How To Connect With & Influence Any CEO

CEOs have a massive and disproportionate impact on a organization, more than most people realize. They are a vital channel if you want to something to happen, and the more senior you get, the more their reputation will affect how you personally are perceived externally.

So how do you connect with and influence your own – or any – CEO?

The reality of being a CEO is that it’s a tough job, with high expectations, lots of stakeholders to manage and huge time pressure. This means that many CEOs are often fire-fighting, and in between back-to-back meetings and trips. Often their lives are chaotic.

The first mistake most people make is that they hold CEOs in awe. Yes, anyone who reaches the top of any organization deserves some respect. But no CEO has all the answers. People often clam up when they first meet a CEO, and do themselves a disservice.

So if you want to connect, first, stop looking up to them in awe like most people they meet. Instead treat them as a respected peer, and focus on connecting properly and adding some value to their business.

So How Do You Add Value To A CEO?

CEOs actually are motivated in different ways, they have different strengths and weaknesses, and they value different things. They’re all interested in added value, but they perceive value differently.

And on top of that, it takes different communication approaches to influence them. So the key is to work out which type of CEO you are dealing with, and then tailor your approach accordingly. Then go in and be a peer.

Interviewing and coaching thousands of CEOs has taught me that, in the West, there are 7 main ‘CEO types’. These are:

(1) Commercial Executor


  • Driving focus on achieving best results in industry
  • Relentless focus & attention to details to ensure operational & strategic ambitions become reality

Example: Jack Welch, Former CEO of GE & Chairman, Jack Welch Management Institute

How To Influence:

Communicate plans based on impact on KPIs in their execution system; show then that you are focused & determined to deliver.

(2) Corporate Entrepreneur


  • Have something to prove
  • Disrupt industries because they believe in a better way of doing things
  • Excel in spotting breakthroughs & making them a reality
  • Their vision for their company is their vision for life

Example: Steve Jobs, Founder & Former CEO, Apple

How to influence:

Find a opportunity or a unseen issue and when they challenge you, push back hard in such a way that shows you know your stuff. This will earn them your respect and then you can have proper business conversation.


(3) Corporate Ambassador


  • Have a global vision with broader societal impact
  • Operate at geopolitical level & deliver transactions that transform industries

Example: Lord John Browne, Former CEO, BP

How to influence:

Share your world view & understand theirs. Explore opportunities for connection & building bridges. Bring to life the wider stakeholder benefits and their role it in up ahead.


(4) Global Missionary


  • On personal mission to make significant difference, as well as a corporate mission to make company great
  • Typically customer champions, they lead by inspiring & energizing people to tap into their potential

Example: Narayana Murthy, Chairman, Infosys

How To Influence:

Seek to understand their mission and share yours. Find an opportunity to work together where they overlap.


(5) People Leader


  • Find success through and with people
  • Positive, strong belief and empowering
  • Marshall teams to deliver their best
  • Build a trusting culture

Example: Angela Ahrendts, Burberry (Senior VP designate of Retail and Online Stores, Apple)

How To Influence:

Understand their philosophy and bring to life your passion and talent and dreams. Come up with ideas to move the commercial agenda or the soft agenda forward.

(6) Industry Technical Expert


  • Normally spent their life in an industry, believe that they know it better than anyone else.

Example: Industry dependent

How To Influence:

Get them to share their industry world view and their view on the main execution challenges. Then work out how to help them deliver.

(7) Professional Manager


  • Bring efficiency, processes and connecting systems
  • Reliable & committed, yet struggle to inspire workforce and do innovative breakthroughs

Example: Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

How To Influence:

Listen to and respect them, introduce incremental opportunities, and flag up the risk and consequences of not moving forward.


Over To You

So before you meet a CEO, remember to try and work out which type of CEO they are. Some CEO have multiple types but most CEOs usually have one primary type.

Always communicate in their world, unless – as with a corporate entrepreneur – you’re consciously trying to jolt them and mismatch to earn their respect.

Find common ground to connect on, and over time, build up a relationship with them. To sustain a relationship, you have to add real value – in a way they value – building trust and helping them with areas they find difficult over time. You may be surprised at just how much positive impact you have as a CEO confidant.


If you found this post useful in thinking about how you connect with CEOs and top leaders.


Please let us know in the comments section below which CEO type(s) you think your boss is and why. Do you effectively communicating with them, or is there something which you will now do differently?


Do follow me here on LinkedIn as I bring to life what’s happening in the World Of CEOs on a weekly basis, along with regular leadership, social media, career, hiring and productivity insights.

Signup for my weekly ‘CEO Insider’ leadership & career development email at:

Image credit: Getty Images

This article joins my leadership skills series. The goal is to share the latest best practices in a way you can put to practical use yourself. Also check out:

Leadership Skill #1: Build Trust With Anyone

Leadership Skill #2: Do You Have A Dream?

Leadership Skill #3: “Wow” With Your Career & Life Story

Leadership Skill #4: The 5 Steps To Master Happiness Through Time

By Steve Tappin

At Xinfu, Steve is a personal confidant to many of the world’s top CEOs. He is the host of BBC ‘CEO Guru’, which features in-depth, on-the-record interviews with the CEOs of the biggest and fastest-growing companies. Founder Of, Steve is the author of ‘The Secrets Of CEOs’, which interviews 200 CEOs on business life and leadership.

Posted by:Steve Tappin


Starting over after leaving my start-up. What a ride.

Why am I traveling around South America?

I got booted from my own start-up and thought ‘hey, why not?’

