The voice on the other end of the phone is low and unhurried, sure but not arrogant.
Gazing at a panoramic view of the Andes mountains, which fill the wall-to-wall windows of my 15th-story co-working space in Medellín, Colombia, I ask for more of his story.
I can tell within 30 seconds that the man this voice belongs to does not waste words, and that when he talks, people listen.
And yet, as I will come to find out, the reason he's got me on the phone...
Is to help him solve exactly the same kind of challenge that people much further down the ladder in their careers are also facing.
"I got my MBA back in 2008, so I've been in the real world for over 20 years," he says. "And I guess I'm wondering, you know, how to get to the next level."
"What's next level look like for you?" I ask.
"CEO or President-level," he says.
"... I've led companies before, but mostly in Marketing and e-Commerce. I'm in a different industry now, and in a position where the recruiters are coming to me without my having to do much."
"But they're not putting you through to the decision makers?" I ask, eyeing the distant peaks.
"No. They're interested, but they're not passing me on."
"Ok. What do you think's in the way?"
"Well, a lot of these companies require that their CEO have a merchant background, someone who came up through the product and buying world and is really familiar with the product. So, as someone with a different background than what they're looking for, I fall into what you might call the 'second sphere' of consideration."
The classic catch-22: They won't give you the job without the experience; but you can't get the experience without the job.
Assuming you believe you can do the job... How do you show that you're qualified for it?
To the guy on the phone I say: "You've led teams before, you mentioned."
"Did you always know more than your team members did about how to do their jobs, or did they have more expertise than you?"
"No, they were the experts."
"And in your own words, what was the most important thing about your job as their leader, if not to do THEIR job?"
"Well, there are many styles of leadership. Some people are more command and control... but I believe my job as a leader is to get things out of the way, get them the resources they need, and set expectations for the people around them so they can do their jobs."
"And could you tell me a story, right now, about a time when that happened?"
He laughs. "Yes, there are many."
I ask him for one.
And to his immense credit, first he mentions a feeling of vulnerability.
I assure him that's normal -- a sign that we are on the right track.
He tells a story, ending with: "... And we saw double-digit growth during that period."
"Great, I say. "So what would you say is the moral of that story?"
There is a long pause.
"The story is not really about what happened," I remind him. "It's about what happens next. So what is it that you want them to take away from this story? What is it they can expect from you in the future?"
And slowly, realization dawns:
"The way I see it, it's not a leader's job to be the best at what his team does. It's a leader's job to make sure the team has everything they need, whether that's money or autonomy or protection from other demands, to do what they do better -- so that the company can grow."
"Ah-ha," I grin. "Sounds like you're speaking from experience. Do you have a lot of experience getting results with that approach?"
"Yes, I'd say I do."
"Do you think any of these companies could use some help with that?"
In his reply I can hear the grin in his voice -- a telltale sign that a nerve has been struck; something obscure has been illuminated.
Which means that our conversation can advance; but for now we'll press pause and say:
Never underestimate the power of putting things in your own words.
This is the key to being able to gracefully sidestep a catch-22...
... Demonstrate a deeper understanding of the ideas behind the jargon...
... And show that recruiter why it makes sense to pass YOUR name along... to the person who actually matters.
PS. This story highlights one of 4 "Power Stories" that are essential to master if you want to execute a successful career leap, transition or pivot -- no matter how high or low you are "on the ladder." If you know someone who could use some help generating momentum and opportunity in your career, pass this along so they can subscribe. It won't all get published on the blog!
PPS. I've been hard at work putting my most powerful story reframes, strategies and tactical tips for career transition into one place -- my Own Your Story accelerator, which will open for registration on October 24th. We'll be doing things a bit differently this fall -- stay tuned for more details.