Work Like a Consultant

With over 35 years under my belt as an independent consultant, I’ve learned much about how to make life work and make work come alive. It has been a fun ride with lots of amazing growth and heartwarming contribution—and, I am far from done! In that sense, I wish everyone could be a consultant. Thank goodness, all are not! But, I have noticed that employees who assume the style and manner of a successful independent consultant are the ones that get ahead and seem to have a great time doing it!

Consultants who make it beyond their first few “lean and mean” years get to taste the rewards of freedom, despite having to face the anxiety of “what if I fail?” They acquire a devotion to the rhythm of riding their purpose, unshackled from the slavery of following a conventional schedule. Their initial guilt about not being at the office on Monday morning quickly melts away; replaced by the sheer bliss of working on a client project way past bedtime because they are enamored by the work!  

Granted there are liberties that come with a boss-less, policy-free profession not found when one is accountable to a supervisor and governed by organizational rules and water cooler norms. Still, there are features of work life as an independent consultant that can be embraced by anyone in a work role. When you work like a successful independent consultant, you generally act in these five ways:

You act self-employed.  Your work day is the day you create. No one tells you what to work on. No one cares if you punch in or when. No one gives a flip about the depth of your in-box, the location of your parking space, or the number of meetings you attended yesterday. How hard you work is as irrelevant as how effective you are at walking your dog. Only solid concrete results matter; tireless effort is just the stuff you do to get there.

Employees who work with the same perspective are more successful than those who act as if they are passengers on some cruise ship transporting them to retirement. Winners act self-employed, assuming complete responsibility for their own destiny; losers hide behind “victim thinking” and look for a scapegoat for their unfortunate circumstances. Winners are captains of their status and station in life; losers blame everyone but themselves for everything lacking in their life.

You bring optimism to those you serve. Successful consultants are joy carriers. Far from being naïve cheerleaders; they instead model both the nobility and passion for the work they front. As such, they are infectious spirited professionals. One does not inherit spirit, acquire spirit or borrow spirit—one chooses spirit much like you choose to introduce yourself to a stranger at a party. Those who opt for an upbeat, proactive spirit are happier, healthier, and far more productive.  

Successful consultants, like successful employees, understand the politics. But, their energy is expended toward what is substantive, not what is just form; what is real and contributive, not what is ritual and ceremonial. Successful people live the lesson of Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous line: “No one makes you inferior without your permission.”    

You enjoy being accountable. Playing the blame game does not get you a “get out of jail free” card. Clients are never moved by your hand-wringing excuses nor made more confident by your shifting the focus to the supplier that let you down. Being late signals a lack of commitment, regardless of the reason; being unprepared telegraphs you don’t care about your client, despite the demons you tussled the day before. And, work hours are as governing to you as they are to your cat! You order your work life based on need (with obvious consideration to your family), not on some artificial concern for where the big hand points.

Employees who work with a similar results-oriented, ‘git ‘er done attitude are more successful than those who engage in “shake and fake”—passionate interest but without assuming responsibility for substantive performance. Winners show up ready to perform and are only interested in efforts that yield a path to achievement and results. They cut through bureaucracy with a strong fervor for outcomes.  They know that execution is the true test of commitment.  

You are both a doer and marketer. Independent consultants don’t just do the work—they also market the work. In fact, consultants who spend their energy on the work itself without regard to making its value known, typically fail. Likewise, those who spend their energy thinking about image and influence also fail. It takes a balance between delivering value and ensuring those who make buying decisions are keenly aware of that value.  

People who work for organizations face the same challenge. Too many people who quietly do great works assuming it will guarantee their success are sadly surprised when their name ends up on the layoff list rather than the unsung hero list. On the flipside, those who focus solely on the billboard and not the “worktable” meet the same fate.

You bring a deep commitment to serving others. The soul of service requires caring about the client at a personal level, not just at a professional one. The relationship is far more important than the transaction. The wisdom and talent you generously share is more valuable than what you hoard or protect. The humble facilitation of discovery is more powerful than the arrogant delivery of expertise. Clients remember who you are and what you stand for long after they have forgotten what you recommended or where you came from. Success within organizations emanates from the exact same zeal to serve and an obvious allegiance to the brand character the organization represents.  

Not everyone can be an independent consultant but those with the greatest influence as well as the highest self-worth are those who act as if they are.   

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