How to Speak the CEO Code

 

CEOs speak a particular language.

The language is not English, Spanish, Mandarin, or Hindi. It's a metalanguage that lays on top of the grammatical languages we all speak.

CEOs very quickly recognize who else speaks their language -- the CEO Code.

Although I didn't realize it at the time, I was very fluent in the CEO Code when I first got into industry as a 25-year-old.

Within my first two years in industry, I was managing 25 people and had been an executive at two different publicly traded companies -- one of which is now owned by Oracle.

I remember one Human Resources manager in her late 50s who was extremely jealous of my career trajectory. The CEO kept inviting me to his meetings because he wanted to know what I thought. Meanwhile, she was never invited to CEO meetings.

Unfortunately, she didn't speak the CEO Code.

This Code is very counterintuitive. When you speak the Code, you often present ideas in the exact opposite way of what feels intuitive and natural.

I have seen several CEOs literally ban certain people from ever meeting with them again.

The CEO will tell that person's manager, "Please don't ever bring that person to one of my meetings ever again. I can't stand listening to him."

What was the person's offense?

He didn't speak The Code.

When you don't speak The Code to a CEO, it drives them %#! %#?! crazy!

They roll their eyes (or desperately want to).

If you ever wondered why a CEO will cut someone off in mid-sentence, it's because the speaker wasn't speaking The Code and the CEO was getting extremely impatient.

(On the flip side, when you speak The Code, CEOs never interrupt you when you speak. They simply take notes and ask good questions. They recognize that they are speaking with someone fluent in The Code and they don't want to interrupt.)

The CEO Code Rules:

Rule #1:
Never mention a problem without proposing a specific solution or next step to finding a solution.

(Otherwise, all you are doing is giving the CEO yet another headache. They they associate you with bringing pain into their world. Don't be surprised if they don't like seeing you. Now if you bring pain into their world along with a recommended pain killer, that's an entirely different story.)

Rule #2:
Always separate facts from opinions; always present facts first.

(Most CEO proposals are loaded with everyone's opinions. She wants the damn facts first; then maybe she wants everyone else's opinions.)

Don't say: "Our customers are outraged at the new product release."

Instead, say: "10 out of 100 major accounts have complained about our latest product release. Included in these 10 accounts are 3 of our flagship clients whose logos appear on our website home page."

(The first is a broad sweeping conclusion with no specific facts. It's essentially an opinion. The latter is a fact.)

Rule 3:
Always anticipate the 5 most logical and intuitive questions a CEO is likely to ask. Then proactively mention each question and answer it, before she even asks the question verbally.

(Make it unnecessary for the CEO to think critically because you've already done it for her.)

Rule 4:
When you make a proposal to a CEO, state what you want to do, your three reasons why you want to do it, what resources you need, and when you will have it done.

When you speak The Code to a CEO in a meeting, the meeting is often very short.

You want to strive for a meeting where you are so thorough and proactive in your preparation and communication that the CEO finds it completely unnecessary to say anything other than "Approved," before ending the meeting.

I've never had a meeting that concise, but I've often come close.

More typically, the CEO will ask one of the 5 questions I anticipated.

I will then answer those questions with relevant facts on the spot (without having to schedule another meeting to come back with the answer). This allows the CEO to move to a point where she can make a fully informed decision on whether to accept my recommended course of action.

Learn to speak The Code. When you do, everybody notices. Senior executives invite you to their meetings because you are useful to them. They start to see you as a peer.

And THAT is the 80/20 leverage point to becoming a rising star in industry.

If you found this article helpful would like a printable PDF version of The CEO Code Rules, click here for a copy: The CEO Code Rules

And for other tips via email on how to interact with CEOs, just fill out the form below:

Please Notify Me about future articles and
resources on how to interact with CEOs
4 comments… add one
  • Eloisa Ramos Aug 27, 2015, 9:50 am

    very nice guide for a striving manager, healthy tips.

  • tanmoy mondal Sep 12, 2015, 2:42 am

    excellent idea.

  • Brett Nov 19, 2015, 2:24 pm

    Wonderfully insightful!
    Prospective grad student.

  • Matthew Chang Nov 19, 2015, 7:30 pm

    Very nice advice, except such rules themselves do not suffice when you’re talking to Asian bosses, especially the ones grown in authoritarian culture. They will simply ignore your logical, fact-based opinions because they believe their job is making decisions and your job is bringing their ideas into reality, no matter how stupid and unreal they may be.

Leave a Comment