#ThinkLikeABusinessOwner: The Surprising Skill Required to Succeed As An Independent Consultant

By MBO Partners | August 3, 2021

Melisa Liberman

Today in the Think Like a Boss series, we’re talking about the most important skill that almost every independent consultant doesn’t realize they need to master.

That skill is managing emotions.

Now, you might be asking, what is Melisa talking about?

I thought she’d say sales is the most important skill to master.

Mastering emotions can’t possibly be the #1 skill to master as an IC.

Hang with me and I’ll explain.

In today’s post, we’ll cover:

  • The corporate baggage that could be holding you back
  • Why this corporate approach to emotions will backfire on us as independent consultants
  • How to leverage emotions as a strength to make faster progress in your IC business

Want to listen to this in audio also? Melisa also has a podcast on the topic. Check it out, here

A quick note first: I’m going to use the term negative emotions in this post. It’s short-hand for emotions that you don’t like or really want to have. You know — fear, doubt, uncertainty, inadequacy, etc. These aren’t actually negative or bad. They’re part of the human experience. But, I’m going to simplify by referring to them as “negative” emotions so this article doesn’t get too wordy by me using the phrase “emotions that you’d rather not have.”

What Employees Think: Feelings (and how this relates to using a paperclip as a weapon)

As employees, we’re taught that feelings have no place in business.

Honestly, something to this effect may have been in the 1st employee handbook I ever received, along with the requirement that women should wear hosiery with their knee-length or longer skirts on client engagements…

We’re taught to hide, mask, suppress, do whatever we need to do to keep that poker face on at all times.

For me, when I was an employee, I had a phase where I was frequently on the verge of tears because I hadn’t yet figured out how to manage the pressure of my role (and also the CEO’s shouting).

To keep from crying, I would bring a paperclip to every tough meeting.

Then, when it got tense and I noticed emotion starting to bubble up, I would press the end of a paperclip into my hand.

Basically, I was creating a diversion of physical pain to keep from crying, so I could perform in the meeting.

Yes, that’s extreme.

And no, I’m not going to tell you to let all the emotions fly whenever you want now that you’re a consultant.

My point here is that I know so many employees who go to extremes like this to mask their feelings in corporate, to put on a brave, professional demeanor at all times.

Oftentimes, as employees, one of our go-to solutions to manage negative emotions is to seek out other people.

  • Get rid of resistance by delegating the things we don’t want to do to other people
  • Avoid self-doubt by forming teams or committees to accomplish the goal

The delegation, collaboration, and teamwork are often our catch-net.

But, as an IC, we don’t have this outlet.

We’re responsible for everything, from soup to nut

For the most part, unless an assistant or sub-contractor can do it, we can’t delegate those things that are creating negative emotions.

The Impact of Employee-Based Thinking

So, we’ve learned to suppress emotions from our corporate experience.

How does this impact the work you’re doing as an independent?

As an independent, who’s a business owner and entrepreneur, masking the emotions and pushing through will ultimately slow you down.

Now, you could argue that this could also slow you down as an employee and I agree. But, for today, we’re not talking about employee performance. Instead, we’re focused on how you can leverage your emotions as an independent to succeed in your business.

If you continue to avoid, suppress and mask those negative-feeling emotions like you were taught to do as an employee, here’s the impact on your consulting business:

Blocking emotions makes them last longer.

They’ll ultimately slow you down, and make the work you’re doing even more difficult.

Let’s get specific on this cause and effect:

If you’re feeling   And you suppress it, it leads to more Why?
Self-doubt or inadequacy   Procrastination, underselling You haven’t trained your brain to continue working even though you feel self-doubt and you wait to feel more competent or expertly
Resistance Changing your mind, un-committing to plans you’ve made or processes you’ve developed You think resistance is a sign that you shouldn’t do something, when in fact, it’s your primitive brain waiting to avoid change or discomfort
Overwhelmed Wasting time on busy work vs. high-value, high-impact work You think your overwhelm is caused by the # of things you have to do, and that it will go away if you make the list shorter. In fact, you’re prolonging the overwhelm because the work you’re doing is busy work and doesn’t move the needle
Uncertain or unsure Indecision, over-analyzing, over-complicating You haven’t trained your brain that your business-owner-level decisions will never be certain, and you wait (and spend extra cycles) until you feel 100% sure

In other words, if you are dismissing the emotions that feel bad as something you shouldn’t have, it results in you taking slower action, ineffective action, or no action at all.

Your business then suffers, plateaus and stalls out, and you’ve inadvertently triggered the feast or famine cycle.

#ThinkLikeABoss: Embrace the emotions as fuel to propel your business forward

So, What Now?

Listen, I get it.

I’m not a fan of feeling overwhelmed, resistant, or inadequate either.

I’d rather sink my face into a plate of nachos.

But, at the end of the day, we’re business owners.

And, as business owners who want to achieve our potential, our fullest potential, to make the greatest impact for our clients, our families, and ourselves, negative emotion is always going to be part of the deal.

So that’s the bad news….

But, the good news is that you can handle it.

You don’t need to stab yourself with the proverbial or literal paperclip (like I did) in order to manage the ups and downs of being a business owner.

It’s the opposite in fact.

Your success as a business owner is directly tied to how well you manage your negative emotion.

In other words, your speed to results is dependent on you feeling bad and moving forward anyway.

If you can execute your plans (both for business development and client delivery) even if you feel overwhelmed, inadequate, incompetent, incapable, self-doubt, resistant, unclear, etc, you will have a tremendous recapture of time, efficiency, and forward progress.

The Takeaway

Let’s pull this together, so you can put this into action.

  1. Instead of hiding the emotions, train yourself to acknowledge them and keep going.
  2. Instead of masking the emotions, get curious about what’s triggering them and address that root cause.
  3. Instead of trying to make the negative emotions go away or to hide them, train yourself to do the work that is the highest-impact even if you don’t feel like it, you feel resistant, or you feel incapable.

Basically, embrace all that negative emotion as part of your recipe for independent consulting success

AND… If you think you don’t have time to do this, it’s actually the opposite. By investing a few minutes into this process, you can create an immense amount of time for yourself. Believe me, as someone who prided herself in 0 emotion, I’ve tried every way around it unless I learned that diving headfirst was so much simpler & effective.

About Melisa Liberman Coaching:

Melisa Liberman Coach for Independent Consultants

Melisa has been an Independent for the past 9 years. She’s passionate about helping other Independent Consultants create the same success, growth and longevity she’s achieved.

Through her coaching program, the DOUBLE Method for Independent Consultants™,  Melisa helps her fellow independent consultants double their consulting revenue without working more.

You can find her in the MBO app store.

For more tips like this, subscribe to her podcast, Grow Your Independent Consulting Business Podcast. Search for it in your favorite podcast app.

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