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How accepting and displaying my vulnerabilities made me a more effective consultant

By Matt Wallis – Director, Tucker Stone

In the 39 ¾ years I’ve been on this earth (the last 15 of which have been spent as a search consultant within the Human Resources sector), I’d never read a ‘business book’.  Well actually, to be factually correct, I’d never finished a business book.  Should I admit either of these things? Probably not!

I had started to read a handful (that had been recommended to me), but found them to be too generic, often overly complicating the subject, and more often than not, they lacked relevance to the interactions I have on a daily basis with our candidates and clients.

That was until an interaction with a trusted client of mine, Nicki Dexter, the Chief People Officer of Adevinta – a fast growing, global eCommerce organisation.  It was during an interview feedback session that Nicki mentioned how an immediate connection was made between her and one of the candidates due to their mutual appreciation of Patrick Lencioni and his articles relating to Servant Leadership.

I was aware of the basic principles of Servant Leadership, predominantly as a tool for building effective cultures.  I had never, however, thought deeply about how these principles could apply to me and my work.  Then, slightly unwittingly, I adopted one of the principals of this approach by ‘asking a dumb question’. “So, Nicki, how do these principles relate to business consulting and specifically head hunting?”

I could’ve just googled the answer, avoiding the potential of leaving myself open to Nicki thinking “Why doesn’t he know this?” (…which clearly I didn’t). However, we have a trusted relationship and as I’ve matured in my career, I have far less fear of looking like an idiot in front of others (reference recent dreadful karaoke performances as additional proof!)  Nicki & I had a brief discussion, during which she recommended I read a book called Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni. 

In Lencioni’s own words this is ‘a business fable about shedding the three fears that sabotage client loyalty’.

Throughout my life, I’ve been my own harshest critic, and on occasion in the past I had reached the point of feeling stymied by anxiety relating to the feeling of not being liked, respected or thinking I had let others down.  Numerous psychometric tests had highlighted my strong preferences for giving to others, irreproachability and empathy, but also that I had a high sensitivity for criticism and preferred to avoid conflict.

Lencioni’s belief (and I am paraphrasing here) is that the 3 fears that sabotage client loyalty, and therefore in my eyes, directly relate to my ability as a consultant to be seen as a trusted expert to my clients and candidates are:

  • Fear of losing the business
  • Fear of being embarrassed
  • Fear of feeling inferior

I don’t have the time in this article to break these fears down in detail (buy the book for that), however, what I will say is that (again unwittingly) as my career has grown, I have developed my style so that I naturally live the key principles of ‘Naked Consulting’.

What are these principles?

I tell my clients and candidates the kind truth, I have no fear of asking ‘dumb’ questions or for that matter, making ‘dumb’ suggestions, and often it is from these open conversations that real value is added to our partnership. 

I endeavour to make everything I do about the client and the candidate, and I’m now much more comfortable admitting my vulnerabilities and mistakes. 

Finally, I always aim to consult and not to sell, which is probably a good thing as the same psychometric tests I mentioned earlier never had me that high on the ‘manoeuvring or competitiveness’ measures!

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on what behavioural traits YOU value in your business consulting partners and do any of my musings resonate with you?

Comment below, or perhaps we can meet up at a karaoke bar… but that might just be another of my dumb suggestions.

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