A Good Consultant Recognizes a Need for Help

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Working and succeeding in a career as a project leadership consultant can result in surprising challenges and rewards. These ups and downs can test drive and uncover hidden weaknesses. Seeing them through and knowing when to seek assistance will increase your confidence and bring added value to the clients you serve.

After my first year at my current firm, I knew that I wanted to stay a long time, but also knew I wanted to grow professionally. That meant that setting a goal to identify and pursue a leadership role was my first priority, and the first step on that path was to take a greater role in the management of my accounts. My work to deliver high-quality projects on time and under budget continued apace. However, I also sought to lead on individual projects and kept an eye out for ways to leverage and grow my relationships through the work I accomplished. This is where the challenges and sacrifices began; I had to get creative with my time and needed to make a personal commitment to stretch myself. I knew that hard work and results would allow me to progress toward my goal of playing a greater leadership role in the firm. What I didn't count on was the inner window my quest would illuminate.

Earlier in my career, success came to me quickly and seemingly without great difficulty. In hindsight, this success may have come too easily and may not have prepared me for the obstacles I would need to overcome. I quickly built a book of business and began to take on more responsibility for my primary accounts. I began thinking about the next step, while not really knowing what form that next step would take. At that moment, I became aware of changes taking place that would result in an opening in the leadership role I had been seeking. The opportunity presented itself as the chance to open a Phoenix satellite office for my firm — a decision that would change my life.

When I look back at my first year in the Phoenix office, I realize that it was, without a doubt, the hardest stretch in my personal and professional life. In order to achieve my goals, I chose to make some sacrifices. With a two-month-old daughter, my family and I moved to a new city, and I set out to plant my company's flag in a new location. I made some critical mistakes in that first year, and through each I learned valuable lessons. My first mistake was thinking I could build a business in a new city the same way I built my previous book of business. Wrong — it was much harder and required a totally different approach. You always have to challenge the norm and look for new ways to attack a problem.

I failed to realize that taking a leadership role required a drastic change in my approach to managing and also re-defined my role with my colleagues. I was now viewed in a different light by other associates and clients. Nothing was easy. It took a few major missteps on my part to realize that I needed some support if I was going to survive in this role and build a lasting business. I remember many sleepless nights thinking that my leadership shortcomings were going to lead to failure, yet I had little idea how to fix things.

I looked for guidance from others at my firm, but it can be hard to share your weaknesses with your co-workers. I felt fortunate that the firm's partners and others reviewing my progress never lost faith in me. Ultimately, I knew I needed some serious help if I wanted to grow. So I looked outside of my firm and decided to get help from an executive coach. Over the next three months, my coach gathered feedback from those around me, and we addressed a number of leadership improvement areas.

It was an amazing process that opened my eyes to a number of things on which I needed to work. My coach provided a perspective that was different from the feedback-oriented model which had been so successful in my firm. It can be hard to explain, but consider the advice most consultants give their clients. Many times, your shortcomings may be very obvious, but when you are close to a situation, the obvious is often exactly what you miss. Another advantage I discovered in my coach were the tools he provided that allowed me to adjust my approach and address the areas I knew needed improvement. Finally, and most importantly, my coach made me realize the importance of admitting my shortcomings to those around me, as well as committing to making the improvements to turn negatives into positives.

Opening yourself up to very blunt and honest feedback can be a tough thing to do, but I stand here today knowing that the process gave me a new perspective on leadership. It took a great deal of humility and a willingness to change and grow to realize my goals. I truly believe that this experience gave me the strength to take the lumps which inevitably come with a process of self-improvement. These lumps kept me hungry to succeed. Of course, the process has not ended, and despite a successful office and another promotion for my efforts, my growth as a leader and as a consultant continues. I know this process of improvement will continue, but I also know now that I have the skills to persevere and can relish every new challenge as a new chance to succeed.
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