How do you choose a consultant, and why you should find one who uses a coaching approach?
Since leaving public service, I have worked through many personal discoveries. This involved facing some harsh truths about myself as I established my own consulting and coaching business (Leadership Coach in Brisbane, QLD | Susanne Le Boutillier)
I reflected on what some would say are my most significant achievements. This led to the realisation that consciously applying a coaching approach would have resulted in greater impact and delivery at less personal cost.
I still achieved some excellent results through intuitive use of coaching. However, imagine what I could have achieved using it more consciously.
In the latter stages of my public sector career, I fell into some common traps with more limited resourcing and under extreme pressure to deliver outcomes.
- Traps that when working in complexity mean you are delivering what is wanted by the powers above you. Unfortunately, it may not have always been the best thing to do, and at times, everyone may not have come with me.
- Traps like trying to reach agreement too quickly and possibly missing even better ideas because you feel pressured to deliver.
- Traps like ploughing ahead because it feels right to you, but you have not stopped to ask yourself how you could be wrong. We are often told to ‘trust’ our gut. These days I prefer to test mine.
So how is this relevant to choosing a consultant?
A 2018 Harvard Business Review article described consultants ‘like skillful actors, who use a combination of ‘backstage preparation and ‘front stage’ performance to make the … client believe the story they want to tell‘.
The story, they the Consultant, wants to tell.
The article makes it sound like consulting machines place little emphasis on making sure it is the right story for the client and their specific situation.
What should you look for?
In my view, consultants need to put their ego aside. They need to manage their internal dialogue and use a consulting approach that links leadership coaching to their client’s strategy. Most importantly, the consultant needs to focus on what their client wants to achieve.
Their approach should be informed by:
- academic research
- validated tools, and preferably
- years of experience working in a relevant area.
Experience need not always be about success. Sometimes lessons learned from failure delivers deeper insights and has a more lasting impact.
The Consultant should also use personal reflection to notice when their thoughts and actions are getting in the way of client needs.
If your Consultant uses a coaching approach, they can keep an eye out for when the traps mentioned above, and others arise.
Consultants should help clients develop the capability to thrive in complexity.
Using the complexity mind traps described in Jennifer Garvey-Berger’s short and highly relatable book Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to thrive in complexity is a great place to start.
A Consultant should also notice when these traps hold a client back and apply coaching strategies that enable the client to develop this awareness themselves.
Clients need to be actively involved in exploring the systems they operate in and making sense of what the data shows and the stories told by different people in the system.
If a client is not supported to understand their system from multiple perspectives, they will be less likely to adapt when the need arises.
Genuine dialogue with client stakeholders can generate a deeper understanding of the options for managing a complex situation. Clients should be supported to do this themselves. If the consultant does the initial exploration, clients will need to tap into any feelings arising from this exploration safely.
Genuine dialogue happens with the suspension of judgement and an exchange of ideas. This enables new possibilities to emerge from the process of exploring the thoughts and feelings of others. Options for the future appear when creative dialogue explores a range of perspectives with an open mind.
Creative dialogue is essential as clients cannot solve complex problems; they can only manage them. The consultant’s role should be to enable this to occur.
Solution or direction?
Importantly, consulting in complexity is not about reassuring clients they will be fine once they have your magic solution. A client would do just as well sticking their head in the sand.
A consultant who uses a coaching approach will help their client explore their system with curiosity and work out what direction to head.
They will help their client design safe to fail experiments and build in feedback loops to identify when to adapt and either amplify what they are doing or dampen it down.
Are you ready to be challenged and gain new and deeper insights about yourself, your organisation, and your operating system?
If you want a companion on a journey of discovery, one where you develop capabilities for the emerging future, let’s have a conversation and explore what possibilities we could achieve together.
And, when the time is right, and if it would be of benefit to you, I might even share some more of my story.