I was in a recent meeting where a junior person challenged a senior leader over something the executive had supposedly said. The executive was now experiencing, at least in the view of the junior person, corporate amnesia and denied ever making the statement.

Last week, someone told me about a meeting where a junior person thought he had tripped up a senior leader.  The executive had neglected an expected duty, at least in the view of the junior person, so the junior manager challenged the executive for being negligent.

Maybe both these mini-attacks happened because its summer, it's hot, and moods are agitated. No matter the reason, here's some career strategy advice for junior people:

You won't get ahead in your career trying to embarrass senior leaders in group settings.

I hope that isn't news to anyone, but having heard two instances of it in quick succession, it just needed to be said. If you think a senior executive has wronged you or screwed up, there are much better ways to deal with the situation than a "gotcha" style, direct confrontation in a group setting!

How about trying any of these strategies?

  • Note the potential issue (if it's absolutely necessary to) non-confrontationally so you can come back and discuss it privately at a later time.
  • Offer your differing point of view in a way that acknowledges you MIGHT have it wrong (even if you KNOW you don't).
  • Turn your challenge into a much softer question that allows the executive to talk, potentially admit a mistake, and still save face.
  • Simply drop the issue and move on if it doesn't really matter in the scheme of things.

These strategies let you register the appropriate level of concern in the immediate group setting without putting a senior executive in a position where the only face saving move is to turn around and publically question your performance or point of view (which happened in both of these instances).

Remember, quite frankly, a senior executive has more corporate standing and firepower than you do (that's one of those cool perks of being a big wig). You have to win your point through finesse and savvy interpersonal skills, so get to work on those. Got that? - Mike Brown