I'm out of the habit of writing, particularly about stuff where I am uncertain, exploring, learning, or in the dark. So this post wasn't easy to write and probably won't be very good. But it's a start...
Consultancy is hard. I'm not the first person to reflect on this I think. And I am certain I wasn't alone when I assumed that the hard part was knowing what you know (or, perhaps, using what you know).
The most obvious lesson I have learned so far is that, rightly or wrongly, most people see consultancy as a business in which people buy advice and/or skills from those that they trust to help them.
From this perspective being a consultant is about selling trustworthiness over competence. Because trust is so very hard to create 'on demand' you also look for anything that can short-circuit this process. For a lot of consultants I think this boils down to "shared background".
My background doesn't look very consultanty. I'm not ex-KPMG. I haven't worked for huge brands or hip digital agencies. I've spent 20 years in the software development world trying to bring applications into the world.
Sometimes I feel this acute sense of being an impostor in calling myself "consultant". My inability to point to an impressive pay-day from the startups I've worked for doesn't help with this feeling.
So, why continue..?
Last year I did an introductory cognitive behavioural coaching course. This year I am mentoring for UnLtd. While under no illusions about how much I have yet to learn, still I'm learning a lot about working with people who want to achieve things.
From the coaching course I learned that helping other people isn't about telling them what to do so much as helping them reveal their own insights about what to do. I have lots of ideas and "insights" and I love sharing them. Partly I think I love feeling clever. Learning to rein this in, that my own self-worth isn't dependent on people perceiving me as clever is a tough one. But I know it's right.
Mentoring is different to coaching because there are times when your mentee really does need advice or practical guidance. But even here I am feel the more non-directive approach works best. I am uncomfortable being thrust into the role of expert and prefer to see myself as a peer who is, perhaps, a little further down the road. Suggestions then are more what I feel they should be: sign-posts from a fellow traveller.
Up to now consultancy for me has been very much about communicating what I know and/or doing it for a client. I've felt that this is what is expected of me and that my value is very tightly bound to these activities. But, I am wondering, is that true even here?
As a coach, mentor, or consultant different things are expected of you, and you use different techniques. But I think the best bit of any of them is when you help people find their own way of unlocking what they need to and achieving a goal in life/business.
As a consultant I would like to blend what I see as the strength of coaching & mentoring with my own skills, experience, and judgement. I think the possibilities I see in this are why I continue.
For example: I am looking at games and trying to design games in which I can embed my own experience & judgement but which, in the playing, allows the player to use what they know to the best advantage: moving from "advice giving" to a kind of "guided exploration".
I haven't tried it yet but feel like this is a very interesting, potentially worthwhile, area to explore.
From where I sit today my own goals seem very far off and I worry that they are unattainable. I have so much to learn and in the business of creating a growing business, more still. But I have some excellent supports and feel this is a path worth pursuing.
If not an easy one :-)
I'm very interested to hear from others who've trodden these paths and hear what they've learned along the way...