The last several months I’ve recommended Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding the Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty by Patrick Lencioni to several of my clients, particularly those in sales and consulting. We’re still in New Year’s Resolution season. Perhaps you have a personal or professional goal that addresses a type of fear. If so, the lessons Lencioni teaches via his fable are simple yet extraordinarily powerful. I highly recommend his approach especially for those who consult—whether externally or internally—for a living. These lessons also apply to those in management where many of these truths can be used to build a loyal and high-functioning team.
Only 3 Fears?
It’s hard to believe there are only three fears to conquer as a consultant. Most would agree that building a stable client base is fundamental to a thriving consultancy. Lencioni digs into the core human tendencies that prevent us from building trust and client relationships that can last for years:
Fear of Losing the Business
Rather than having the difficult “conversations” with clients for fear of losing a contract, we can actually undermine the relationship. When you release this fear, you’re more willing to help the client solve the issue versus positioning yourself in a way to retain a source of revenue. Lencioni suggests that clients recognize this intuitively. If you’re willing to be forthright and let go of the worry about being under-compensated, that’s where goodwill starts. How do you do this? By:
- Always consult instead of sell — demonstrate your value. Start serving the client as if they were already a signed client. Your prospect will see themselves as your client because you didn’t sell them…you started helping them.
- Give away the business — this is an extension of the one above yet with a financial twist. When you’re focused on long-term business relationships, it’s in your best interest to err on the side of the client when it comes to your fees. Do you want a short-term win or long-term revenue?
- Tell the kind truth — refers to delivering a message a client would prefer not to hear…in a kind way. You put the client’s needs above self preservation. By telling the kind truth, you impart a difficult message with kindness, empathy, and respect.
- Enter the danger — is a concept taken from improvisational theater. It refers to stepping into uncomfortable situations. If you’ve watched “Who’s Line Is It Anyway,” you know what I mean. Great consultants have the courage to fearlessly deal with an issue others are afraid to address. They describe the elephant in the room, tell the kind truth, and deal with the situation with integrity. As a result, consultants successfully show their value and earn their client’s respect.
Fear of Feeling Embarrassed
Making a mistake in public can be wrenchingly painful. Yet something magical happens when you raise your hand to ask the “dumb” questions. Others around you may be thinking the same thing. Not only are they relieved that you asked the question, they respect you more in the process. This also applies to making dumb suggestions. Often asking the obvious isn’t so obvious to others. And when you do make a mistake, shake it off. Lencioni suggests celebrating them…this is where taking responsibility for a mistake can take the sting out of the situation.
Fear of Feeling Inferior
We all have egos. The fear of feeling inferior isn’t about intellectual pride; it’s about maintaining our status relative to the client. You’ve probably seen other consultants posturing, using paragraphs where a single sentence would suffice. While it’s natural to want respect and admiration, when you tackle this fear you are truly in service of your client. You do whatever is necessary to help your client improve even if you think it’s beneath you. Lencioni also provides examples:
- Take a bullet for the client — doesn’t mean enabling the client to do the wrong thing. Rather, it refers to those situations where you take responsibility in order to save the client. This maxim also requires you to tell the kind truth, so the client acknowledges what you did for them. Again, this further solidifies the client-consultant relationship.
- It’s about the client — appears simple and obvious, but is actually harder than it seems. When your focus is from your client’s point of view, not your own.
- Honor the client’s work — is a variation from the one above. You can’t fake respect. If you don’t honor your client’s work from an ethical or moral perspective, resign the business. Otherwise, It’s a recipe for disaster.
- Do the dirty work — refers to a willingness to do what needs to be done. Period.
- Admit your weaknesses and limitations — to avoid over-committing and under-delivering. There’s a tension between wanting to help the client and drawing the line where what they need is something you can’t provide.
Showing vulnerability in business can be very difficult. Yet that is where personal growth and solid relationships form.
Which fear gives you the most trouble? What if you released it…how would your professional life improve?
Oh and one final note on fear. A wise person said to me once: “FEAR means Forgetting Everything is All Right.” I try to remember that when all else fails (and take a breath and center)!