02/08/2012 10:12 am ET Updated Apr 09, 2012

One-on-One With Your VP -- Show Your Leadership

I was with one of my Fortune 500 clients last week, working with a few of the managers who recently got a new VP. This VP is the person who brought me in to help build the leadership capability of these managers. On more than one occasion, the manager asked me:

"I have a general meeting with Ms. VP every few weeks. You know how she works, how should I structure these meetings?"

As I thought about this, I realized that this particular VP is not very different from other highly effective VP's I have worked with. So I thought some of my readers would benefit from hearing the advice I gave these managers (assuming you work for an effective leader). Here's the rough agenda I suggested.

Update the VP on your current priorities
  • Go over your three to five priorities, the initiatives where you are focusing the majority of your time and talent, and perhaps those of your team as well.
  • Make sure these priorities aren't simply a list of the "orders" you've taken. Otherwise your sense of priority comes across as "who yelled the loudest."
  • Rather, make sure your priority reflects your integration of your company's strategic initiatives, needs of your cross-functional partners, and where you want to take things.

Be prepared to state: These are my top three to five priorities right now and why.

Update the VP on your current direction and destination

Let's go to metaphor space. Think of the projects, initiatives, and operations you are responsible for as a ship you captain. Your VP needs to know:

What's your opinion of where these things should head?

Why is this important? Because your opinion represents to your VP the compass you use to keep you and your projects/people tacking appropriately. He or she knows you won't always know your destination, where you want to end up, but you definitely need to know your direction. Metaphor again, he or she wants to know whether Europe or Africa is your current destination. You'll gain clarity as time goes on whether your destination should be Paris or Madrid.

Why is the compass so important? Because your VP knows that there are enough strong opinions, demands, and competing strategies within your company to blow your project off course. If you don't stand for anything, then the likelihood of a forceful colleague re-directing the project goes way up. If you can't navigate your way through such a storm, then he or she knows they will eventually need to step in or you will pull him or her in to get it back on track. Not a good sign of your leadership capability.

Be prepared to state: This is the direction I am taking this project and why (describe for each priority project).

Solicit his or her help

It's in the best interest of your VP to find out where he or she can help you navigate challenges that may cause your ship to run aground. But it should be issues where you don't have the muscle to remove the obstacles. Bad move to ask them for help in getting your crew (department or cross-functional) to work together. That's your job as a leader. He or she may bring up the issue if they have observed such dynamics but even then the discussion should be more about advice and less about problem-solving.

Be prepared to state: I need your help in clarifying the direction/destination; getting additional resources to accelerate this effort; talking with your VP peer to confirm we are on the same page (whatever the issue is).

Remember this is a dialogue.

Don't panic if they challenge you on your opinions. If you've done your homework, the discussion should be a rich exchange. Best part about this agenda is that it makes you stay focused on moving things forward -- exactly what your VP loves to get into.

Let me know what you've learned after you give it a try.