If you want the business, find the spark!

I have a friend of mine who likes to use the term “spark” to describe the emotional connection between two people beginning a romantic relationship. Most of us can recall a situation in our past where all the “specifications” for a new relationship were perfectly met, but where the chemistry between the two people just wasn’t strong enough to create an authentic romantic connection.

I’d like to suggest that, as are talking about a business opportunity with a client or prospect, some of the same emotional wiring that creates a romantic spark is going to be very influential in whether or not we find the energy to support working together.

People have said, and I completely agree, that most people make decisions based on emotions, and then rearrange the facts and logic path to support a decision they’ve already made on an emotional basis.

Here are two questions to consider as we are talking with a client or prospect about a new project they are considering:

Can we feel the emotion they are carrying for the project?

Can we find a complementary emotion in both our client and ourselves that could become the chemistry that drives our working together on that project and others to come?

The answers to these questions could help us understand how committed our contact is to this business outcome.   Often, someone may have reached out to us to discuss a project which, frankly, they don’t care a flip about.   They’re only engaging us to satisfy a commitment to someone else to “look into it”.  That’s a long way from “get ‘er done!”  On their side of the equation, there is no “spark”.   That could be a good sign that this project is a nonstarter. Wish them well, pick up your hat, and walk (maybe run!) for the door.

On the other hand, if we believe that the value proposition for the project is genuinely compelling for this company, then we need to find someone else in the organization to become our champion, someone who has the spark (maybe even created the spark) and who provide the emotional energy for the project to move forward.   Continue the conversation and probe to find that person.  If you can engage that person in the conversation, your chances for success become infinitely better.

Epilogue:  The chances for creating a winning value proposition and a long term client relationship get infinitely better if we can find the emotional “spark” for both the project at hand and the on-going consultant-client relationship between us.

 

Posted in Advising, Business Development, Client Relationships, Personal Connection | Leave a comment

Before You Say No, Five Steps to Find Your Yes

After the final no, there comes a yes and on that yes, the future of the world hangs.    (Wallace Stevens)

A sales executive friend of mine likes to say that the selling only begins after you’ve heard the first “No”.  I always liked the expression, but it’s only recently that I’ve been thinking more about how great consultants move past a client’s reluctance to move forward on their recommendations… how they move past that initial No.  As I have thought more about it, I have begun to really appreciate the wisdom in my friend’s saying.

Salespeople call an early attempt to gain customer commitment a “trial close”. When the answer to that trial close is No, many (maybe most) of them decide that the deal is not likely to happen and they walk away. The skilled salespeople use that first “no” to energize themselves. They become intensely interested in understanding what it will take to get to the Yes.  And then, the real selling begins…

In many of his talks, Peter Block tells a story about a young man who asks his beloved, “Will you marry me?” She energetically says, “No!”   His response:  “Great, then we can talk!”   Inwardly, he is thinking, “Game On!!!”   He’s obviously been listening to my sales friend.

Block also speaks eloquently about the usefulness of well managed conflict to define the win-win crucial to effective consulting.  I love his quote, “Insight resides in moments of tension.” (Block 2011 )

William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s program on negotiation and author of “The Power of A Positive No”(Ury 2007) , says it this way:

“Perhaps the single biggest mistake we make when we say No is to start from No. We derive our No from what we are against – the other’s demand or behavior. A Positive No calls on us to do the exact opposite and base our No on what we are for. Instead of starting from No, start from Yes. Root your No in a deeper Yes – a Yes to your core interests and to what really matters.”

Five steps to finding your Yes:

  1. When you first hear whatever it is that infuriates you and you want to scream “No” back, notice your emotions.  What are you feeling, and how intensely?
  2. Step back, and do whatever it takes to give yourself some time to recover and regain control. Feign a coughing spell, or decide to call a break for some coffee.  Whatever it takes.
  3. Remind yourself that managed conflict is the most positive step you can take to get to the outcome you want, to your Yes. This is a good thing!
  4. Ask yourself, what Yes are you seeking that is inconsistent with their No? Unpack and rediscover your most basic needs and the values.  Which are relevant, here?  Let these questions help you be clear about what you really want and need in this situation.  Your Yes.
  5. Distill your thinking down to a specific interest in this situation. When you get around to exploring that interest with your partner, it will give you confidence and it will make it easier for them to understand your Yes, and align it to theirs.

