In my early days as a manager, I was always busy. In fact too busy. Busy was my badge of honor, and I prided myself on getting a lot of things done.

But that left little time for my team (and no time for myself, but that’s another topic). Unless something was urgent, I didn’t feel I had time to meet with them outside of our regular team meetings.

The few who did manage to get time with me were the ones from other offices (I couldn’t very well say no when they’d flown in from Madrid, Frankfurt or Paris). And those with urgent and important things to discuss.

I felt like putting more meetings in the diary was a waste of time, and the first meetings to be cut or denied were with my team. While that was short-sighted, it was how I operated for many years.

While I’m not proud of this behavior, I did improve over time. So if your boss is like this too, then know that there’s still hope.

But in the meantime, here are three strategies to improve your chances of getting that meeting with your busy boss:

  1. Frame your ask
  2. Get to know their assistant
  3. Meet them where they are

Let’s start with framing your ask.

The most straightforward way to get a meeting is to ask for one

When you do, it’s important that you frame your request in a way that makes it useful for your busy boss. That is, be clear about “what’s in it for you” where “you” is your boss. After all, they’re busy and they need to be able to justify that time spent with you.

For example, if your value proposition for meeting is to update your boss on what you’ve been working on, that may not sound urgent or compelling to your boss, especially when they’re busy. While it’s useful from your perspective to provide the update, it’s less exciting for your boss. But if it’s to update your boss so they’re prepared for an upcoming meeting with their boss, that becomes a priority.

Similarly, if you have an idea that will save your boss and the team time, money or aggravation, that would be compelling too.

This “what’s in it for you” is also important so that once you get the meeting, it’s less likely to be cancelled or bumped for another meeting.

This brings us to the second strategy.

Get to know your boss’s assistant

If your boss is senior enough to have an assistant, they’re likely to trust and rely on that assistant. This was certainly true of me as a boss.

My assistant was the one who controlled my calendar and moved meetings around because things were constantly shifting. I relied on her judgement and she had a lot of influence. So if you were mean to my assistant, that put you in the doghouse with me too. And there were even times when I took a meeting because my assistant said, “This person has been very patient and has been trying to get on your calendar for 3 weeks.”

Of course, you’ll need to check that your boss does rely on their assistant in the same way I relied on mine. If it is the case, then their assistant will be a gold mine of information and advice to help you navigate your boss’s calendar and understand their likes and dislikes when it comes to meeting.

Treat senior managers’ assistants with respect and they will help you get on the calendar and learn how best to communicate.

Now for the third piece.

Make it easy for your boss to meet with you

The best way to do that is to “meet them where they are”. Literally. That means getting to know their routine, schedule and habits. Again, that’s where their assistant can be helpful, but you can also do this by observation.

When I was a junior associate, there was one sure way to speak with our boss Walter. And that was to catch him as he walked to the elevator at 6:05pm every night to get home in time for dinner with his wife and four children. If necessary, we would ride down the elevator or even speed walk to the train station with him.

When you’re both at the office, catching your boss on the way in or out of the building works well.

But what about when everything is virtual?

What I’ve found is that you have a better case for a regular call or meeting if you’re virtual, and especially if you’re in a different location. Everyone is aware of the need for contact and connection, and it feels harder for bosses to know what’s going on without talking to people. So don’t be shy about asking for the virtual meeting.

When you get the meeting or call, be sure to use the time well. Have an agenda – maybe even one you send ahead of time – and make it strategic and meaningful. The best way to get another meeting is if your boss comes away feeling it was well worth the time.

If you can’t get a regular slot, then learn to use email to get a meeting

That means writing a short email to intrigue them. Resist the urge to give them all the details. The more you put in the email, the less they need to talk to you.

That’s one of the reasons I’m a fan of writing just a few bullet points. Just make them ones that leave your boss curious to learn more. For example, if you and your team have accomplished something unusual, intrigue your boss by writing, “happy to have a brief call if you’d like to hear how we got that result. I think it could apply to teams X, Y and Z too.”

Or congratulate your boss on her presentation at the townhall meeting and let her know that “the division head said some great things about it at the mentoring lunch yesterday. Happy to brief you on it next time we speak live.”

And if the reason your need to speak live is because the topic is too sensitive to put in writing, tell them that too. Just make sure it lives up to that billing when you finally get on the Zoom or phone!

You’ll be in a great position to get another meeting if you make each meeting or conversation you have with your boss meaningful from their perspective and not just yours.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking you must have a long time slot

The busier your boss, the less time they’ll have. So, when it comes to meeting with your busy boss, remember that less is more. Become known for having short, crisp meetings. And use these precious meetings as a time to demonstrate you can be concise and succinct. This will also make you come across as more senior.

From a practical perspective, ask for a shorter time slot, like 45 minutes instead of an hour or better yet, 15-20 minutes instead of 30. And when you get in the meeting, use less of the allotted time than they’ve given you. When you end your meeting early, you give your boss one of the most valuable gifts possible: the gift of time.

In all likelihood, your boss is in back-to-back meetings without time to take a bio break. Your boss will be grateful for getting those extra 5 minutes back! And she’ll be more likely to say yes to meetings with you in the future.

So when it comes to getting a meeting with your busy boss, remember to use these three strategies:

  • Frame your ask – put it in terms of what’s in it for your boss and appeal to their curiosity
  • Get to know their assistant – they can become a valuable ally for getting you on your boss’s calendar
  • Meet them where they are – figure out where there might be times when you can catch your boss during the normal course of their day without having to set up a special time

Armed with these strategies, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to keep your boss updated and stay top of mind. Even when you have a boss who’s busy!

So how about you?

Which of these strategies would most help you get the meeting you want with your busy boss?

Leave a comment and let me know.