Personal Branding: Lessons to avoid from consultants

Posted February 5, 2014 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

When people call me a consultant, I tend to break out in invisible hives.  I prefer to think of myself as a practicing leader whose job happens to be spending time furthering my learning about leadership so that I can help other leaders.  I suppose “consultant” is easier to say.   In today’s “Brand You” world, there are many practices that consultants employ around self-promotion that have started to bleed into the work world.  Not all of them are good.  After a few months of being irritated by what I’ve seen from some of my consulting industry peers, I felt the need to vent.  Here are a few cautionary tales from my vantage point on when self-promotion becomes over-promotion and what practices from an industry where “image is everything” you should avoid:

  1. Veiled bragging… I recently received an email from a consulting colleague that had the title “Humbled” in the subject line. When I opened it, the only thing included was a screen shot of the Top Influencers in Leadership (or something of that nature) on Twitter. She was one of them.  Now, I’m happy for her and I’m glad that she’s obviously happy for herself… but perhaps titling her email “Excited!” or “Proud!” would have been a better lead in to the news she shared.  Saying “humbled” and then showcasing something like that came across as the exact opposite of “humbility” as Honest Ed used to say.  It’s o.k. to be proud about your accomplishments… downplaying or being overly modest makes you look inauthentic.
  2. Self-Labeling … I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… beware of anyone who labels themselves a “Guru”.  In any field – whether it’s marketing, sales, finance, IT – there are VERY VERY VERY few Guru’s.  Fine… someone else might label you a Guru (seem point 3 below) but don’t label yourself a Guru in your LinkedIn profile or Twitter handle.  In my experience, the ones that truly are Guru’s would NEVER refer to themselves that way because they see unending opportunities to learn and grow.  I’m particularly baffled by leadership consultants who call themselves Guru’s… but that’s another story.
  3. Sharing vanity metrics… I love this phrase (I learned it from Eric Ries in The Lean Startup).  A vanity metric is something that sounds great but does absolutely nothing for your career or business.  One of my vanity metrics is that I’m a leadership “Guru” (their label, NOT mine) for a couple of entrepreneur’s business sites.  It’s fun and I like to help, but entrepreneurs aren’t my target audience and my profile on these sites does very little to enhance my business at The Executive Roundtable.  Too often, I see people promoting their involvement in things that don’t matter.  But hey… they sound cool and they give them an excuse to send out an email (“Check out my quote in the Globe!”  “Look at how many followers I have on Twitter!”)  Consultants do this kind of thing all the time and I always think… “who cares?? Are you paying your bills?”  If you’re showcasing things like that at your workplace, chances are your colleagues are rolling their eyes at you too.
  4. The Annual “Update” SPAM…like the dreaded mass Christmas letter, another obnoxious practice from the consulting world that seems to be making it’s way into the mainstream is the “annual update”.  Every year my former employer would send a “client profile” to “add value” to our customer relationships.  Really it was a thinly disguised self-promotion piece that was supposed to drum up new work by bragging about our old work.  Today, I see leaders sending out “career abstracts” as ways of keeping people “up to date” on their new skills and abilities.  I have a better idea.  Pick up the phone and go out for coffee with people and tell them in person what you’re up to and find out what they’re up to and see if you can help each other.  Radical.

There are tons of great consultants out there that do great work.  But it’s also an industry that has developed more than its fair share of individuals who are great self-promoters with very little substance.  These individuals tend to get hired by a client once, but won’t get hired back a second time.  In the workplace, watch out for individuals who look nice and shiny on paper, interview exceptionally well, but don’t seem to stick around at anything for very long.  It may be an indicator that they’ve got more sizzle than steak.

Happy leading!


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