What are you afraid of?

Many people have an irrational fear lurking deep within them that limits their ability succeed.  Whether it’s fear of public speaking, confrontation or the ability to ask for the sale, they let that fear limit their ability to achieve their goals.  I’ve experienced some of the same fears and have learned to overcome them.  The amazing thing I’ve learned about it is that overcoming fear is so much easier than living with it. The key steps I’ve learn about overcoming fears are:

Recognize the fear – Some people live in denial about their anxiety.  They may claim that they are fine with public speaking and that they have done it many times.  But when opportunities arise to speak, they suggest others who may have more knowledge of the subject matter.  I’ve seen them even chide the others for being afraid if they resist.  The first step to overcoming a fear is to recognize it and admit that you must take action to overcome it.

Convince yourself that you can overcome the fear – I remember performing in concerts when I was in the high school choir.  We would perform songs as a full choir, some ensembles and then a few students were chosen to sing solos.  I was fine when we sang as a full choir or ensemble, where I could share the stage with others and they could hide any mistakes I might make.  But when I was selected for a solo, I was nervous.  It’s not as if I thought my parents or my friends’ parents would throw rotten tomatoes if I missed a note, but I would get serious butterflies leading up to the performance.  At one concert, I turned to a friend who was also scheduled to sing a solo and asked him if he was nervous.

“No” he said, “I’m looking forward to it.  I love to sing and I enjoy performing for others”

That gave me a new perspective on it.  Instead of going into it with a mindset of fear, I approached it as an opportunity to share what I enjoyed with others.  Whatever fear you may be harboring, if you teach yourself to enjoy it and look forward to it, it will significantly reduce the anxiety you feel.

Confront the fear – Most people deal with fear by not dealing with it.  They spend amazing amounts of energy figuring out ways not to confront their fear.  When I was in college, despite what I learned in high school about singing in front of an audience, I still had a fear of public speaking.  Once for a group project assignment, we were tasked with giving a final presentation of our findings to several teachers and the department head.  No one in the group was excited about giving the presentation, so I volunteered.  I didn’t have anything to lose.

I prepared well and studied the presentation several times.  When the time for the presentation  came, although I was nervous at the beginning, I eventually relaxed and ended up doing a pretty good job.  I learned that if I just jump in and attack it, it’s not as bad as it seems.

Over the years, I’ve felt the same butterflies at times.  It’s usually either because I wasn’t as familiar with the subject matter, or there was an important person in the audience.  I’ve found that if I prepare as much as possible and tackle it with the attitude that I’m stronger than the fear, that I can get through it fine and feel better about myself when it’s over.

Regardless of your age or experience level I’m convinced that you can overcome any fear that is inhibiting your career advancement.  Mark Twain once said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”  You may always have that fear lurking inside.  But you can always overcome it.

What are you afraid of?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Contrasting Middle-School Management Styles

Like millions of kids out there, my son is just winding down the school year.  He’s a good student but also a free spirit and sometimes goes beyond his limits to the point of being disruptive in class.  Over the course of the school year, I’ve observed some interesting dynamics between him and two very different teachers.

One teacher has a command-and-control, my-way-or-the-highway style of classroom management and – not surprisingly – is regularly butting heads with my son.  He at times ridicules students when they ask questions by telling them they should know the answer, robbing them of the confidence to ask questions. In parent-teacher conferences this teacher’s report was that he frequently has to keep my son in line.

Another teacher relates to him.  He adapts his classroom management style to each student and gives my son the freedom to be himself.  He encourages his students to be creative and has made his class a fun environment in which to learn.  At the parent-teacher conference with this teacher, he told me how much he likes my son and wishes they were next door neighbors so they could just sit and chat.

Whenever any of my kids face adversity, whether it’s personal failure, difficult people or just bad luck, we try to treat it as a life-lesson; life isn’t always fair and they will face adversity on a nearly daily basis in life.  The more they learn to deal with it, the more successful they will be.  I thought about that as I met with and heard stories about these two teachers throughout the school year. 

We work with people that have styles and approaches that aren’t optimally matched with our own.  To be successful, we need to deal with all of these different styles. 

In the consulting environment, you may have a different manager for each project and deal with a diverse mix of client managers as you move from client to client.  A critical success factor will be how much you can emulate the second teacher in this story and adapt to the various styles of managers, co-workers and subordinates.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Can Consultants Have a Sense of Humor?

