Lessons in Leadership: Endurance (an excerpt from Dr. Bandelli's Book, What Every Leader Needs)

Endurance

Early in my career I had the privilege of working with many great management consultants. Peter was one of my first professional mentors. He quickly took me under his wing when I joined his consulting firm. Peter was a thirty-year veteran of the leadership and management consulting field. He had served in many different roles during his tenure at the firm. One thing I respected about him right away was that he always maintained a long-term perspective on any goal he set for himself or for others. Peter was persistent under adversity and setbacks while always keeping his eye on the prize.

I can vividly remember the first consultant engagement I got to work on with Peter. We were doing a CEO Succession project for a mid-size consumer products company. It was early in my career, so there was a lot I needed to learn. The night before our first meeting with the CHRO, Peter sat me down at dinner and asked a series of questions about my background and my perspectives on the type of consultant I wanted to be. Specifically, what would be my value add to clients. He used this information to help me begin to shape my brand as a management consultant. After discussing my background, Peter readily shifted attention from strategic to tactical issues as it pertained to the engagement. He mapped out how we would approach the initial conversations with the CEO and CHRO. He walked me through the interview protocol for the conversations we would have with each of the Board Members. He outlined the engagement from start to finish in a clear and concise manner. He brought an energy and excitement to the project.

Peter had an incredible knack for playing at the right level with clients. He could spend the morning with the CEO and fully engage the client in the discussion. That afternoon he could be out on the factory floor and make connections with the assembly line managers. He had a way of connecting with people and establishing rapport. Peter was skilled at quickly getting to the underlying psychology and make-up of his clients, and then leveraging this information to drive impact. I saw him do this time and time again with different stakeholders.

As I got to know Peter on a deeper level, I was amazed at his perseverance and endurance. He thrived in high-pressure, high-stakes engagements. He knew how to develop effectives strategies and coping mechanisms for managing pressure and stress. This was related to work he did inside and outside the firm. As an example, he was responsible for building out a CEO Succession practice for the firm. He communicated a passion for growing the business in this service area and owning the outcomes. In building the practice, he took the lead on the key initiatives, and was effective in delegating responsibilities to other team members so that we could maximize our efforts. He empowered others to own decisions and create intellectual property that would support the growth of the CEO Succession service area. It was not an easy task to bring an entire management consulting firm up to speed with a fully packaged service offerings. Peter did this with poise and grace. He anticipated and mitigated concerns from colleagues. He created a culture where people were genuinely interested in learning and leveraging the products and services in the CEO Succession offering.

Now, although Peter seemed to have it all together on the outside, he struggled with some areas in his personal life. When I met him, he was already on his third marriage. However, no matter what was going on personally, he always brought his A-game to work. I never saw him mix his work and home life. He was the epitome of professionalism as a management psychologist and consultant.

I learned three valuable lessons from Peter. First, as management consultants, we always must look the part. From appearance to verbal and non-verbal behaviors to our knowledge and expertise, the way we come across to clients is critical. Peter taught me how to show up in a room with different clients, how to balance influence with partnership, and how to drive impact that led to repeat business and referrals. Second, he showed me that working with clients is a long-term game. You must always be mindful of where the next piece of work could come from. This was not scope creep. It was truly understanding clients’ needs, and anticipating how those needs would evolve over time. Third, he taught me how to have swagger as a consultant. Clients hire us for our expertise, but there is a fine balance between confidence and arrogance. Peter taught me how to walk that line. He helped me hone the skills needed to be the expert in the room, but showed me how to influence people without authority or positional power.

Peter had endurance. He knew how to maintain a long-term perspective on anything he touched. He was persistent under adversity, challenges, and setbacks. He knew how to thrive under high pressure, high stakes situations. He was skilled at prioritizing the right objectives and delegating responsibilities to others as needed. He empowered those that he worked with, which enabled the team get to outcomes quicker than he could doing it all alone. It was one of my greatest professional pleasures to work with and learn from Peter. He embodied the characteristics of an enduring and battle-tested leader.

Adam C. Bandelli, Ph.D. is an Associate Client Partner at Korn Ferry/Hay Group, the preeminent authority on leadership and talent.

Look for his new book, What Every Leader Needs, in 2017!

Leadership Matters. Without It, People Fail.