Authentic Consulting – bringing authenticity to consultancy

Authentic consulting is a hot topic — the following guest post takes a look at what it means for a consultant to practice with authenticity. See our sidebar for details on becoming an independent consultant.

Contemporary business literature is replete with the advantages associated with authentic leadership. Conventional wisdom posits that authentic leaders are better able to inspire and consequently influence their staff. If we take the research and conventional wisdom at face value, we must explore and determine a definition of authenticity.Kathleen Ryan and Geoffrey Bellman, co-authors of Extraordinary Groups: How Ordinary Teams Achieve Amazing Results, have a great definition of authenticity in consultant work.  I will incorporate his stance in an attempt to answer the question: How is authenticity demonstrated as a consultant? According to Ryan and Bellman:

“Authenticity is the difference between being and playing.”
 
When consultants are being themselves, they are in essence being authentic. To add to Ryan and Bellman’s insights, I would argue that authenticity is the opposite of impression management. Hence, consultants must demonstrate four key attributes to demonstrate authenticity on the job.
 
Passion over Pride
The first characteristic of an authentic consultant is the ability to ensure that passion is greater than pride. According to Ryan and Bellman, doing and living your purpose allows an individual to become his or herself. In order to pursue a purposeful life, one must possess passion; as the road is often riddled with obstacles that are not suited for the faint of heart. Some will agree that a person’s purpose is the reason for their existence. This would be similar to an organizations vision and mission statement. Therefore it is essential that consultants place more importance on the ability to pursue their purpose of helping other than being prideful of what they know.
 
Managing Fear
In addition to the focus on passion, consultants must be able to manage fear. In both my academic and professional careers, I learned that individuals are driven by two forces: fear and desire. Ryan and Bellman alludes to the overwhelming power of fear and suggests that it leads to unnecessary questions, which can reduce work performance. Fear is a natural emotion and we should not ignore it, but consultants need to learn how to acknowledge and embrace fear in order to help facilitate more productive behavior in the workplace.
 
Using Emotions to Produce Behavior
Advocates of Emotional Intelligence (EI) will assert the third level of EI is the ability to use emotions to motivate productive behavior. In lieu of that paradigm, authentic consultants must be aware of their fears and then seek resources to better understand their qualms that they can channel the energy to better serve the client. For example, if I’m afraid that a client does not like my proposal, instead of being defensive or attempting to convolute future conversations, I should address my concerns with the client to glean more insight into their evaluations.
 
A related factor of managing fears and EI is the basic construct: to know thyself. It sounds relatively simple on the surface, but it is extremely germane to the authenticity of consultants. Individuals that are in the business of helping others must be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and the potential ability to help a client. For example, as a consultant, I may be very versed about topics related to EI and how it can help in the classroom, but I may not be a great resource for to teach a sales force how to utilize EI to increase sales. As a result, authentic consultants must know their abilities and be brutally honest to their potential clients regarding how they may serve their needs.
 
Seeking Win-Win Partnerships
Finally, authentic consultants seek win-win partnerships and question whether this will be a symbiotic relationship. If you are only able to take from the client and not return something of equal or greater value, then you are not truly being authentic. Organizational Development consultants, in particular, exclaim the need to check in periodically with the client to ensure that value is recognized. It is important not to wait until the end of the relationship, but to continuously follow up with your employer, as there may be opportunities to leverage feedback. Careers in consulting are all about helping the client utilize internal and external resources to solve problems with the long-term intentions that the client will not need related help. 
 
About the Author: Antar Salim, MBA serves as a coordinator for Rasmussen College’s School of Business, at the Eagan, MN college campus; where he teaches business degree-seeking students. He has a Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan and a Master’s in Management from Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville.

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