This series of steps has more moving parts that I can cover in a short article.  Check out Ury’s excellent chapter on Discover Your Yes (Ury 2007) for a much more complete discussion.

Epilogue: 

“A No uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘Yes” merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble”      (Mahatma Ghandi)

The young woman in Block’s story begins the real courtship with her honest “No”.  Her suitor wisely recognizes that No as the beginning of the dialogue that he hopes will get him to Yes.

How will you handle it, the next time someone tells you No?  And why did you wait so long to ask the question?

Great Reads:

Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.

Ury, W. (2007). The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. New York, Bantam Dell.

Posted in Advising, Client Relationships, Emotional Intelligence, Managing Conflict, Self Confidence | Leave a comment

The network’s down! Five ways to empower your teams with Commanders’ Intent.

What would your people do if they were suddenly cut off from all ability to contact their leadership and other sources of information, perspective, and resources?

Empower them to flex to the situation by understanding “Commander’s Intent”

Students of military strategy often use the term, “the fog of war” to describe a situation where leaders and troops lose contact with their chain of command and must deal with the ensuing confusion.  In order to enable their people to continue to press forward and take initiative without immediate guidance, the military has developed a concept what they call “commander’s intent”.  Through training and reinforcement, they give soldiers a clear vision of the intended outcome which enables them to take the initiative and tap their natural creativity to drive toward that vision.

What’s the benefit?

Military leaders have long understood that combat is a messy thing! Lines of communication are broken. Anticipated resources don’t show up. Key people become unavailable. Unexpected constraints pop-up and become problems to solve. Their enemies (and our competitors!) are planning, too. They may throw something at us that we didn’t expect.

The notion of commander’s intent enables our teams to take independent and continuous actionThey can move at the speed of the situation, They do not need to continuously check back with senior leadership to gain approval to take the next action.

The solution space

Great leaders create a “solution space” by the rules and constraints they impose on their team. That solution space is bounded by what the team can’t do. In business, the most common boundaries might be created by legal considerations, marketing strategy, ethics, or company policy.  An example might be a policy that requires CEO approval to authorize an engagement that will lose money for the firm. Once the leader establishes the relevant and compelling constraints, what is left are the millions of other combinations of available actions, the “solution space”.  All those options are available to the team member if they understand the space and feel empowered to operate in in all of it.

If they understand the ultimate desired end state, and if they know clearly the boundaries of their solution space, and if (this is big!) we have given them the flexibility and encouragement to operate freely in that space, then they can use their own initiative and creativity to realize the outcomes envisioned in the commander’s intent.

Five Ways to establish your Commander’s Intent:

  1. Paint the picture” of the end state in very clear, high contrast, colorful terms. Use relevant personal examples and stories liberally. Your team should be able to repeat it back to you instantly and accurately.
  1. Invest the time and effort to be sure that everyone understands in the most concrete terms your organization’s strategic goals. That understanding becomes the anchor for everything you ask them to do.  Use every means available to be sure your team understands the vision in the context of their individual roles. Great venues to do this are “coffee talks”, articles in your employee newsletters or blogs, and specific reference to the strategy in the resolution of real-time business issues.  (Obviously, there are many others…  Talk about your visions and specific goals incessantly!
  1. When delegating, take the time it requires for your people to understand the desired outcome. How does that outcome fit into a broader strategy you have already clarified for them?  With good questions, test their level of understanding and how they might apply that understanding in a real-time way.
  1. Carefully challenge any constraints or boundaries on your team’s actions. Limit constraints to the minimum necessary.  Be thoughtful about the constraining effects of any constraints you apply.
  1. If you are a manager of managers, take advantage of your “bully pulpit” to model to your middle managers the encouragement of new frames of reference, and challenging unnecessary constraints. Enlist candid feedback from your entire team about how well you are doing.
Posted in Advising, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Mission and Vision, Organizational Culture, Organizational Teamwork, Team Development | Leave a comment

How Perfect is Perfect Enough?

A business professor assigned a group of MBA students to visit a local custom door factory and observe some of the craftsmen there.

The students arrived at the factory and were assigned to observe an elderly and obviously very seasoned door carver.  They arrived in his work area, equipped with sharp pencils and clip boards.

The door carver paid scant attention to them.  He had already made quite a bit of progress on the door he was working on, and it was already a thing of great beauty. He would carve for a while, stand back and take it all in, and then go to a different part of the door and carve some more.