I’ve always had a pretty good sense of humor.  I can find irony in a lot of things and have used it to my advantage.  In my school days it would get me in trouble occasionally when the teacher thought I was auditioning for class clown.  As I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve tried to mature only as much as necessary.

As a consultant – and in any business – you spend a fair amount of time in meetings.  Meetings can be long and tedious.  Business people always seem to be concerned about their professional image and joking around can give the impression that you are not serious about your work.

But an appropriate joke placed at the right time can lighten up the environment and refocus people from being glazed over from statistics on endless PowerPoint slides.

The timing and content of a joke must be appropriate.  Some guidelines to follow are:

  • Don’t overdo it.  Telling a joke and giving a stand-up routine are two different things.  The point of telling a joke in a meeting or any professional situation is to lighten things up, not to entertain the troops.
  • Keep it appropriate.  Although I hate the term ‘politically correct’, it describes the approach fairly well.  If there is any question of it being offensive, don’t say it.  Avoid references to politics, religion and sex at a minimum.  Michael Scott can get away with saying “That’s what she said” on The Office, but it’s not advisable in a business setting.
  • Don’t put people down. People can be very sensitive.  Telling a joke at someone else’s expense, particularly in front of their colleagues or their boss can have serious ramifications.  If you tell a joke at anyone’s expense, it should probably be at your own.  But doing that too often can give the impression of a lack of self-confidence.
  • Read the audience.  Some people have no patience for people joking around in a business setting.  If you try to lighten things up with a joke and get no response or a cold stare, back off.  Taking them as a challenge to make them laugh will most likely backfire on you.  If they want to be serious and all that their consultant seems to be focused on is joking around, your chances of success at that client are low.
  • Beware of a double standard with the client.  Some clients have a set of acceptable standards for their own employees and another set for consultants.  This stands to reason to some degree.  They’re usually paying a lot more on a per hour basis for their consultants and they want them to be as efficient as possible.  You may see client employees get away with joking around and having fun, while you get reprimanded for not being serious enough.

Having a sense of humor can be a great asset.  Much of success in consulting is about building relationships and much of that hinges on just being likable.  The ability to make people laugh can endear them to you. It can also make your own work day more pleasant.  But everyone has their own idea of what is funny and what’s not.  Make sure that you don’t turn a client off with your sense of humor.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Business, Communication, Consulting, Credibility, Etiquette, Meetings, Morale

Accountability vs. Blame

Everyone makes a mistake on occasion.  I’ve seen the smartest and most meticulous people write down the wrong time or date for a meeting.  It happens.  And as long as it’s not habitual, most people tolerate small mistakes.

Then there are major screw ups.  Perhaps someone didn’t anticipate a key risk on a project or realized during step 9 that step 3 in a process was skipped, causing major rework and embarrassment with the client.

The real issue is how organizations deal with mistakes of this nature.  Many organizations talk about not focusing on blame.  Certainly, when a major faux pas is made, the first thing to focus on is how to make amends. 

Once corrective actions begin, you start to hear people saying things like “We have to determine who is responsible and hold them accountable.”  To me, that sounds a lot like “We need a scapegoat to shoulder the blame.”

I’m all for holding people accountable.  But people have different opinions of what that means.  Some see it as identifying someone to punish while others see it as a teaching moment.  Some see punishment as a form of teaching, assuming that if an employee knows they’ll face a severe punishment for messing up, they will be extra careful.

This negative reinforcement may make employees cautious, which can be good.  But it may make them too cautious, causing them to avoid any type of risk that could help them – and the organization – excel.

Performance evaluations tend to start someone with the expectation of perfection, and then ding them down to their realistic level after identifying everything they did wrong.  This can create a negative environment, where people either cover up errors or begin passing blame on other people as soon as things go south.  In this type of environment, people learn that the sooner you can pin the blame on a co-worker, the quicker you can save your own ass.

There are positive environments that have tolerance for errors, some that even encourage people to take risks and make errors in the interest of learning.  This creates an environment of honesty and accountability.  As soon as someone realizes something is wrong, they feel confident going into the boss’s office and saying “I made a mistake that could cost us (time, money, credibility, all of the above)”. 

A good leader will both work with an employee to help figure out how to correct an error, and hold them accountable in a positive way.  They will help them identify lessons learned – what they could have done differently to avoid this happening again?

