If you asked the average person to describe a consultant in 20 words, you’d probably find that ego-driven or some derivative of ego is in those 20 words. To be frank, as a consultant myself, this used to annoy me, mainly because it’s painfully accurate, but also because the word ego has a lot of negative connotations around it – it’s practically one step off calling someone a w*****
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more comfortable accepting that ego drives me, and rather than this being a negative, it can be a powerful tool for self-motivation. Like the song says: “Ego is not a dirty word”.
Good and Bad Ego
Most of the good consultants I’ve dealt with have a certain level of ego. They think that they are good at their job, they believe that they have better networks than their competitors and that they can service their clients better than anyone else in the market. And to be frank, the good consultants typically can, because their ego fuels them in their approach to delivering superior service. Their arrogance allows them to deal with the more senior end of the market where fees are higher and clients more selective on who they use. This gives these consultants confidence to have difficult conversations with clients, which allows for different approaches, leading to better results all round.
Surprisingly, with most good consultants that I’ve seen, their ego is driven by fear rather than vanity – they know that they’re good, but they fear not being good. They’re in a constant state of anxiety over not delivering on a project and having that affecting their reputation; they’ve learned that their reputation is worth more to them than a quick cheap win. They’re genuinely annoyed if they lose a project to a competitor but fuel this annoyance into self-reflection on what they could have done better.
The bad consultants I’ve met also have an ego, but in my experience are typically driven by vanity. They have the arrogance to believe they’re good (and typically tell everyone about it) and they back it up by highlighting the wins they have. However, they lack the self-reflection of their losses to learn and develop their skills. Bad consultants forget that there’s no divine right to a client, that client relationships are built on mutual respect, trust, and hard work. They forget that these relationships are tenuous, degrade over time (if you’re not careful), and fluctuate based on how well you’ve performed in your last assignment. Bad ego makes you think that you’re better than your competitors and has a default setting of you feeling superior. Quite frankly you’re not, and even if you are better than them at one stage – just like you, your competitors are evolving and can take over the top spot.
The lack of self-reflection in bad ego means that these consultants are brittle. Constructive criticism is rarely taken well and any failings they have aren’t developed through learnings but rather blamed on other things; it’s the company, the managers, their peers, clients, anything but them. This causes such consultants to move frequently (with tenures of around 12-18 months), and whilst their arrogance/confidence can fool some hiring managers to take them on to new roles they eventually get found out.
Perspectives Beyond Your Ego
Your ego drives you to look at things in a self-centred way. Trying to think beyond this will allow you to put things in a better perspective. It keeps your feet on the ground, allows you to still pat yourself on the back if it’s deserved, but also encourages you to identify areas for improvement. The following questions are things that I try to ask myself as a consultant within the recruitment space, but many of the questions translate to broader consulting areas.
If you win a job – why did they come to you in the first place?
- Was it on the price of service?
- Did they come to you first or as a backup to another provider?
- Did they deal with you exclusively or alongside other providers?
- Did they approach you early in the piece for strategic advice, or as a knee-jerk reaction to an immediate problem they had?
These questions will help you define how the client rates your service. They will help you determine if you’re a key service provider or just a means to an end. Understanding this can help you define your strategies in dealing with clients and help to dictate everything from how much time you spend developing the client, other strategic offerings that you may be able to offer the client as well as your price point and if you even want to deal with the client in the first place.
If you win a job – how important was the work you’ve done for the client in their overall scheme of things?
Over my time in recruitment, I’ve filled roles for some of the bigger corporate organizations where I’ve worked incredibly hard to source candidates for extremely niche areas of their business. From my perspective, I know that I’ve done an exceptional job in filling the role and to be egotistical about it, I know that few other consultants would have been able to fill the role or would have put the same amount of effort as I’d done into servicing the client. I’ve patted myself on the back and moved on, but when I’ve reapproached their HR team 12-18 months down the track to see if they need help with similar roles, they can’t remember who I am. That one role I’ve recruited for them, despite the quality service I’ve provided, has been dwarfed by the number of roles they fill in their “Business as Usual” areas. They aren’t disputing my service quality, just how important that role was to their broader organization.
Again, understanding what the client thinks of you rather than focusing on how well you think you did, will allow you to strategically focus your time on clients in a productive way.
When you’ve completed a job – how good was your service delivery?
Bad ego suggests that every time you complete a mandate from a client you win, the clients love you and your reputation improves. Truth is – it doesn’t, and even if you complete an assignment, there is the potential that the client may be unhappy with how you’ve delivered the service. Completing a mandate is, to be frank, the bare minimum that a client expects.
Have an honest assessment each time you complete an assignment to check that the service levels and results you’ve provided are something that you can be proud of. Preferably involve the client in seeking honest feedback; there are typically several times in a project when things don’t go according to plan, which the client doesn’t always see. Many times, these are valid problems outside the scope of what a consultant can be expected to have predicted or controlled and whilst the consultant may have done a tremendous job in keeping a project close to its original objectives, as the work done to mitigate this is done outside the visibility of the client their perception of your service may not be what you think.
At Planned Resources, we use regular customer service questionnaires for all filled roles, which gives clients an opportunity to express any concerns that they may have with our process. If there are any areas of concern. Asking these questions allows us to address any concerns the client may have or put in processes to stop similar events from occurring in the future.
Finally, in my experience, most of the time doing a good job with a client simply maintains your credibility rather than improving it and it takes something outstanding to significantly shift a client’s opinion of you. So, if a client does come back with positive feedback, do allow a moment to pat yourself on the back.
If you lose a job –
Bad ego suggests that you’ve lost the job because of the client’s ignorance of how great your service is, or that you’ve been undercut by a lesser supplier who has won the role purely on price. Bad ego gives you a reason to be offended by any client who worked within your sector and who goes elsewhere for their services – but viewing things objectively and from a client’s perspective, this shouldn’t always be the case. Clients have legitimate reasons for choosing who they do, from how well a consultant understands their business, the whole scope of the job, existing relationships, procurement panels, your visibility to them and yes, sometimes price. Trying to understand what these drivers were in a client’s decision gives you the ability to adjust your approach to them for future pitches (or not, potentially in the case of price).
If you’ve lost the role and are still genuinely disgruntled and can’t understand why the client has gone outside of you for the role – ring the client to find out their reasoning so that you can address any potential issues that you may not be aware of. There will still be times when the client’s reasoning doesn’t make sense to you, especially when developing relationships with new clients. If this happens, allow your good ego to walk away from them with your head held high, and focus your attention on the clients who do understand the value that you offer.
Ego isn’t a dirty word
So, in conclusion, ego can give a consultant confidence and pride in their service. This confidence can help them work collaboratively with clients and encourage them to innovate. In addition, a healthy fear of failure can also make a consultant strive to deliver outstanding results. However, it’s important to keep in mind that genuine reflection is required to keep ego in check and stop confidence from developing into cockiness.
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