As he carved, the door became ever more ornate and beautiful.  The MBA students were amazed at his level of concentration and his obvious dedication to his work.

After a number of cycles of silently carving, standing back, assessing, choosing a new spot, and carving some more, one student asked the wood carver, “How do you know when you’re finished?”

The woodcarver looked up, and said, “When they come to take it away.”

He was depending on someone else to decide  when the product was ready for market. He was deriving his joy from working at the margin and making the door ever more perfect.

“How perfect is perfect enough?”  It seems to me that answering that question  is a critical role that product managers and project managers must play in any complex project. The practitioners, the scientists, the engineers, and the door carvers want to keep carving. Successful projects require someone to make a business judgment.  What criteria define “perfect”?  When must it be done?  What will people pay for it?  From those questions and judgments, the team creates the definition of when the door is done.

Here are some questions to consider when framing a complex project:

What value are we providing? Is it a door that will keep us warm in the winter, or a door that is a thing of beauty and makes us proud of our home?

Who are we serving?  The market for sturdy and energy efficient doors is significantly different than the market for beautiful doors.

When does the customer need it?  Is it October and getting cold?  Or is it spring and we’re fixing up a home for our daughter and her family to move into?

How perfect is perfect enough?  Am I letting perfectionism push the project completion past the point of diminishing returns and delaying the primary benefit?

Epilogue: 

Most complex enterprises require the right mix of the dreamers and artisans who take joy in the craft of the work and the pragmatists who want to serve a well-defined market with the right product,with just right set of features, at just the right time, and at just the right price.

Sometimes, those talents live inside the same skin.  Most of the time, they do not.

Posted in Advising, Asking Questions, Business Acumen, Critical Thinking, Mission and Vision, Organizational Teamwork | Leave a comment

How are you showing up as an active listener? Five traps to avoid.

How often do you show up for a meeting or a discussion, only to find your partner in a complete state of disarray, heavily distracted by telephones, email, social media, other employees stopping in to interject a thought or start a new conversation, etc.  You get the picture!  Or worse yet, they show up unengaged, unprepared, and don’t seem to be understanding or caring about what you’re telling them.

Through our research of several behaviors that create high levels of trust and credibility, active listening has emerged as the most critical behavior (by a significant margin) in the eyes of our respondents. With that in mind, what can we as consultants and subject matter experts do to sharpen those critical listening skills?

Researchers in effective communications have coined the term “immediacy in communications” to describe the set of behaviors which either lay the framework for an effective dialogue, or sow the seeds of disaster.  Those researchers define immediacy as the way we signal our motivation to communicate freely, and the positive feelings we impart to our partner. These behaviors, both verbally and nonverbally, communicate that we are warm, involved, interested, and available to communicate.  Verbal immediacy factors include how we use pronouns – are we using I and you, or we and us; our use of formal or informal manners of addressing our partners that are comfortable and appropriate; how open we are to sharing personal information and creating vulnerability; our use of compliments to open the communication paths. Nonverbal behaviors might involve cues such as touch, eye contact, distance and personal space, smiling, tone of voice.  Most of our verbal and nonverbal behaviors tend to be instinctual.  We need to develop strong awareness of our own behaviors and the cues our partners are giving us , to sense how we are behaving and how it’s hitting our partner.

So, what are the traps, and how can we avoid them?

Here is a list of five behavior traps which work against our immediacy, and ultimately diminish the quality of  our listening and our understanding of our partner.  For each trap, we offer some ideas about how to avoid them.

Walking in without a true sense of engagement and honest motivation to help:  Your partner will quickly sense if you’re not truly interested and engaged, and will begin defending themselves against your disinterest.  Before the meeting, try to motivate yourself by finding some element of the situation, your relationship and past history with them, or a thread from a previous conversation that you can pick up on and pursue with interest.

Failing to align with the where they are coming from:   Examples might include failing to pick up on emotions that are working in them at the time, their point of view on the topic at hand, cultural differences and primary language.  Before the conversation, do some homework about them if you don’t know them well, what you might anticipate to be their emotional state, some appropriate due diligence on their business, their role, their background (LinkedIn is great for this).  You should walk in knowing what’s reasonable to know and ready to get to the meat of the discussion.

Failing to provide real-time feedback that lets them know you are really listening and have processed what they’ve told you:  Examples might be shallow feedback that either indicates you weren’t listening, or weren’t comprehending what they were trying to tell you.  Try “reframing” or summarizing in your own words not only what they said, but how they feel about it, what the impact is likely on them, and other comments that indicate that you thought through the implications of what they’ve told you.

