The greatest blessing I’ve been given has been to be a husband and a father to five kids. These experiences have shaped who I am and who I want to be. They cause me to earnestly desire to serve my family in a sacrificial manner. In looking at the lessons I’ve learned as a dad, many of these have made me better at serving people as a consultant or in internal technology ‘consulting’ roles. I won’t say that I am always accomplishing the traits below (in fact I am infrequently implementing them well), but I certainly desire for them to be part of the character of how I help my clients and how we are building Concurrency.
Be selfless. I find that fatherhood is often about giving yourself for your kids. In a similar way we find ourselves doing the same in consulting. If it becomes about you, you’re focused on the wrong things. In this sense I believe that many companies make a mistake, as they become too interested in selling a particular license or hardware, in spite of the actual needs of their clients. An effective consultant needs to be focused on the client’s needs, vs. their own. I’m certain you’ll find that if you put others first, you’ll be happier and more fulfilled, simply because it is what you should do.
Be patient. I am most effective as a father when I am patient. I am likewise the least effective when I am impatient. I find that my impatience is a trait I have to frequently fight and the techniques of gaining patience have helped all aspects of life, especially consulting. It is patience that enables a person to change a business toward the better by nudging a company toward a good direction piece by piece. It is patience that helps a person to navigate tough situations and deal with disappointment. It is patience that gives us a resolve to see through long term objectives. In some cases people may view this patience as weakness, but in reality it is a characteristic of “self-mastery” or “custody over one’s self”. Ask yourself if you have mastery over your actions, or if your actions have mastery over you.
Be charitable. In parenting there is a saying that you should say “10 positive things for every 1 negative thing”. The intention is to ask parents to look for the best in their kids, vs. focusing on the mistakes. In business you can make assumptions about people either in a negative or positive manner. To make “charitable” assumptions is to characterize a person’s actions and intentions in the best possible light. You might say that this is a mistake, since many people do not approach it the same way. However, I’ve found that the way in which you choose to interact with someone typically “colors” that interaction from both perspectives. I find that if I assume that a person earnestly is interested in a good outcome and I in fact mention directly to the person examples of such an outcome, I am able to achieve a positive working relationship. The times when I do not charitably interact with a person is when I run into interpersonal issues.
Be honest. You simply do not get anywhere by being dishonest. This is the case as a parent or as a business person. In parenting your kids need to trust you, as does your spouse. In business your credibility is a core component of a successful relationship, as if it isn’t built on trust, it is difficult to have a genuine conversation. In some cases it might seem that the complexity should be hidden, but overall it makes more sense to state the simple answer, then give an idea of how you are arriving at that answer.
Be firm. If you are being honest, charitable, and patient, you have earned the opportunity to be firm. The right attitude allows you the context to convey your opinion and in some cases deal with opposition around that opinion. This is where as a parent some of us get in trouble, because if you attempt to be firm (sec. authoritarian) without having the relationship, you will be ineffective. I find I am most effective with my daughter when I have been listening to her and have been patient in understanding her concerns or interests. If I need to be firm, I do so after I know she is listening and that I have the necessary line of communication.
Be clear. If you are honest and firm, you should be clear about what you are conveying. This is also especially important when defining intentions. I often find it important to define the intentions for a meeting, a conversation, or a relationship, as it helps two people to really communicate and get beyond assumptions. As a parent, when I’m speaking to my kids, I always ask them to look me in the eyes. That is because if I don’t have their eyes, I don’t have their heart. The same is true for communication in business. Look people in the eyes and be clear about what you are conveying to them and why.
Be sincere. It is difficult to have a honest relationship with your spouse, your kids, or a business partner if you aren’t honest and sincere about your intentions and actions. In this respect sincerity is the precursor to trust, which sets the tone for your whole relationship.
Be respectful. A key trait that my father taught me was to always call people “Mr. and Mrs.” because it started the conversation with the appropriate level of respect. I’ve taught a similar pattern to my kids. The point is not specifically the “Mr. and Mrs.”, but more so the respect which presumes the conversation. In using respect we cause ourselves to value the inherent nature of a person’s opinion, history, and values, even if we think they are dead wrong. A mistake many consultants and technology persons make is to undervalue the people they are talking to. If we reverse that mistake and focus on appreciating each interaction we’ll ultimately be more successful in our outcomes and relationships.
Be intentional. Being intentional starts with determining what you “intend”. That begins with your basic character and presuppositions about your life and extends beyond work. To be intentional is to choose to act in accordance with the presuppositions you desire to be reflected in the outcomes and to select a desired state to work toward. This generally leads to better results and relationships because you are considering more of the factors and are limiting the impact of negative situations. I find that sometimes I am a bit worn out and am not as patient, complementary, or respectful as I want to be as a father, husband, or friend. It sometimes takes me time to step back and determine “who I want to be” and determine the extent to which I am accomplishing that through my actions. I find that when I am able to govern my actions through patience, sincerity, and respectfulness, I’m more intentional and my outcomes align closer to the character I want to portray.
Be trusting. I believe in starting relationships with the basic assumption of trust, although that trust may operate at a lower level than an established relationship. I do that by stating the outcomes clearly and in a way that hopefully resonates with the person I’m working with. I want to trust that their response has the same intention. If that trust is broken because a person is not operating in the same manner, it is difficult to really communicate. Trust operates at several levels, starting with intentions, information, then recommendations. The most basic trust assumes that we are operating under good intentions, usually including a desire to create a solution which is the best for the business involved, its people, and is fair for the group doing the work. I find that operating under the assumption of trust prevents me from recommending solutions which I am not myself comfortable with.
Be passionate. If you aren’t passionate about what you do, you likely are not going to be as successful as you could be, since being passionate about something causes you to discover, explore, innovate, create, and set vision. To be passionate doesn’t mean that you always have to enjoy what you do, or that things will be easy. To be passionate assumes that you have a greater reason for what you do and see meaning in it. However, remember that passion without good content is meaningless. We all know people who suffer from this in business and life. I might be passionate about the Packers winning the game, but I’ve also witnessed the impact of bringing a six year old along to Lambeau Field, as it causes the surrounding people (and me) to govern their emotions and words. Don’t be passionate without first being reasoned and intentional.
Be choosy. You can’t do everything well. Too many parents try to get their kids involved in everything and as a result are unintentional about the character of their families. People say, “I wish I had more time around the dinner table with my kids”, but then also get them involved in activities which send the family in different directions every night. The same is true in consulting or internal IT. You can’t do everything excellent, or even well. You need to determine what you want to be good at and what you are willing to sacrifice. I had a financial planner who said, “Nate you can have anything you want, but not everything”.
Be an active listener. Listen first, talk second. But don’t just listen. Understand. In my house we have a minor “issue” every 15 – 30 minutes, which could be anything from skinning a knee to an “altercation” regarding sharing. I’ve found that if I try to solve the problem without first listening to her, I will struggle. If I listen, restate the problem, and then propose a solution calmly, without being drawn into the argument, the solution is easier to convey. This is the same story in internal consulting, where you first need to understand the needs and show you are listening, then you have earned the opportunity to suggest a solution.
Be thankful. I teach my kids to consider all things a blessing. Be thankful to people who give you the opportunity to assist them. Thankfulness is an important step in telling people that you value the opportunity.
I hope this helps you in the extent which it articulates what I believe we should all strive for in our work lives. I’m certain these character qualities will evolve over time and that my opinions will to, but hopefully the core remains the same.
Better than I deserve,