Organizations like this tend to be more transparent with their employees and with their customers, creating an environment of trust within the organization and with everyone that interacts with them.

How does your organization hold people accountable?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com) He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Consulting’s Three-Headed Monster

By Lew Sauder

A good consulting firm needs to be successful from three aspects: Delivery, Sales and Recruiting.  This is often considered the three-headed monster of consulting

Delivery, the act of providing services to clients, is the firm’s primary product.  It relies on a defined methodology and qualified people to deliver those services.

Sales are necessary to bring in paying clients that put the food on the table for everyone involved.  Most firms rely on the delivery folks to provide leads, develop relationships and develop proposals in order to sell projects to clients. But they also have a sales department with account reps to develop new leads and ultimately sell their services.

You can develop all the methodologies and sell all the projects you want, but without someone to recruit qualified people to deliver those services, no client billing takes place and no food gets put on that proverbial table.

If a firm is only good in two of those aspects, they will most likely fail.  Firms that are good in all three of those aspects can fail if they don’t figure out a way to make them work in concert with each other.

If you speak to someone from each area, they will most likely tell you that theirs is the toughest job.

Sales professionals will tell you that their job is tough because if they don’t bring in business, they don’t get paid.  Most make a modest base salary, but primarily rely on their commissions.  They also know that if they don’t perform, the consultants on staff will begin losing their jobs when the projects dry up.  There are cold calls and relentless rejections before getting to a yes answer.  It requires a special skill to get in the door to sell something intangible like professional services.

A good recruiter seeks to understand the needs of the project in order to staff it with qualified people.  Most projects are staffed with a core of existing employees that have been with the firm long enough to understand the firm’s service offerings, methodology and culture.  But new employees are often needed to fully staff a project.  The recruiter needs to know the skills required for each resource, the experience level needed, the approximate time frame each will be required and the expected salary or hourly rate they are willing to pay.  If candidates with those specific criteria are not available, the recruiter needs to determine which of the criteria can be sacrificed.

The delivery folks are the front line team that has to face the customer.  The sales team may promise the world to make the sale, but the delivery people have to figure out a way to get it done on time and within budget.  They need to communicate their staffing needs to the recruiting team, interview and approve each new staff member.  If recruiting provides four candidates for a position and none of them meet the needs, it’s back to the drawing board and they have to reiterate their needs to recruiting.  This can delay the start of the project.

These teams can’t run as separate silos.  A well run firm, where all three groups work together requires strong management that unites them as an integrated team to insure optimal employee and customer satisfaction. 

Management that is partial to one group at the expense of another eventually erodes the morale of  all three groups.  The critical skill for any manager in a consulting environment is to keep each component of the three-headed monster playing nice with each other.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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What’s the Big Deal about Business Travel?

By Lew Sauder

I remember my senior year in college, I interviewed for a consulting position with a top-tier consulting firm.  I sat in one of those interviewing cubicles at the campus career center across the desk from a gentleman with a blue suit, white shirt and red tie – the consulting uniform of the day.  I don’t remember much about the questions except for the part where he explained that there could be extensive travel.

“Would that be an issue for you? “, he asked.

“Oh not at all”, I explained, “I enjoy traveling.  Just a few months ago I went on a trip with my girlfriend to…blah, blah, blah…”

He was very polite not to laugh at me or roll his eyes, but I’m sure he and his pals had some laughs about it over a few beers that night.

After several years in consulting, I’ve learned that business travel is not as glamorous as people may think. Besides the fact that you are away from your friends and family all week, you have to deal with long lines at airport security, crowded airplanes with crying babies, long lines at the car rental desk and trying to get around in traffic in an unfamiliar city.

These inconveniences seem like a small price to pay when doing this for a personal vacation where the destination is sitting on a tropical beach or sight-seeing.  But doing it on a weekly basis just to do the same work that you usually do in your home town turns it into more of a hassle.  On top of that, the novelty of staying in a hotel and eating every meal out at a restaurant wears off quickly.  I remember once after a week on the road, coming home on Friday night and my wife wanted to go out for dinner.  A restaurant was the last place I wanted to be.

When you travel for a vacation, you generally go with people you want to be with.  Business travel is either done alone, which can be quite lonely or you travel with other members of your firm working on the same project.  These may or may not be the people you want to hang out with. When traveling, you’re often stuck working with them all day and then having dinner with them that evening.