Making it about you:    A common faux pas is interjecting a personal story, even if relevant, which breaks the flow of what your partner is trying to tell you. It comes across as if you have hijacked the discussion. Instead, show empathy and maybe an indication that you’ve had a similar experience, but avoid providing so much detail that you break the flow of their story.

Being too eager to prescribe ideas for how to fix the problem at hand:  We often listen just enough to find a common story in our repertoire and immediately go there, complete with detailed instructions about just how to solve their problem. Metaphorically this would be the same as the doctor prescribing brain surgery when we walk in complaining of a headache. We haven’t earned the right, yet, to go to prescribing action.  One common tip is, when you sense that you’re about to make a recommendation for action, shut that down, and substitute another question. Dig in on your discovery questions, until you are sure you understand the issue and they have validated that you understand it. When you get there, then you can invite them to move into brainstorming and action planning if they really want it.  When the active listening is really working, they often discover the path forward for themselves, through the dialogue.  Before you go to action planning, ask permission and validate that they are ready and wanting to go there.

Epilogue:

Active listening is not easy work, but it’s critical to build the relationship and the communications path which is critical to earning our partners’ trust and credibility.

Come to important conversations caring, committed, and prepared, and listen twice as much as you talk.

Posted in Active Listening, Advising, Asking Questions, Client Relationships, Communications, Emotional Intelligence, Feedback, Personal Connection, Reframing | Leave a comment

Time management triage – Three tips to find the win-win

It was 1999, and I had just been promoted to the role of a global sales manager for a
software and services business of a Fortune 50 company.   It was a new job for me with global scope and it was kicking my butt.  I was feeling very overwhelmed.

My response was to power through and just work harder and work longer hours in order to get everything done.

The problem with that was that I was spending every bit of energy on climbing my learning curve, and doing all the new tasks.  I was leaving nothing left for routine dialogue and check-ins with my team. I was starting to get feedback from my assistant that people were expressing frustration with my lack of availability to them.   Even understanding that frustration, I still didn’t have time to get ahead of the curve and fill that gap in the development of my team.

While I was coming up the learning curve I was cheating my team of the ability to grow as they helped me come up that curve. It’s not that they weren’t willing.  I just wasn’t letting them.  I was missing the opportunity to reframe my dilemma into a development opportunity for my team.

In retrospect, when you’re scrambling, remember what it was that made this new exciting and fun, that ignited passion in you.  Said another way, what it was that made this work important and meaningful to you and which you were uniquely qualified to do.  Everything else could be delegated, hopefully to someone who would experience it as a development opportunity.

Most of us have heard the Stephen Covey metaphor about rocks, pebbles and sand. (Covey 1989) Big rocks are the most important things in our lives:  core values, relationships, the activities which define us.  Pebbles:  the less important tasks.  Sand: the trivial many, things that fill up our time and don’t add much value.  Never heard it?  There is a cute YouTube video below – just remember that “golf balls” are big rocks, and don’t miss the plot twist at the end…   (Kay 2016)

Three tips to turn a situation where you are overwhelmed into a win-win:

Pay attention to what you felt were your unique qualifications for the new job.   Those qualify as some of your “big rocks”.   They are what got you here, and which will make you and your organization successful going forward.

Turn your attention to the developmental needs of your team. Are there connections between the work you are not getting to, and the development objectives you and your team have identified for themselves? Developing your team should always be one of your big rocks.  There might very well be a win-win if you can connect some of the work you’re not getting to with the development needs of one of your team.   Paying attention to developing your team is clearly a big rock, but the actual tasks you’re considering delegating are most likely gravel for you. That said, they could be a big rock or at least developmental for someone on your team. Win-win!

Finally, what are you doing that just doesn’t need doing?    Stop doing it, now, and don’t give it to anyone else!  That is a win-win for everyone!   (Even if it is one of the things that you really like to do, it helps to realize that it’s just not that important!)

Epilogue:

Reframe your time management dilemma into an opportunity to engage and develop your team by sharing the load and delegating important work that’s no longer strategic for you, and by ditching work that no one should do.

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.  (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Great Reads and Views: 

Covey, S. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York, Simon and Schuster.

Kay, M. (2016). “A Valuable Lesson for a Happier Life.” from https://youtu.be/SqGRnlXplx0.

