The world is changing, shifting, and getting more intense and small all the time. With these and many other changes, there is an increased need to hire contractors and consultants that have deep and diverse experience within a given field. Over the past 10 years of being a consultant and coach, I have learned through my own experience and through many others a few tricks to be effective at each engagement. More importantly, I have learned a few mistakes that are critical to avoid if you want to make a lasting impact and be viewed as an important member of your client’s team.

1. Believing That You Are the Best

When a client hires you as a contractor or consultant, it is of the utmost importance to show humility and a desire to learn. I have witnessed, and done this mistake myself, a consultant assume that they know best, that they have all the answers, and that the client needs that person’s help or the client will be doomed. This mistake not only creates a challenging working situation, it also creates issues for the consultant’s career as this attitude is discussed and told to many others in the clients organization as well as given as feedback to your own company.

“Life is a long lesson in humility” — James M. Barrie

2. Working as a Single Consultant Without a Collaborators

Yes, they did hire you as a consultant. And, yes you have specific skills that are needed for this engagement. Great.! But, you are also hired into an ecosystem that requires you to play ball with others including peers and leaders. A big mistake is to work as if you are an island with all the necessary skills and abilities without seeking support, guidance, or help from others. An wise consultant seeks out a group of people to become aligned with so that the goals and activities done by him or her are more effective and have active supporters to see them to fruition.

“A strong team can take any crazy vision and turn it into reality” — John Carmack

3. Assuming That Things are Going Well

Once you start working with your client, you will take action to drive outcomes. This is good. But it is easy to assume that the work that you are doing is effective and what the clients wanted when you started the project. Don’t assume. Feedback is a powerful tool in the consultant’s arsenal — use is often and wisely. If you don’t seek feedback from your leaders and stakeholders, you run the risk of following a path that will yield no results. This could lead to a quick end to your contract.

“Never assume the obvious is true” — William Safire

4. Avoiding Challenging Situations with Your Client

One of the main reasons to hire a contractor/consultant is that this person has an outside point view and, hopefully, is able to see dysfunction within the system. A key mistake would be to notice these problems and then do nothing about them. Don’t fall trap to the avoidance of conflict — instead jump in with skill, practice, and humility. Be sure to be clear on what you want the conversation to be about and what you don’t want it to be about. This will make it easier for others to lower their defences and look for a common solution.

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means” — Ronald Reagan

5. Believing that One Size Fits All

You have years of experience. You have seen many types of situations and needs. Yet, you employ the same approach to every client and every organization. Why? This mistake is not dangerous because you can cause harm and show an unwillingness to see other points of view. It also can restrict your ability to help other companies as they won’t see you as adaptable or creative in your thinking. There are many ways to add value and be respectful at the same time.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change” — Stephen Hawking

Some Final Thoughts

As consultants, coaches, and contractors we can achieve success if we stay humble, work well with others, test our assumptions, work through conflict, and adapt our approach to each situation.

Good luck on becoming the best version of yourself as you continue to strive for excellence not perfection!

Paul J. Heidema


Paul J. Heidema

CEO at SparkActa Inc. -- Paul J. Heidema consults, coaches and guides senior management and staff to look for possibilities to improve their results and improve their organization. He leads large-scale organizational transformations to achieve lasting results in: building a culture that supports trust and growth, leadership coaching to mentor others, organizational effectiveness in processes, and systems thinking.

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