The Consultant Mindset: PART 2
In the last article I looked at two factors it is important to let go in making the move from full-time to self-employment – Belonging and Control. This time I would like to look at another two that it is important to adopt – Awareness and Me Plc. These also happen to be key leadership skills, which means their development could support a potential return to organisational life, and very possibly at a more senior leadership level.
Awareness. A sophisticated awareness of oneself and others is a core consultancy skill. Whilst there are undoubtedly examples of consultants stuck on “transmit” rather than “receive”, they will be tolerated only so long as their technical abilities are essential to a client. Otherwise, they risk failing to detect subtle, but all-important, differences in corporate cultures and cues in client responses. Unaware of their own impact, they are unable consciously to adapt.
This is clearly an issue for all of us in professional life. But it is central for a consultant who has regularly to move between a variety of organisations and individuals, and therefore needs to discern shifts in situational and interpersonal dynamics faster. Moreover, client organisations are typically much less invested in the relationship with a consultant than they are with an employee, so it’s far easier for them to end a relationship if they feel a connection is missing. All else being equal, clients choose to work with those they like.
- Become genuinely interested in others. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has remained in print since 1936 for one straightforward reason – the advice it imparts is timeless. One suggestion he offers is that a person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language, so learn it. Another, is to be a good listener. And another is to smile. If these abilities don’t come naturally to you, get practising.
- Seek feedback and continual professional development. Fundamental to an individual’s effectiveness and their ability to flex in different circumstances is an awareness of their impact. The only way you will raise and maintain that awareness is actively to seek feedback from others – after all, they’re the experts on your impact. At the same time, the only way you will keep developing your value to organisations is continually to invest in your own professional development. One way of doing so would be to attend courses, which might offer the additional benefit of developing your network.
Me plc. You may be fantastically talented with the potential to bring untold value to an organisation, but they can only contact you if they know you are there. Yet consultants often consider selling themselves as the single hardest task they face. Furthermore, whereas in the past you may have been able to cold call and have people respond because of your job title and the organisation you represent, now you are a lone individual. You need to become your own brand, with a succinct, coherent and compelling pitch for what it is you offer.
This demands that you define and refine your distinctiveness so clients are clear in hiring you what it is they are buying. The unavoidable risk in doing so is that the more specialist your skills the narrower their relevance. However, it is very unlikely clients are going to buy a vague, generalist offering unless you come with extraordinary references. At the same time, if your distinctiveness captures both what you are both good at and enjoy, your appeal and potential effectiveness are equally enhanced.
- Define your strengths. You never have a second chance to make a first impression. Make sure this impression is consistent with the brand you want to present, both in person and in writing. The messages and formatting of your CV and your website are all part of this, as is the way you dress and introduce yourself. Your fees need then also confidently to price your distinctive value to the client.
- Personal organisation matters. Without a PA and without the structures of business life, the onus is on you to be organised. Your ability to track commitments and maintain contacts will quickly define how many connections you win and keep. At some point you may choose to invest in a virtual PA to help manage your diary, but this will not abrogate the need to take responsibility for your own organisation and time management. As a consultant, time is money and, whereas clients are allowed to get things wrong, you’re likely to pay for this luxury.
Many who choose to go independent life simply can’t imagine going back into a large organisation, whereas for some it proves a temporary move. Either way, it can be one with all sorts of life and career advantages, and one which benefits significantly from adopting the right mindset, right from the start.
David Presswell, Partner, Aretai LLP
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