 

Posted in Employee Engagement, Managing Yourself, Reframing, Team Development, Time Management | Tagged | Leave a comment

Five Dysfunctions of a Question: And How to Avoid Then

broken-question-501So many dysfunctions, so little time….

As a professional coach, I get to ask a lot of questions. For each brilliant one that makes things clear for my client and provides me deep insight into what they’re working on, I ask others that are less than brilliant.

Here are some thoughts about five of the potholes I’ve driven into more times than I care to admit, my five dysfunctions.  I know that there are many, many, more, and would love to hear about your favorite ones. Write me a comment.  Make it a conversation!

1.  Asking from undetermined or inflexible status

Symptoms:

In his excellent book, Humble Inquiry (Schein 2013), Edgar Schein defines three forms of humility which stem from three separate forms of relative status between the asker of the question and the receiver of the question. In a more traditional environment, we naturally give status to someone who is more experienced, more wealthy, born to a higher social class, or some other preordained reason for considering that person and a higher status than our own. Schein calls that first form of humility “basic humility”.  In these situations, we may not feel that we have the right to ask the tough questions.

In cultures more like those of current European or North American cultures, we tend to grant status based on what other people have achieved. For example, if someone who has achieved a higher academic level or a professional than we have, we may refer to them as “Dr.”,  “Professor”, “Reverend” or some other title of respect.  Schein calls that “optional humility”.  Similar to basic humility, this status difference may inhibit our level of curiosity and candor.  We don’t want to look uninformed or less competent.

The third form he calls “here and now” humility. This humility is driven by a short-term dependence by the question asker on the answer giver.   Often, in situations where there is mutual need, that dynamic may shift back and forth, as each participant is asking questions relative to their specific need. There is a potential pothole here, if both participants don’t come to the conversation understanding their need, understanding how the other person can help them meet their need, and if they are not sufficiently flexible to give and take humility as the conversation demands. Said another way, they are stuck in some pre-existing status.

How to avoid them:

Know what you need and ask questions to understand what others need.

Know what you want to meet your need.

Be aware of any status bias you might have, and be confident in your questions.

2. Asking from lack of presence

Symptoms:

Ever catch someone zoning out, and then struggling to respond to a question, and pose another?  Maybe they were distracted, continuously checking their watch, or noticing when their phone vibrated or the text sound was going off?  Did they answer a question you didn’t ask?  Not keeping pace with what you’ve said or the question you posed?  Leave you wondering where they were, or what they were thinking?  Pretty clear that they weren’t tuned into you and the conversation you were trying to hold.

How to avoid them:

If this is you, make sure you clear your calendar, turn your phone off, and otherwise clear your mind and your environment to be fully there.  If you can’t, be honest, and ask to reschedule.

If this is your partner, don’t be a victim!  Let them know you notice that they must have something important going on and offer to reschedule.  If they’re not there, shame on them.  If you sit there and don’t call them out (graciously!), then shame on you!

3.  Asking from a fixed point of view

Symptoms:

You go in with a fixed mindset.  You know you’re right.  You’re fishing for the answer you want.  Maybe you’ve prepared a few clever questions that lead to that answer.   You already know the answer to the question and you’re using a question to set up a dialogue stream that you’re hoping for.  Some of your questions sound like they come from a legal drama.  You feel like you want to argue with them because they’re not taking the bait and coming to your conclusion.

How to avoid them:

Focus more on asking from curiosity to understand something you don’t.

It’s ok to have a goal for the conversation, but it works out best if you ask questions that lead to better understanding.  If you understand the questions, and the significance to your client’s objectives, you’re much more likely to be ready to follow the conversation, add value, and get them interested in you and how you can help them.

Once they’re engaged, and you’re well enough prepared to have an open conversation with them, good things happen.  The path forward is much more clear for you and them.  … and you haven’t had to pull them along by their nose.  

4.  Cross Examining

Symptoms:

You believe you’re right and you’re asking questions with the intent to prove them wrong.  Some of your questions sound like “gotcha” questions.  They are reacting to you defensively, as if they don’t trust you.  They act like they see you as argumentative.

How to avoid them:

Resist asking questions with the express intent of teeing up an opportunity to tell, to show how smart you are.

