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What were leaders talking about in 2023?

· leadership,trends

Years whizz by, don't they? Instead of rushing headlong into the new year, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the themes that emerged last year from my coaching sessions with leaders in agencies and law firms. Here are some that came up again and again:-

1. "I hate BD because I hate networking and selling". We’ve got out of the habit of networking and it seems like Covid’s to blame. Also when you ask a group of people to raise their hands if they love walking into a room full of strangers, guess what? No one raises their hand. But if you ask people if they enjoy making new connections with people with similar interests or experience, most people will say yes.

What to do? Sales in professional services is a long game anyway, and new business comes from trust and good relationships. So, try not to think about going selling; go out and about with the goal of building new relationships and meeting people you’ll like and find interesting. Go to things you’re genuinely interested in. Often you’ll find that the people there will be quite like you, and that’s a very good starting point for BD.

2. "Clients seem to want more for less and we’re overservicing to keep them". That may be the case and they may be pushing for more to see what your reaction will be, or they may, of course, have genuine financial issues. If your reaction is fear-based and you start to work for free (because that’s what overservicing is) then your other clients suffer and your profitability obviously takes a dive.

I find that people are hesitant to talk openly to clients about costs. But if you’re satisfied that you’re delivering results and meeting the brief, then it’s unusual that a client won’t be open to an honest conversation about time and fees. After all, they don’t work for free, so why should you and your team? Demonstrating that you’re willing to have those conversations helps your team to have the confidence to have them too.

3. "Most of my day’s taken up with internal meetings". Why? Meetings are a habit and a thing that most people in leadership roles can and should have some control over. So often, people tell me that things have ‘just been put in their diaries’, implying that they have no control at all over the situation.

Some meetings, of course, are non-negotiable, but many are set up to meet someone else’s agenda. It’s really important to always ask if you really need to be there and why you’re on the list in the first place. Could someone else go and report back to you? Could you say no? Mindful management of your own time is the key.

4. "Dealing with the team’s taking more time than doing my core work". This has always been a common theme but since Covid, I think it’s more prevalent. Why? Because when we weren’t going to meetings and events, our teams got used to asking us to help with everything – and we did, because we worried about them, alone in their flat-shares or home at their parents.

But by being the fixer and solving all their problems for them (or believing it’s our responsibility to do so), are we helping them or harming them? If we solve all their problems for them, they don’t develop and the obvious conclusion is that we end up doing more and more in a self-defeating vicious circle.

So what do we do? Try the coaching approach. Rather than jump in with a solution, ask open questions instead. Don’t take the responsibility, but where appropriate, try to keep it with them, and get a kick out of watching them succeed.

5. "Junior team members feel that it's fine to say no". Leaders seem to be struggling with this more and more. It’s an interesting one. On the one hand, good for them! On the other, there’s a harsh reality of a certain amount of work and a certain number of pairs of hands to do it.

As leaders, we need to understand what’s going on. Are they really overworked? Are they gold-plating or procrastinating? Can we set them up for success better to help them to get the job done more quickly and effectively? Do they understand how the boring tasks will help them to progress? Do we talk to them or just complain about them? The latter changes nothing. The former might make a difference.

6. "People don’t go the extra mile". People tell me that teams don’t seem as interested in the business or the clients as they should be. Why not? Usually it’s because they don’t have the full picture or don’t understand the vision. They don’t see themselves as part of the route to success, just as cogs in a wheel. Whose fault is that? Probably ours.

Do we help them understand what’s in it for them to go the extra mile? Do they truly understand the vision for the business and the part they can play? Are they listened to if they have ideas? Do they understand the client’s goals fully or just the task they’ve been asked to do?

Think of yourself in their shoes – what would motivate you? The same things will probably motivate them.

If any of these challenges resonate with you and you’d like an opportunity to explore solutions in some confidential sessions, or talk about sessions for people on your team, drop me a line. I’m always happy to have a chat, and we might have a few things in common!