Strategic advisers: five perspectives.

In our Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders events, one of our goals is to combine fun with practical tools to help participants reflect on their personal advisory style and think what it means for their own behaviour, and how they work with others.

One of the most popular tools we have helps people think about what type of adviser they are. In fact, being a ‘strategic adviser’ comes in five different flavours.

So what are the five? And which one are you?

Imagine you are walking into an expensive restaurant for a date with the one you love. You will encounter several different people — all experts in their own field, and all ready to give you advice on how to have the best possible experience. But they will all do it in different ways.

Nvospersfnls_Cards1 copyIn fact, maybe your first adviser is one you encounter before you get to the restaurant. You meet a previous customer (or read an internet review): “Aah, you’re going to ‘Augustus’ for dinner! Wow! You must totally have the ‘Barcelona Chop’. It’s their speciality. Divine. And for dessert? There is only one choice. Of course you need to order the ‘Caramel Salée With Meringue’. It’s to die for.” This adviser’s heart is in the right place, and they generally believe that those choices are the best for you. But they have jumped to solution and ‘yelped’ it out before even having a detailed discussion. This is a great approach in a crisis: ‘just tell me what to do’. Yelping out the solution immediately they can save time and make your life easier. But the challenge for this type of adviser — the yelper — is that jumping straight to solution or action sometimes works but is not always the best approach.

Nvospersfnls-02As you enter the restaurant, you will meet your next adviser: the maître d’. Let’s call her Martha. Her main job is to ensure you have a good experience, and to marshal a team of specialists to meet your specific needs. Martha is supportive, helpful and attentive. She knows her stuff but doesn’t parade her knowledge. At times, she will bring in experts to enhance your experience; at other times she will develop a relationship with you to understand your needs in more detail. If you are a looking for a quick transaction, go to a different restaurant. Martha will ensure you feel better after leaving; and will place your needs above her own. As you share a taxi home with your loved one, you probably won’t even remember her name: but she’s the one who made it all happen.

Nvospersfnls-05After Martha shows you to your table, you’ll meet your waiter, William. This is the third adviser archetype. His job is transactional. His job is to give you a menu of options and then write down what you say. He’ll deliver whatever you ask. Maybe there will be a little conversation about options, but essentially the waiter’s job is to deliver. Sometimes as an adviser, that is what you need to do. A senior leader needs something and you need to deliver. There is a time and a place for this approach. But doing it too often is career-limiting.

Nvospersfnls-08As you choose your meal, you’ll maybe want some wine. Enter Salma, your sommelier. As your adviser, her job is to have a conversation to understand your needs, the context (the meal you have already chosen; your budget; your tastes) and then make a recommendation. At the beginning of your conversation, she doesn’t know your needs, your context, and there is no clear solution from her list of hundreds of options. If it was a crisis and you needed immediate wine, then the yelper is the adviser for you. But the sommelier will explore the issues, make recommendations and guide you towards a good outcome.

Nvospersfnls-07Your final archetype is Christiane, the chef. She’s the super expert — and has the Michelin stars, certificates and qualifications to prove it. In her hands, the mundane becomes dynamic. Her technical expertise is second to none and if you need an expert to solve your problems she’s the one for you. Like some chefs, she can be hard to handle. Unlike the maître d’, she doesn’t need interpersonal skills. In fact, you probably won’t even meet her. But her solution will be the thing that you rave about later. As an adviser, she’s the expert and the one that will go away and build a solution to meet your needs.

This typology may be a bit of fun, but it comes in useful when diagnosing business partnering relationships. One of the big challenges in consulting or business partner relationships is that the ‘buyer’ and the ‘seller’ can sometimes have different ideas of why the partnership exists.

Successful business partners will make sure there is an alignment between three components of the relationship:

  1. What does the buyer want? Sometimes, actually, it is a waiter problem, pure and simple. Just do it. Going in with a sommelier approach is just going to annoy people.
  2. What is the job? This might be a job description, an RFP or just an email request from one of your colleagues. You need to identify what type of response is needed.
  3. Finally, as a person, where do you get your energy? Plenty of people ask me, “how do I become a maître d’?” but actually when I quiz them in detail it is apparent they are most happy being a chef.

The trick to successful business partner relationships is ensuring an alignment between what the customer wants, the job requirement and where you get your energy.

And this applies not just to those in marketing or PR but also to professionals in other fields such as HR, Legal, IT etc. In fact, we regularly sit down with the other functional leaders in my business where we explore these issues and think about what that means. (Perhaps the same is true in your organization – how often do you sit down with your peers from other functions and think about what your organization really needs from its functional experts?)

If you would like to hear more about this methodology and how to move from one archetype to another, come to one of our workshops or get in touch directly.

“Never assess the situation from your own lens…” – A Carmen Q&A

Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. In this installment of our series of conversations, Carmen spoke to Colin Hatfield the founder and senior partner at Visible Leaders.

Carmen: Hello Colin; tell me a bit more about your work…

Colin: We help leaders to articulate a vision that inspires – at all levels. We help them develop the skills to engage their internal and external audiences, to drive performance and realise their organization’s ambitions.

We believe that at the heart of leadership lies great communication. Great leaders inspire change and motivate their teams through what they say, what they do and how they listen.

Carmen: You’ve played this game more than once…

Colin: Yes! And it has developed quite a bit. The first time I tried it was when it was in a very early version. And then I partook in a ‘proper’ session earlier this year at the Strategic Adviser Forum as part of IABC’s World Conference in Montreal.

I think it works on many many levels. It is an idea that we could build in with some of our clients, and some of the relationships we’ve got.

Carmen: What surprised you the most?

Colin: Perhaps not surprised, but what I liked the most is the discussion it generates. In some situations there is a right and wrong answer. but in many there aren’t. What is interesting is to see a bunch of professionals in the room come to different outcomes. Understanding the different factors that informed their decision-making process. Getting into that was enlightening.

Carmen: You’ve recently been writing and speaking about Adaptive Leadership. Is this something that is relevant here?

Colin: Adaptive leadership is about how leaders show up: reading a situation, understanding the context – and understanding how to have the best possible impact. It is a move on from the pure ‘authenticity’ discussion that has been going on for some time. I think the game could easily be used to explore some of these challenges and approaches in practice.

Carmen: Have you got a couple of top tips from Adaptive Leadership that could be used by others playing the game?

Colin: Sure!

  1. Never assess the situation from your own lens. What’s great about the Adaptive Leadership approach is that it helps you look at things from the point of view of your stakeholders.
  2. Experiment – try taking on the different ‘personas’ as you think through the challenge. That’s essential when you play this game – and in work in general. Explore what makes the various stakeholders you deal with tick.

Carmen: Big thanks Colin – and where can we find out more about your work?

Read our blog for more on Adaptive Leadership – and you may also find our recent white papers on Communication Across Cultures and A Practical Approach to Stakeholder Management useful.

Connect with Colin on LinkedIn if you want to learn more – and follow @VisibleLeaders

And if you’d like to try the game: see if it is right for you.

If you’re an alumni and you’d like to be interviewed by Carmen, let us know here.