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Leading Through Listening

Client management is always a challenge; there’s an implicit, ongoing challenge to forming mutual and clear expectations and partnerships from the very beginning. To achieve those expectations, one needs to learn how to lead through listening. I recall my early training in project management as an architect and later as a freelance consultant, learning how the leadership of oneself and others includes client management. For example, at Torti Gallas and Partners, Inc., my first job, we examined the impact of strong leadership on the performance of others using various diagnostic testing and unit (and cross work unit) teams.

Leadership of the client, as I learned through experience, meant active listening (listen for meaning & dialogue bridging) first and foremost, then understanding the values each party brings, building strategic partnerships, and leveraging our company’s negotiation skills as a leadership asset. Leading by example–consistently—was something I learned at an early age. Inspiring, motivating, weaving a culture of communication and developing a coaching mindset were central principles I learned in my first years in the workforce. “Learning to say NO with love”, was a mantra of my first boss as well as ‘follow up, follow through, and lead’. At first, I didn’t understand why they were so important, but later I learned that a good mantra or motto goes along way to managing oneself day-to-day; it’s like mental vitamins: got to have them daily. Unique to my experience, I was taught at a young age to be a leader, so having my first boss encourage this was quite fitting. In fact, a regular motto at our firm then was, “Everyone is a leader.” It was bold; it was uncomfortable and intimidating, but it was spot on.

In each of us is a leader; we each have our own growth into becoming one and our own style. Specifically, below is a list of qualities that I try to embody with colleagues and clients, whether in the private sector, as in the past, or working with federal managers. In the past, Drucker’s principles also motivated me to approach management and problem solving with the client in a true partnership. Would you add to this list? What do you think good client relations and leadership entails?

“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” Peter Drucker

Client Leadership Qualities

  • Develop relationships early
  • Anticipates needs
  • Articulates visions passionately
  • Able to say NO well
  • Is always “present”
  • Confident
  • Consensus builder
  • Diplomatic
  • Does not accept less
  • Educator
  • Empathetic
  • Experienced / has track record
  • Flexible
  • Forward looking
  • Negotiator
  • Listener
  • Good partner
  • Inspired
  • Knowledgeable / a step ahead
  • Knows client’s business
  • Knows how/when to say NO
  • Knows our ideology
  • Manages expectations
  • Negotiator
  • Balances assertiveness with discretion
  • Persuasive
  • Problem solver
  • Respected
  • Respectful / copmand respect
  • Salesmanship
  • Sells vision
  • Strategic
  • Teacher / learns
  • Team builder
  • Thick skinned
  • Understands our value
  • Understands Client needs and expectations
  • Visionary
  • Willing to admit to mistakes
  • Composed

“Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.” – Peter Drucker

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