Sometimes when the wolf is knocking at the door….
Do nothing. Pretend it’s just the howling wind. That is, unless the wolf is your competitor, and it’s your client’s house. And you are already comfortably inside. Then do something—but not the something you might have done even just a few years ago.
Yesterday’s pop business advice would have led you toward panic at best, conspiracy to keep the wolf out at worst. Your energy would have gone negative, aimed at your own safety and security. You would have jumped to block the door—or created a smokescreen of chaos so impressive that you hoped the wolf either could not penetrate or would give up trying. Then you would resolve the chaos that you created within the walls of your client’s house, showing your heroics, your rare form. In doing so, you would be trying to prove that you, and only you, can serve your client in all areas, at all times. Your brand diluted, your client knee-deep in your own chaos, your clutch is strangling the best of what you brought to your clients. Worst of all, the work is not fun anymore, and even less meaningful. And the wolf is looking better and better to your client every day.
Nothing about that shameful scenario works in today’s business climate, or will ever work again in this century. The challenge of the recent economic times has thinned out the herd—the weak competitors are gone and the remaining competitors are strong. As for the house, well, let’s just say they don’t build them like they used to: the client’s expectations have changed and her relationships are more flexible and permeable than they once were. In other words, your client knows better than to get lulled into a comfortable (and exclusive) consulting relationship. She is competent, and your best advantage lies in not needing to have an advantage. Your partnership works when you develop it as a co-creation of partners, a synergy of thinking, and speedy knowledge transfer that brings you both a sense of shared success.
In this scenario, the wolf at the door can be your best ally, your greatest catalyst for success with this client. And not in the tired “every crisis is an opportunity” kind of way. Really, if you are as good as you think you are, the wolf should not frighten you. In fact, if you are frightened when your competitor comes calling, then you need to look carefully into the gap between how good you think you are and how good you really are, because there’s some “opportunity” there for you to be better.
No one can inspire you to be better like that wolf at the door. Who better to challenge you, to push you to see new angles and potential areas of growth? You and the wolf have an opportunity that could benefit you both: the chance to grow in mutual admiration and even collaborate to create breakthroughs that could not otherwise have happened. You are positioning the work for moments of collective brilliance, where you are doing what you do best and so is the wolf. That combination is electric and propels the client’s forward momentum in otherwise impossible ways.
Open the Damned Door
If the client moves to answer the door, be the first to greet the wolf. Offer a genuine and authentic welcome, and a transparency that is uncharacteristic of the past. Share your brand; engage the wolf in real conversations about your strengths, your brilliance, and possible synergies that lie waiting between you. Open these conversations to your client. Model new ways of partnering for your client’s shared success. Be open about what is challenging and difficult and where there are bumps in the road. Be the same partner and collaborator no matter who is and who is not in the same room. Never, never throw the wolf under the bus in front of your client.
The wolf is giving you the greatest gift and best opportunity to showcase your best work. Rarely will you have the chance to bump up against something or someone who compels you to sharpen your skills, ratchet up your rigor, and focus in this manner. So, get your work in order and tie up any loose or fragmented elements, then get busy looking for possibilities to conspire with the wolf for the greater good of your new shared client.
You will be better because of the wolves that come knocking, and your client will be even more convinced that you are the best.