Allow for the fact that you may not be right, and that they may bring new truth to the discussion

5.  Asking without prior investment

Symptoms:

Your partner seems ill at ease, maybe guarded or defensive.  They’re answering in very short sentences or just yes or no.  They don’t seem to get the point of your questions, and ask you to restate them.  Your questions take longer than the answer.  Your questions seem to ramble, as if you’re framing them on the fly. Maybe you change directions in the middle of a question, back up and start over.  You ask complex multi-part questions, maybe a hypothetical thrown in with some if-then logic for a grace note.

How to avoid them:

Invest in understanding your partner.  Have a plan for the questions you want to ask.  Would they see the relevance of the question to challenges they are likely facing?

Do some homework on their key industry trends and connect what you know about them to get a conversation started.

Frame your questions in an open form, without a clear answer, and something that will stretch them to answer.

Ask your question as simply as you can. Avoid rambling questions with multiple components.  Great questions have a little bit of set up, and then are very short, maybe just a few words.

Make the questions relevant to what they just told you.  The best questions flow logically out of something they said, so no set up is necessary.  Think of a tennis match where the ball is returned back and forth over the net smoothly.  Like a dance, the players are sensing where the flow is taking them.

Epilogue

When the flow of questions and the dialogue is natural and they’re opening up to you, that’s your sign that you have done your homework, you’ve earned their trust and credibility, and you’re ready to work with them to find the win-win.

Good Reads:

Schein, E. (2013). Humble Inquiry. Oakland, CA, Berrett-Koehler.

 

 

 

Posted in Active Listening, Asking Questions, Communications | Leave a comment

Ascendent now offers the Pearman Personality Integrator™

pearman_500Users of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator often comment that it’s not that useful to understand your natural behavior preferences if your environment and job are demanding other behaviors for you to be successful.  (For example, about half of the world are introverts, but North Americans and Europeans prefer extroverted behaviors from their leaders.)

Wouldn’t it  great if a type assessment could show you both how you prefer to behave naturally, as well as how you you actually behave in your environment?  And beyond that, help you develop the skills to flex skillfully to bridge those differences?

Ascendent Leadership is proud to announce that it is one of the first 30 consultants in the world to offer the Pearman Personality Indicator, announced in 2015 by Roger Pearman and Multi-Health Systems.  Roger is recognized globally as a preeminent expert in personality type in the world today.  (More about Roger)

The Pearman offers individuals the ability to understand their full range of personality functioning, as well as how they assess and develop flexibility and agility skills which enable them to operate effectively within and outside of their natural personality type.  Learn more about the Pearman.

Write us to learn more about how Ascendent can help you put this instrument to work, enabling your leaders to understand their natural and demonstrated personalities more fully, and to enable them to display the type of flexibility they need to lead their teams most effectively.

Posted in Psychometric Assessments, Talent Management | Leave a comment

How are your clients grading you on your authenticity?

blacksmith-700In a recurring theme in our current election cycle, both major candidates are suffering low poll scores with their levels of authenticity, trust and transparency.

In the early 1990’s, I remember there was a university professor and consultant that my company used quite a bit to put on visionary discussions of what was then was called client – server computing. The fellow was quite charming, an accomplished speaker, and delivered a 100% flawless presentation. The explanations were crisp, the jokes were funny, and he never missed a beat. Customers loved it!

That all sounded great, until I took a second customer to one of his sessions. It was then that I realized that the sessions were 100% scripted. Every word and every joke came out sounding exactly like the first time I had heard him. I suppose that if I had only had to hear him once, that wouldn’t have been a problem. But when I realized how completely rote it was, he dropped down several pegs in my estimation of him and how much he really understood the topic.  One theory: If he knew it that well, he would not have had to so meticulously script it and rehearse it. Second theory (and the one I think is true): He did know the material, but he valued the flawless performance of the “show” higher than his personal authenticity. In his defense, because these were one-time marketing events, the sales people attending with their clients were really the ones bearing the burden for the longer term relationship. Maybe he made the right choice as a showman, but very few clients would have stood for that in someone they wanted to consider an advisor.

I think that scientists and technologists often fall into the same trap. They feel that their role as an expert compels them to be correct at all times and for their “performance” to be “flawless”.

I’m thinking that the only way someone could accomplish both goals, would be to operate well within their margins of safety, to take no bold or outrageous positions, and therefore to deny their client the very best of their thinking. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the concept of “flow” (Csikszentmihalyi 2013 – a great TED talk) describes the phenomenon as occurring when you are performing at the very limit of your capabilities. It seems to me that that it would be very difficult to be operating at the edge, if we were afraid of straying just over the edge, and making a mistake or an overstep.

