When clients come to professional services companies it is a given that the professional is an expert in their field, whether that field be law, accountancy, PR, economics, property, environmental, or something else. The technical, which is the focus of many years of learning and the product of experience and training, is no longer the thing that separates one professional from another. A great professional is more than just a technical specialist.
Client challenges are increasingly complex and clients are faced with more and more choices. The result? Clients are calling the shots. “Good enough” just isn’t enough. Advisors are expected to be commercial and understand their clients’ businesses. They need to know how their advice impacts their client’s strategy and how to help enable it.
At a time when many professional services companies are struggling to find their point of difference, professionals are further being asked to be innovators and disruptive. Those complex challenges demand different ways of working to help solve them.
How do you become a great professional?
What sets a great professional apart from a good one is that they have skills beyond the technical. Professionals need EQ as well as IQ. This enables them to lead teams (and get the most from those teams), to influence and develop others. Soft skills. These skills, which we have heard described as success skills, have often been the poor relation to the technical. They are rarely rewarded in firms; certainly not directly. However, they have increasingly become something that clients ask for and indeed one client went so far as to devise a whole pitch around them (see our podcast episode with Helen Lowe of easyJet for more on that!).
These demands are unlikely to go away and we suspect that given the way the easyJet pitch went viral, it will not be the last of its kind.
Where should professionals start?
There are two things that we think are key. The first is mindset. Professionals with a growth mindset are constantly looking to learn and evolve. If they cannot do something then they believe with effort and determination they will get there. They cannot do it yet.
Lots of the things that soft skills touch on: influence, empathy, trust, leadership are teachable. However, if you approach these things from the point of view that they are not something that can be taught and, furthermore, that they are not something that you are naturally good at, then you will fall at the first hurdle.
However, there is a solution for those with fixed mindsets, and even for those at the other end of the spectrum who are eager to learn. Self-awareness. Many people when asked will say that they have a good degree of self-awareness. Indeed, we have yet to meet a professional who would profess the contrary! However, learning how to increase your self-awareness and how to use the power of reflection is something that forms the foundation for success with so much of what is expected of a great professional.
Why is self-awareness so important?
It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone thinks, feels, evaluates and experiences the world in the same way. Even when reminded of this truth, it is human nature to forget it when it counts. We overlook differences in the heat of an argument, or if someone has said something which has bruised our ego. It doesn’t even have to be that extreme. Perhaps we are trying to influence someone in the way that we would look to be influenced, forgetting that we might not necessarily have any success with that approach at all.
Being self-aware helps us to think about differences and to think about how we can adapt our style when working with others. However, its power doesn’t stop there. The next thing that self-awareness does is it helps us to understand our way of being and that power of reflection can help us thrive. As we increase our self-awareness, we start to ask ourselves questions, like:
How does who we are impact our roles?
How does who we are impact our relationships?
How does who we are impact how we are seen by our clients?
Coaching uses questions to raise awareness. Much of the power of coaching comes from the holding up of a mirror which enables a heightened awareness of self. This is just one way that self-awareness can be increased. However, it is achieved.