Protecting Your Reputation as a Consultant

Protecting Your Reputation
Protecting Your Reputation as a Consultant

A neighbor’s lost reputation

I grew up in a small town of about 2,000 people.  My high school graduating class size was 63.  It was a small, tight-knit community and still is.  I don’t live there anymore, but enjoy my visits back.

There was a woman who worked in the high school office for over 40 years.  I knew her well and waited on her often at the restaurant that I worked at in that small town when I was in high school.  I knew her kids growing up.  She was a nice sweet woman.

She recently pleaded guilty to embezzling over a million dollars from the high school over the period of about a decade.  Along with my former community members, I’m shocked.  No one ever suspected her of such a thing.  Now, instead of enjoying her retirement years, she may serve the rest of her life in prison.

Joe Paterno’s lost reputation

For years, like many people, I looked up to Joe Paterno.  Paterno was the head football coach for Penn State University for nearly 62 seasons.  He seemed to stand for honesty and integrity; aspects that were missing from many college sports programs.

In late 2011 it was revealed that he had been involved in concealing facts related to a sexual predator on his staff.  He in essence, allowed young boys to be sexually molested to protect the reputation of his football program.  Ironically, his actions did more to destroy that program than to protect it.

Lance Armstrong’s lost reputation

Lance Armstrong recently did a two-part interview with Oprah Winfrey (if you haven’t heard about this interview, please send me the location of the rock you’ve been living under).  In this interview, he admitted that he had used performance enhancement drugs (PEDs) while winning seven Tour de France titles; all while he vehemently denied using them and sued, bullied and chastised anyone that accused him of using them.

The common thread in all of these is trust.  Many people unquestioningly trusted these individuals and were let down when the truth finally came out.

Protecting your reputation

As consultants, we strive to be a client’s trusted advisor.  We’re constantly working at protecting our reputation with the client. Many times we find that whatever we do, it’s not enough.

Much of that can be attributed to the fact that it seems harder to trust people.  After being betrayed by people we never dreamed would betray us, why would anyone choose a consultant to trust?

It just makes our job that much harder.  But gradually, by proving ourselves over and over, and showing that we’re there for the client and not just for us, we can get to the point where we are trusted advisers.

See my related post: Michael Jordan and the Consultant’s Public Image

It doesn’t stop there.  Once we find ourselves in the client’s inner circle, we have to continually maintain that trust.  I remember once, some years ago when a politician was wrapped up in a sex scandal.  A mentor of mine said, “You can spend your whole life building a reputation.  But one mistake like that can throw it all away.”

It takes a lot of work to get into the client’s inner circle.  And further work to continue to earn the client’s trust.  But once you’re in, it’s the beginning of a great relationship.  Just don’t screw it up.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.