers might they raise to your advice? Might it be their perceptions of your knowledge of business? Might it be that you are more or less conservative than them?

Stand in their shoes

Whatever the reason, this is the first step in the process of navigating past the barriers your boss may raise to your advice. You need to stand in their shoes and think like they think.

You also need to understand their mindset. Think about what they are dealing with today and what that may mean in terms of temporary barriers to your advice. Your advice might be best left for later in the day or you might need to couch it in a different way.

Demonstrate your credibility

Now you know how they may discredit your advice. What can you do to give you and your advice the credibility required? Two things are very important here. One is language.

If it is about business you may be best served using the language of business. If your point is to say someone is speaking business gobbledygook and that your boss should not listen to them, you should speak in plain language.

The other is to use examples. There is nothing quite like showing someone an outcome that can be closely linked to the advice you are giving. Alternatively, can you provide examples of when your advice has served them well in the past and link the two occasions in a meaningful way?

Paint them a picture

As your boss listens to your advice they form a mental picture in their mind. If you don’t paint a picture for them, the image they conjure may be distinctly different to the one you have in your mind. Can you literally show them a picture or draw one for them? Or can you relate your message to something they can relate to? For example, when talking about the challenges of implementing a project a favourite of mine is to liken it to assembling IKEA furniture.

“It’s like a parent and child assembling IKEA furniture. The instructions might be helpful, however it will be the politics, culture and capability that will determine the end result!”

Tell them a story

Your boss is like any human. Emotion affects their decision making. Even if your boss is not “an emotional person” they will have emotions about people who are emotional when considering a decision. Stories drive emotions. While it is not always easy to conjure a story, the more you work on this aspect the more influence you will have.

A story does not have to be a personal one. If you are struggling to find one, find a story about someone famous that you can relate to the situation. If you can, pick a famous person they really like or respect. The story will have more impact.

Influence by design

Influencing your boss is like any other influencing challenge. What I have given you is a process where you can design your approach to your boss. Start with the end in mind, then get inside their mind, then start to navigate the barriers you now see.