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What to Do If You See Your CEO at Lunch

Businessman sitting on outdoor stairs having lunchBusinessman sitting on outdoor stairs having lunch
Businessman sitting on outdoor stairs having lunchWestend61/Getty Images

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you network without seeming overeager?” is written by TJ Adeshola, head of U.S. sports league partnerships at Twitter.

Some people seem like they have all the luck in their careers, but what looks like luck is often the result of hard work and making the right connections. To network strategically, you have to develop a winning game plan, one that lets you make the connections you need without seeming overeager.

Here are some principles to keep in mind so you can score the winning shot every time:

Learn the fundamentals

The best networkers are up to speed on the latest news and trends in their industry. For me, a lot of this homework is done on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and trade publications that specialize in my field, like Sports Business Journal. I have seen amazing examples of people who have found jobs by just sending a tweet. Use the tools you have to listen and learn, so that you can better recognize opportunities.

Avoid rookie mistakes

I’ll never forget my first day on the job at a major sports network. I was in the cafeteria eating my lunch and in walked Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who sat down right behind me. The last thing I wanted to do was interrupt the lunch of an NBA legend. So when I finished, I casually walked past and said, “Magic, you’ve been an inspiration my whole life, and I appreciate you for that.” After that, I kept moving. I could tell he respected that I didn’t try to sit down and talk his ear off. He smiled, and that was enough.

If you run into the CEO of your company at lunch or even outside work, don’t launch into your five-year plan for taking the business to a whole new level. Leave a lasting impression, but don’t be too desperate.

Have a game plan

As you are building your roster of contacts, one connection builds upon the other. It’s important to develop champions inside and outside of your company. I have coffee with someone at least once a week; it could be a middle manager or a CEO.

If I don’t have a direct connection to someone, or they don’t respond to my outreach, I build from my foundation and reach out to the people I know who can make an introduction on my behalf.

Take your shot

Once you’ve identified your common interests with someone, set yourself up for your shot. The more you’re prepared, the higher probability of scoring a basket. Tell that person you would love to bounce ideas off of them, and then listen to their responses. Allow them to talk about what they are passionate about and if it feels right, share how you can be of service.

Make sure to circle back with next steps. If they don’t bite immediately, don’t fret. Use what you’ve learned from your conversation and go back to the drawing board. Jay Z said it best, “I will not lose, for even in defeat, there’s a valuable lesson learned, so it evens up for me.”

Networking is ultimately a value exchange, so bring your A-game to the court every day. Dedicate yourself to learning the fundamentals, exercising judgment, having a plan, and making the ask.