What does it mean to be an Authentic Consultant?
It seems like a little bit of an odd question, doesn't it? Of course, I am authentic, right? Well, I wouldn't dispute that if you put it to me that way, but it really has more to do with how you are working with your clients. Whether you are a Big-4ish Consultant, an independent consultant, an internal consultant within a large organization, or a leader in an organization where you often play a consultative role, the question is still the same: as a consultant, am I operating in an authentic way?
Peter Block, author of the seemingly timeless Flawless Consulting, provides the best explanation of Authentic Consulting you are likely to find anywhere. Here is what Mr. Block had to say about authenticity in an interview in Management Consulting News:
"Authentic behavior is simply the willingness to be who you are and to tell the truth. This is the consultant’s most powerful tool for building client trust and commitment. Many consultants try to be too clever in communicating with their clients, seeking to convince clients to their point of view.
Clients see right through the fast language and persuasion techniques and, as a result, their level of skepticism rises. Instead, consultants should be who they are and tell the truth in a caring way, which will establish the balance that leads to a trusting, productive relationship with the client."
How can you argue with this? Yet it is really not as easy as it sounds: it can feel a bit risky. Most of us who have been in the professional world for awhile (OK, for some of us, that's decades) have been conditioned to play a certain role and to morph who we are to fit within the confines of that role. This can pull us away from authenticity.
In my own example, if I am going to be myself, the client is going to be treated to a bit of insanity, so how is that supposed to work out well? It can make for some scary moments, at times, but I find that -- once you get over these moments -- the consulting that you deliver has a much better chance of being effective; and there really is not a better choice you can make, because you are choosing between playing some prescribed role and being yourself. How much trust can you build with your clients if you are only playing a prescribed role?
Having said all of this, you still have to be able to adjust to and be respectful of your client's environment and circumstances. Hopefully that is something you seek to do almost instinctively. If not, you probably should not be a consultant -- internal or external. As Mr, Block puts it, "The most affirming thing you can do is to support the integrity of the client’s concerns."
The key thing about realizing the goal of becoming (or remaining) an Authentic Consultant is you will need to put effort into finding out who you really are, and that's a gift that you can give yourself. Peter Block's advise is to "do your own inner work. You are the product, so do whatever it takes. And, recognize that you can’t do it alone. You need to get help yourself, whether it’s from a teacher at a weekend workshop, a church, or a therapy group. You need to draw on a community you are part of, whether you call it spiritual, therapy or twelve-step, it doesn’t matter. Otherwise you can get hubris and arrogance, which are occupational hazards."