The cold, hard facts about the consulting profession is that most change efforts fail. The failure has little to do with the quality of our project plans or recommended message points. Failure has everything do with ineffective change leadership at the top.
It's for this reason, the number predictor of the sustainability and impact of our work is the commitment of the leader that we are supporting, who is ultimately responsible for the change's success.
If you want to make a greater difference with your consulting, it begins with shifting your perspective on what your role is ultimately about. It's not about delivering a methodology. It's about supporting a leader through what are often their defining moments.
Your clients are not simply buyers representing an organization. They are people first who happen to work at an organization. They are people with private lives, hopes, fears, insecurities. Your first task if you want to develop meaningful client relationships is to demonstrate that their passions and priorities are also yours. Like all customers, they want to be known and understood.
Seasoned leaders will hit situations and challenges that go beyond the regular ebbs and flows. These challenges are those spikes that define a leader's true potential. How they handle these defining moments can be their finest hour.
Challenges that are big enough to call in a consultant or coach are the ones that hold out the possibility for good leader to become truly a great one as long as you deeply appreciate the real value of problems:
Related: Is Your Client Ready to Lead Change?
While it's necessary to listen deeply to what a client wants, it's not sufficient. You need to probe your client so you both understand what they need.
They will often bring you in with a clearly defined "ask" for a particular methodology because it feels safer to them than admitting they, as a seasoned leader, have a problem that they don't know the solution to. Therefore, normalize this for them by helping them get a wider perspective on their challenges so that they can put an more accurate frame on the size and scope of what they are dealing with.
The leaders will want the problems that they are bringing you in to solve to be about everybody else and anything else than their leadership. It's the processes that are broken, it's the conflict between their two direct reports that's the issue. Everything but them.
And 99% of the time it is them. Therefore, every interaction you have with your client is a part of your assessment process.
Consultants who do their jobs right work themselves out of a job. They approach their consulting in a way that transfers knowledge and skills to their clients so that:
Without the committed sponsorship, your consulting project is going nowhere...fast. Therefore, you have to be vigilant in your marketing and especially your contracting to test that your clients are ready to work with someone like you.
Problems are not something to be avoided. They have incredible value and are the reason that consultants who see themselves as companions and guides at these defining moments are in greater demand.
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