Postponing my academic program, I took the year and worked full-time on Plexx, a start-up I co-founded focused on job training for youth without college degrees. We had began working in late October of 2012 and wow, has it been a journey since. In a matter of a year we dreamed up a product, identified an opportunity, secured funding, developed a product, piloted, filed as a company, and the original team disbanded. The speed was insane. At times it felt like a movie…and looking back I am still in disbelief.

Left to right, top to bottom: Working session at the Harvard iLab, screenshot of early app from testing, sheet from design critique, Victor Popov sketching the first mobile application interface

Was it…

What we accomplished in such a short time?

The amazing people I worked with and met along the way?

The burn from my eyes from days and nights of barely sleeping?

Holding the first check from a funder?

Our hands clenched together as we waited for the judges to announce the winners of a hackathon?

…The air mattresses, sleeping on couches, endless nights, seeing the hue of the sun rise from the iLab, the rush from the pitch, suiting-up (orange shirt and blue tie), missing the deadline, struggling to put my thoughts into works, being too flexible, playing ‘moving man’ with my cousin, being too ridged…starting over.

It was all those things, wrapped in one package.

Left to right, top to bottom: Winning third place in the National Day of Civic Hacking in New York City, moving truck when we moved for a summer rent discount to save money for the start-up, ceiling screen from the Start-Up Chile celebration, images from our working space at the iLab

So what happened?

Well the entire story can be a book on its own, but in the end I decided I was leaving because my co-founder and I disagreed on the vision and direction for the organization.

After over 100 sessions observing and interviewing youth using the product I realized delivering all the job training needed on a mobile device to get a full-time job (and most importantly, the youth consuming all the training independently) was not a practical stand alone solution. It was not the phone as a vehicle, but the sheer volume of content and technology limitations that would need to be consumed to be ready for a full-time job.

Interviewing youth after using the application, observing Chris use the first interface, observing activities at the workforce development agency

At this point we needed to adapt our vision of being training vehicle or job search tool for those to get a full-time job or pick a new direction. My co-founder wanted to keep the solution we developed and offer it as a support service for organizations facilitating job training. I wanted to offer specialized training focusing on getting project based work and completing specific tasks to get paid, as I believed that was closer to what we can deliver as a stand alone solution. Both are viable routes…

Working at the Centro Movistar Innova (CMI), Start-Up Chile working space in Santiago, Chile

At the time I was running our pilot in New York, representing the team in an incubator program in Santiago, Chile called Start-Up Chile, and handling logistics and other activities (which explains the travel between New York and Chile the passed few months). Through all that, we discussed that I was going to leave, when, and what I would do until then.

The conversation was tough but, comparatively that was the easy part.

We were in disagreement on whether I would remain an owner of the company and maintain equity. We had previously defined terms in our founders agreement, but my co-founder wanted to renegotiate. Our positions: I wanted to maintain my ownership and I was being pressured to give it up.

I went to Boston and we spent days discussing, debating, reflecting, and revealing. Feeling I was being pressed, I made a ridiculous offer for my ownership because I did not want to sell (that definitely did not make things better). But I felt there was a bit of sun after a meeting with an entrepreneurship professor and our presentation on our motivations to start a social enterprise at Harvard.

Presenting as apart of the Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative

The next day on a bus, traveling back from Boston to New York, I received a call with the start-up lawyer and my co-founder. In short the lawyer explained that I accrue equity as long as I have not been ‘terminated’. Within the hour I got an email ‘terminating’ me from the start-up.

Going 100 miles a minute and all of the sudden it felt like was jolted into reverse. That night and the next morning I recall falling asleep and being awoken by the elevated heart beat from the race through my mental checklist and my sub-conscience searching for meaning from the last user observations.

It was time for a break…a real break, not a ‘working’ break, not another start-up, a part-time gig…a reboot.

The flight to head back to Chile for the Start-up Chile program was already set and I needed to go back to finish the documentation, reporting, and events as part of the commitment to the program, so I did. By the end of December, it was all wrapped up and January was a blank page.

Myself and Michele Paez presenting a Design Thinking Workshop at the Social Innovation Weekend by in Santiago, Chile, working team at the social innovation weekend, action shot from the UI Rapid prototyping workshop at Start-Up Chile

With my sketchbook, ample time, and a list of ideas, I was tempted just to dive back in.

Why not just pick another idea and keep moving?

Once you start seeing problems around you as entrepreneurial opportunities you really can’t turn it off. But I had this ticket and brought be back to the US in March after the program was over. So I decided to go, take a bus across South America, get lost, explore, discover, and adventure. I am blessed to have time time and resources to do it now. So that’s what I decided to do, and what I originally felt was a tragedy turned into a gift. I got back time.

Cerro Paine Grande, Chile’s Patagonia, Parque Naticional Torres Del Paine, hiking to Mirador Britanico

The journey has been awakening. Listening to the thunder of the avalanche crashing down the mountain in Patagonia and being soothed by the rawer of Iguazu’s falls has brought peace and awe. Hearing stories in hostels of travelers who have just finished school, lost a loved one, ended a relationship, and finished service in the Israeli army, has made a solo trek seem like a journey with friends.

Myself and Kyohei at Parque Nacional Iguazú (Argentina side), at the Garganta Del Diablo

As my friend Adrian from Start-Up Chile said,

They are all searching for something

What am I searching for? I’ll know when I see it!? Instead of simply executing to a plan I am letting life take me. Trying to follow the designer mindset and doing what feels right instead of the engineering mindset of having goals, a plan, and executing. One thing that has taken me awhile to learn is following a feeling, even if I can’t explain the logic behind it, is the best reason to do or not do something.

Doing something your gut says not to do (or not doing something your gut says to do) is you telling your soul not to speak.

The quote that has been my guide on this journey.

From Pinterest

— Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement, June 12, 2005

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