Tips for Political Savvy at the top

Dear Joan:
I was recently promoted into a Director role in a large company. I report to the senior executive in charge of the area. What advice can you give me about interacting with the executive level? I will be making more presentations and involved in more strategic decision making. My boss told me that I need to learn how to “face upward” in this new role.  

Here are some tips for political savvy at the top. A good place to start is pitfalls to avoid. Here is what senior management dislikes: 

Overly-detailed presentations

Most executives don’t want the details or the chronological front to back history of an issue. They want to get to the heart of the matter and hear the answers to questions such as, “What is the problem?” “What do you recommend?” “Why do you think that is the best solution?” “How much will it cost?” Hold your details in reserve, in case you are asked for more information. Be prepared to cut your presentation in half, if the agenda gets squeezed at the last minute.  


Managers, who don’t share bad news with their boss or give fair warning when a problem is brewing, will soon learn the error of their ways. Executives are expected to be well-briefed about the details of their operation. It’s always better to err on the side of honest disclosure—with a battle plan about how to fix the problem.

9 to 5 ers

Most executives don’t have much tolerance for directors who don’t do “whatever it takes” to get the job done. Even if you have to be home to pick up the kids from day care, you need to take work home or work on Saturday, if that is what is required.

Obvious ambition

Most executives distrust managers who have their eyes on their next promotion instead of on the job at hand. They also take a dim view of a manager who is obviously jockeying for a bigger position, or for more power. All things being equal, they are more likely to promote the person whose first priority is the organization, rather than themselves.

Managers who are territorial

Executives tend to think about the whole organization and how each department can support the big picture. Managers, who protect their own turf and make decisions for their own department at the expense of the organization, won’t get ahead.

Managers who don’t follow the chain of command

The structure is in place to manage the overwhelming load of information and decision making in the organization. If a supervisor or manager does an “end run” around his or her boss and brings an issue to the executive, without using the existing channels, is likely to be sent back down the ladder to resolve it where it belongs.

isk aversion 

Executives expect the leaders to lead. When a manager lacks the courage to confront problems or people, it usually turns into a cancer that grows and multiplies. By the time it is a crisis, the executive is involved—and not happy about it.


Most executives have earned their rank the hard way—learning the business, working in the trenches, navigating the politics. So a newcomer who underestimates them or discounts their experience is going to get their comeuppance.


Smart executives recognize that if the business isn’t growing and changing, it is dying. And if the executive’s team loses that scrappy, competitive edge and sense of urgency, the business is already sick. Arrogance is a dangerous thing.

“Yes men” (or women)

The marketplace is much too risky and competitive to survive a team of “yes people.” Smart executives surround themselves with people who will stand up for their beliefs and back them up with data. They want a team of people who will push back and argue for what is right for the business. 

Managers who don’t get along with their peers

Executives don’t want to do damage control or get dragged into resolving differences. If you can’t work and play well with others, you won’t last long.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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