The Role of Confidence in Consulting

Confidence in Consulting

Confidence is that feeling by which the mind embarks in great and honorable courses with a sure hope and trust in itself.  –Cicero

Confidence plays an interesting role in consulting. Our customers need to have confidence in us as consultants. We need to have confidence in our ability to make a positive difference in solving our customers’ problems. 

That seems quite simple and straightforward – no rocket science in those statements, right?

However, nuances exist on both sides of that equation. And those nuances contribute significantly to the level of success a consultant can achieve.

Confidence from the Client’s Perspective

Imagine being in our customers’ shoes: when they’re looking for help it’s generally for a challenge in their organization that falls just a bit beyond their current capabilities. They may be looking for strategic perspective from outside the organization or a specific infrequently-used expertise or someone not involved with their internal politics. In all cases, they’re handing over the keys to an important part of their business. 

If you’re asking someone to ‘drive’ for a short while, you likely want to make sure you can trust them. That they can handle the situation and whatever might come up. And that they’ll bring something new, fresh, and meaningful to the table. 

All that translates to clients having confidence in your ability to solve a problem, and also to facilitate some activity in their organization and maybe even model a different approach that the organization could adopt for itself. 

How Prospects Build Confidence in You

How do they develop that confidence in you? That’s when testimonials, referrals, credentials, and case studies come in to play. Our work as consultants is created out of our relationships, facilitation, transformation, and expertise. The feedback from our clients and the stories of how we made a difference reflect the impact of that work – and the foundation for how much confidence a prospective customer can have in us.

Confidence in the Consultant/Client Dynamic Is on a Continuum

The nuance shows up in how you embody and communicate your abilities and the implied promise of success. Confidence lies on a continuum between arrogance and self-doubt. 

At the arrogance end of the confidence continuum, some arrogance may actually shore up your credibility, especially if you have a good track record of solving difficult challenges and doing it in a way that leaves people feeling good about themselves. I’m not talking about the kind of arrogance of an independently operating gun slinger – that usually doesn’t work. Instead, I’m referring to a blend of confidence with just a touch arrogance. You may know someone that presents themselves with that interesting combination – I see Alan Weiss as a successful example. He’s clear that he makes a difference and can back that up. And frequently, consultants that have profitably been in business a while have that blend as a default way of being – they may not even realize it (possibly you).

On the other end of the spectrum lies self-doubt. A little self-doubt may feel ok at times – as if you’re being humble and not an arrogant braggart. That doesn’t really help your customers though. If they detect that you’re not clearly able to take responsibility for success and making that happen for them, they’ll assume you don’t have what it takes. Asserting your true capability will instill trust and help your potential customers feel confident in you helping them through a challenge.

That’s all from the perspective of your clients. 

Self-Confidence About Meeting the Challenge

Internally, we need to have a certain amount of confidence in ourselves in order to stand up and own our expertise publicly. 

Similar nuances apply to our internal confidence: arrogance to self-doubt and threading that needle. 

Arrogance from inside ourselves may not create the same positive effect as it does in the dynamic with a customer. Internal arrogance often arises from a leap or risk we’re taking that doesn’t come from experience and can mean we’re fooling ourselves a bit. That doesn’t mean you don’t take a leap or a risk to take on that next big challenge that doesn’t look exactly like what you’ve done before – by all means, do that! Just be clear with yourself that you might need to shore up to get that done successfully: put in more time or get support or some tools. 

Don’t fool yourself with arrogance, but use it to move yourself to the next level of your practice.

Internal Self-Doubt Can Undermine Consultants

The self-doubt end of the internal confidence continuum poses a truly problematic mindset for a consultant. Once you entertain a little self-doubt – maybe because you haven’t done this exactly in this way, or you’re new to consulting, or you just aren’t sure – this can become a slippery slope and keep you from taking on more challenging and rewarding work. 

Self-doubt usually originates from a lack of experience. And that’s completely understandable – and still needs to be shored up in order to get those gigs that really matter. 

But self-doubt can come from another direction and can put a consultant (or anyone) in a crisis of confidence. In a crisis of confidence, you stop reaching for new types of work and stick with the stuff you’ve done before. You also start questioning your claim to even make a big difference for someone. How can you win the opportunity when you can’t feel confident that you truly can make a difference for the client?

This kind of crisis of confidence can come from a bad experience with a client (often brought on by the client’s difficulties and not yours), a decline in available work (such as in a recession or pandemic), or a health challenge (mental or physical). All those situations require time, attention, and energy to overcome personally. They do not necessarily cause an inability to meet challenges with clients. But they may feel like they do.

A crisis of confidence differs from an actual inability to do the work – it’s a mental game. And when you’re in a mental game you don’t always realize it – feels like reality.

Overcoming a crisis of confidence – no matter what kind – means getting in touch with reality. If you’re lacking confidence because of a perception that you’re inexperienced in this particular situation or if you’re having a crisis, you need hard evidence that you are smart, capable, and resourceful. Take on a small project, then expand it or do a volunteer project that’s beyond your comfort zone. Or work with someone else as a partner. The key is to engage in small challenges in the work you’ve done before or that’s at your edge and build your confidence.

Even though a situation may look or feel different when in crisis, when you get back to those key elements that make you an effective consultant, then you can move back into your zone. You may not have all the confident feeling you want to have – that may take some time internally. You will have the ability to step through real experiences to build that confidence. 

Nurture Healthy Confidence

Here’s the bottom line: confidence plays a key role in your success, both in the dynamic with your clients and prospects and internal in your relationship to your work. Give yourself the time and space to keep that confidence alive, whole, and authentic. That will pay off.

Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.

 –Norman Vincent Peale

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. 

–Dale Carnegie

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ 

–Eleanor Roosevelt

About Kathryn Gorges

President of Women In Consulting, Senior Business and Marketing Coach, and Co-Founder at Inspired Success, I coach and lead masterminds for inspired entrepreneurs creating businesses that fuel their passion, bring them joy, put them in flow, and make them money. I apply over 10 years transformational coaching experience and 17 years of high tech marketing and sales to my work with entrepreneurs. My extensive marketing background enables me to help businesses close the gaps between their offerings and the needs of their market and communicate value simply and effectively so that revenue can grow sustainably.

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