I’ve also found that when working out of town, the work day is generally longer.  This could be based on the fact that since they are paying more for you to travel, they want to squeeze more value from what you are doing.  I think it has more to do with the fact that since the alternative is to sit in a hotel room alone, you might as well work late and get more work done.

There are ways that business travel can be enjoyable.  I have worked in New York City during the Christmas season and enjoyed checking out the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and doing a little shopping on 5th Avenue.  I’ve also been to Washington DC and taken some time to see the historic sites there.

I generally get along with most people. I like to be around a diverse crowd.  So when traveling with business associates, I enjoy going out to dinner with them and getting to know them better.  I’ve had close friends that I worked with and actually looked forward to traveling with them.  Traveling for a couple of days at a time can mean a pleasant evening or two of dining together.  However, when you’re on a 9-month project, traveling together three to four nights a week, every week, monotony, not to mention insanity can set in.

Someone considering consulting as a profession must consider that they could be assigned to out of town clients that could have them on the road more often than they are home.  One of the things many people like about consulting is the variety of going to different clients and having the variety of settings.  Traveling from city to city can be just another part of that and may actually increase the level of variety. However, if being away from your family, pets and friends living the life of a nomad doesn’t fit your personality, you may want to make sure there will be limited travel or think twice about consulting as a profession.

My intention is not to drive people away from the consulting profession.  It’s a challenging and exciting way to make a living.  But I do recognize that it’s not for everyone.

There is no way to know for certain if you will like a profession unless you actually try it.  But taking a career position is a big step.  If you know that a major aspect of a job is completely incompatible with your personality, you’re going to be right back in job search mode before you know it.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com).  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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5 Things My Mentors Taught Me

By Lew Sauder

When I started out in consulting, I decided early on that I would seek out a mentor.  I must have been like the little bird in the children’s book “Are You My Mother?” that goes from animal to animal seeking out its mother.  I had in my mind that there would be one person that would extol his or her wisdom to help me to launch my career.  After a few years, here is what I learned:

Mentors are human, not heroes – One of my first designated mentors was someone I idolized.  I hung on every word he said and thought he was infallible.  I soon found that he made mistakes and wasn’t the erudite I thought he was.  I was disappointed and thought I had made a mistake in selecting a mentor.  But he was still a great manager and I still respected him for his abilities.  I just needed to accept that a mentor can screw up and still be respected.

Have multiple mentors and combine ideas from each of them.  Once I realized that my mentor wasn’t the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi sent down from on-high to bestow his wisdom upon me, I realized that there are many people around me that I can learn from.  I could draw upon one’s advice on one day and someone else’s on another day.

You can learn from anti-mentors.  I’ve worked with managers and people that I didn’t like or respect.  I have a philosophy that you can be a good manager without being an asshole.  But I’ve known people with a quite different philosophy that disrespect their subordinates or act in unethical ways.  I’ve observed these people and from them I’ve learned how not to act and how not to treat others.

Don’t tell a mentor that they are a mentor.  I once told a colleague that I considered them a mentor.  From that point forward, our relationship changed.  It seemed to go to his head.  It was as if we couldn’t be friends anymore because he had assumed this role of being my mentor.  He had to give me advice every chance he got.  It got very tiresome and I got to the point where I would avoid being around him because I got tired of the constant spray of advice.  After that, I would ask mentors advice or learn by observation, but I never formalized the role with them.

Be your own person.  You can get all the advice you want from as many mentors as you choose.  But you have to filter for yourself what works best for you.  Just because you asked someone for advice doesn’t mean you have to follow it.  All advice is optional.  When I was a senior in college, I was fortunate enough to have three job offers to consider.  I went to my number one mentor, my father, to ask his advice.  Although one of the offers would have kept me close to my parent’s home, he refused to give me advice.  Instead, he told me to think about the things that were important to me and to decide for myself.  He helped me make my own decision rather than giving me his opinion.  A true mentor will resist giving you advice, but will ask you the right questions to make you think so that you make decisions for yourself.

It’s a good practice to identify mentors at any stage of your career to help you steer your career.  But mentors are guides, not a replacement for using your own judgment.  You need to decide whether their advice is worth following based on your own values and the direction you want your career to advance.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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