Many leaders seek the help of internal and external consultants, and the return on that advice depends on who receives it. The author, currently internal advisor and formerly external consultant, reflects on the different returns that executives get for the same investment. Some hire consultants on interesting problems and create a spirit of teamwork and common mission. They benefit from the best thinking, innovative advice and hard work from consultants. Still others over-simplify issues or underestimate what it takes to get results and treat consultants as transactional suppliers. These leaders not only pay the price for a missed opportunity, but they also run the risk of not tackling the problems they seek to solve. The author presents three ways to get the most out of your engagement with internal or external advisors.
Giving professional advice is big business. The global management consulting market is worth $ 160 billion and employs nearly a million people in the United States alone. But what is the return on all this advice? A lot of it depends on who gets it.
The most effective leaders I have worked with for over 20 years in my past roles as an external consultant and my current role as an internal leadership advisor are qualified to take advice from two main sources. Internally, they seek the advice of their teams, their peers and their managers. Externally, they commission experts and advisers to provide leadership advice, often in the form of executive advice or coaching. The less effective leaders I have worked with have not fully developed the ability to utilize the help of these internal and external advisers.
As an advisor, I have often reflected on the different returns that executives get for the same investment in our services. Some engage us on interesting issues and create a spirit of teamwork and common mission. They benefit from our best thinking, innovative advice and hard work. Still others oversimplify issues or underestimate what it takes to create results and treat us as transactional providers. While our work in these situations is of high quality, these leaders not only pay the price for a missed opportunity, but they also run the risk of not solving the problems they seek to solve.
Take Sandra, the COO of a large industrial firm, who asked for advice on how to boost productivity by changing some entrenched and unnecessary cultural norms. She was one of the most demanding leaders I have worked with, arguing, debating and pushing for more at every turn. Yet she also brought new thinking, not fearing the complexity of the problem we are solving. Although we are the outside experts, she is the one who brought forward some of the most important ideas and ideas, and she has organized company-wide forums to allow us to get consensus on our recommendations. and ensure effective implementation. The result was not only the achievement of short-term productivity goals, but also a renewed sense of purpose and commitment on the part of the management group to generate new gains through a culture. more agile.
Now take Philippe, the managing director of a division of a large pharmaceutical company. A doctor by training, he treated business problems like he treated illnesses: he undertook a diagnosis, decided on the appropriate remedy, and then sought help to carry it out. Innovation had slowed down in his business, due, he believed, to a lack of openness in the organization. His solution was to organize workshops to improve feedback skills. There had been no recent investment in this area, and the workshops made sense. But, on its own, this was a simplistic solution to a more complex set of problems. People knew what to do but didn’t have the confidence to do it.
Philippe was unwilling to discuss what this might mean for his own leadership and maintained his confidence in his own assessment. He was concerned that solving the underlying problem would lead to a more complex and time-consuming intervention. Although the workshops were effective in their objectives, they did not really address the problem. As one frustrated team member put it: âWe hit the target but miss the point. “
The ability to use aid has three main components. Once you’ve come up with an issue and consider enlisting the help of an advisor, here’s what you need to get the most out of your engagement.
Ask yourself: what kind of help will make the biggest difference?
There are many ways to categorize problems – from simple to bad – and savvy executives will carefully consider the type of problem they face. This will indicate the nature of the help you need. For example, you may need the input of a technical expert (help with direct problem solving) or leadership advice (help mobilize your team’s resources to solve the problem).
Executives make two common mistakes at this point. First, a lack of time, curiosity, or even skill to fully understand the problem posed can lead to simplifying problems, as we saw with Philippe. Second, some leaders come to rely on a small number of trusted advisors. It can go wrong when issues are framed through the prism of the strengths of these advisers. As the old saying goes, âIf the only tool you have is a hammer, you’ll treat all your problems like a nail. I have seen leaders define operational issues in terms, for example, of communication or strategy, because these are the areas of expertise of their closest advisers.
A humble state of mind
Sandra was a curious chef. To borrow a phrase from Karl Weick, she would argue as if she was right and listen as if she were wrong. It seems obvious, but using aid well requires a willingness to to be aid. It is difficult to achieve if you are not open to learning. Philippe’s insistence on the correct definition of the problem caused him to deprive himself of the benefit of a wider range of ideas and solutions.
I often coach executives on the distinction between being law and be effective. Like many leaders, Philippe liked to be right. It takes confidence to say âI don’t knowâ or âI might be wrongâ. Those in power are prone to overconfidence, and leaders may feel vulnerable when they ask for help. In fact, it is a sign of strength to know your limits and act accordingly – with humility. It is a safer route to efficiency and results.
The term âtherapeutic allianceâ is used in counseling and psychotherapy to describe the collaboration of therapist and client to undertake important work in partnership. This concept also applies to managers and their advisers.
Qualified executives will join those they have asked for help to achieve results together. Sandra’s expectations were that she co-owner resolving the problem with the advisors. She has adopted a spirit of responsibility. Philippe’s fault was that he outsourced the solution of a thorny problem to outsiders – them alone would own the resolution to the problem. Yet their ability to drive change on their own was limited.
Drawing on the terminology of transactional analysis, a type of psychotherapy, Sandra’s approach to working with the counseling team was âadult-adultâ, that is, a relationship of mutual respect. Philippe was “parent-child”, where one side treats the other as if they were of higher or lower status.
Mastery and self-sufficiency are important attributes for performance and often key contributors to a leader’s success. Like any force, however, they can be overused.
Using the help of others is a key leadership skill because no leader, especially in demanding and volatile times, can do it alone. Leaders who excel in this field accelerate both their own growth and the results of the organizations they lead.