Being married to an expectation of 100% correctness makes us less willing to risk our ideas and statements being scrutinized and found to be faulty. That in turn prevents us from being fully present, fully engaged, and fully authentic. Clients expect our full engagement. Unless we have a terrible track record for making really bad mistakes, they will forgive the occasional error, because they know they are getting our best efforts and every bit of our creativity.

Said another way, we have to let go of our desire for perfection to deliver our best game and be considered real and authentic.

Experienced consultants know that the best customer relationships are often forged in the heat of resolving a missed expectation. For sure, when a mistake happens, there is a short term loss of trust and credibility.   What rebuilds, and ultimately deepens, client trust, is how the consultant owns the situation, how they react to it, and how they resolve it.  (In most cases, there is plenty of blame to go around, and the client knows it.) The client learns that regardless of who made the mistake, the consultant will do whatever it takes and bring whatever resource is necessary to resolve the issue at hand.

Three tips to becoming more authentic:

Don’t confuse being smart or “right” with being trusted.

Give your clients your very best, maybe risking a mistake or overstep, but in the process earning their trust and loyalty.

Immediately own (or gracefully share) the inevitable mistakes and resolve them without excessive focus on whose fault it is.

Epilogue:

In the words of Peter Block, “In the end, it is our authenticity, the way we manage ourselves, and our connection to our clients that is our methodology, our marketing strategy, and the fruit of our labor.” (Block 2011 )

Great Reads and Views:

Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Creativity, Innovation & Managing “Flow”. TED talk

Posted in Advising, Client Relationships, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Personal Connection | 2 Comments

The 5 Most Important Skills to Drive Trust and Credibility

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 3.59.01 PMWhat are the five most critical skills to earning trust and credibility?

Find out how top performing consultants are answering this question! Respond to our survey and we’ll send you the results.  Survey has one multiple choice question and takes less than five minutes.  Thanks!

When I talk to consulting leaders, it’s not hard to quickly reach agreement that there are a set of communications and relationship skills which make a world of difference in how well their technologists, scientists, and subject matter experts align with and communicate effectively with the individuals and organizations they are serving.

The practical problem which follows is, which of those skills will have the greatest impact? Because it is difficult and unrealistic to develop capability on 20 or so parallel fronts, it’s helpful to get a sense for which of those skills and knowledge elements are the most critical to develop in the short term, and which can be deferred to later stages of development.

In this month’s letter, I’ll discuss the work that I’ve been doing with a couple of key partners, and invite you to participate in the research which will help us answer the prioritization question.

Partners International, Discovery Consulting and Ascendent Leadership are working together to better understand the critical competencies which enable a technologist, scientist, or subject matter expert to develop into the role of valued consultant or advisor.  We want to understand how successful consultants build trust and credibility with the people they serve.

As part of our work, we have isolated 20 competencies which we believe are core to this transformation from subject matter expert to consultant.  Here they are, grouped by a high level outline of categories.  Even though we placed each of them in one category for simplicity, many or most of them could be relevant in multiple categories.

Here is our take on the four key categories and 20 discrete competencies:

Emotional Intelligence Communications
Awareness of personal emotions Customer focus and presence
Reading others’ emotions Asking powerful questions
Understanding client relationship needs Active listening
Demonstrating confidence Delivering difficult messages
Defending beliefs without being aggressive Resolving conflict
Credibility Managing Change
Executive presence Aligning with the client’s vision
Business acumen – general Identifying, validating client requirements
Business acumen – specific to client firm or industry Identifying alternative strategies, choosing the best
Asking relevant questions Identifying, managing barriers
Telling relevant stories Describing a clear path to the client vision

We believe that all of these competencies are important and could be critical in any given situation.  That said, we want to understand how consulting leaders would prioritize this list of 20 competencies to best assist their technologists, scientists, and subject matter experts in developing the communications and relationship skills they need to become true consultants and advisors to their clients.

Want to participate?  Great!  We invite you to take a short (3-5 min) survey which asks you to rank order those 20 competencies into four levels of importance to you.  We also want to hear your input on any other competencies you see as critical that we did not include in our list. We will return the survey results to you if you provide your email address when taking the survey.

Click the link below to take the survey, and thanks!

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Posted in Active Listening, Advising, Communications, Emotional Intelligence, Feedback, Organizational Teamwork, Reframing | Leave a comment