Thursday, December 8, 2011

Consultants as Legitimate Leaders: The Goldilocks Approach (contributed by Jeanette Pigeon)

Jeanette Pigeon, President and CEO at, is a certified business analyst professional who has worked in government, healthcare, higher education, and marketing industries and is a business analyst leadership subject matter expert. Contact her at

Today, many people are protesting a perceived lack of legitimate leadership in private industry and government. By “legitimate leadership,” I mean power that is exercised fairly and is based on a relationship of trust between a leader and followers. Followers grant this leadership of power and authority because they believe an individual exhibits the confidence, competence, and consistency of behavior and communication to lead and create win-win outcomes. A leader is a guide whose ideas are the paths for a group to follow to a shared goal or outcome in a collaborative way.

As a consultant, you may have wondered how you can effectively lead a team of professionals during the short tenure of your contract assignment. Because you are an outsider to the organization and have a limited amount of time to complete a project, you need to establish yourself quickly as a capable leader who can win over the hearts and minds of others. They need to see you as a confident and highly competent guide who knows the path for them to follow, reinforced through consistency of behavior and communication, and built upon a foundation of trust. The question is how to quickly build this trust. Do you try to satisfy everyone by being overly friendly and flexible, or do you aggressively assert your dominance so everyone knows who's in charge? I recommend you use a Goldilocks approach: not too weak, yet not too strong. You want to take the approach that is just right.

As in the Brothers Grimm’s tale of Goldilocks, legitimate leadership is earned using a just-right approach. Being too weak or too strong will not earn you legitimate leadership, develop team cohesion, or motivate others to pursue a common goal to reach successful outcomes. These approaches are one-sided, and neither establishes a trusting relationship. To build trust, you must practice the “3 Cs” of legitimate leadership: Confidence, Competence, and Consistency of behavior and communication. Practicing the “3 Cs” will help you establish and maintain a relationship of mutual trust to create win-win outcomes. Let's consider each of these approaches and their efficacy in creating legitimate leadership.

Too Weak

You attempt to build trust by trying to satisfy everyone and are unable to articulate a common path. You appear to have no sense of direction, a flip-flopper with no consistent vision. When you speak, you are inarticulate or inconsistent about the team's goals or how they achieve those goals. You try to be nice to your team members and give them as much time and leeway as they want, which might conflict with what your project actually needs to succeed. Your stakeholders don't see substantive progress, so their expectations are not met. As a result, you create a leadership vacuum.

In a leadership vacuum, one or more team members may rise up and become implicit leaders of the team, undermining your leadership authority. When working in a matrix organization or with a newly formed team, members don’t collaborate, and some may constantly test your authority over the team. In the process of trying to accommodate everyone individually, you satisfy no one and don't appear to be a competent leader of a fully-functioning team. Your confidence in the face of these obvious capability and trust gaps make you appear to be out of touch and ineffective as a leader.

Too Strong

You dominate the team members and stakeholders and create a dictatorship. Team members are dragged down a path that is fraught with difficulty, delays, and failed projects. Stakeholders and team members become intimidated and won't open up to you and tell you the truth. Instead of establishing a trusting relationship with your people, you achieve the opposite.

Leading others through fear and intimidation is never effective when collaboration is your goal. You ignore the organizational culture and hierarchy, and reject or fail to solicit input from others. People resent you and what you are trying to achieve. The results can include a failure to follow your lead and even sabotage. Although you may appear to the stakeholders as a competent subject matter expert, you don't appear effective as a leader, so you don't earn the trust or legitimate leadership of your team or your stakeholders.

Just Right

You've taken the time to meet with key members of your team and other stakeholders. You've established a bond with each of them as a person and as a professional. You are sensitive to their needs and desires, and you have set appropriate expectations about working together and what will be achieved. You maintain an open door policy, encourage questions and ideas, and work openly to address concerns and mitigate risk. If issues arise, you seek to resolve them fairly and face-to-face, without creating added tension or causing others to become defensive. You walk the talk and roll up your sleeves, working alongside your team when needed. Your team is cohesive and understands how to engage you and what you expect of them. They are not afraid to seek your counsel and will let you know if issues arise before you are aware of them. Morale is high; people put in the extra effort without being asked. Stakeholders are satisfied and appreciate how efficiently and effectively your team performs.

Legitimate leadership is the reward of those who build a relationship of trust and exhibit the “3 Cs”: Confidence of leadership, Competence as a SME, and Consistency of behavior and communication. Using the just-right approach to legitimate leadership will allow you to more easily assert the leadership role amongst your team and stakeholders, enjoying the collaborative synergy that results. You effectively set and maintain effective leadership. Your team and their stakeholders will enjoy working with you, satisfied in having achieved the stated goals. This win-win outcome will translate into a long and professionally fulfilling consulting career.

(If you found this article helpful, please consider making a donation to the Norm Kerth Benefit Fund to help a consultant who has been disabled since 1999 with a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. You can read Norm's story or donate here. Thanks!)


  1. Your blog provides us a good information on legitimate leaders. Its really very helpful to me to find result on search engine. Hope to hear more good information related to searching from your side. Many thanks for sharing this information.
    Future Leader

  2. "Hi Jony - Thank you for your comment and I am glad you enjoyed the post. Consulting is a rewarding yet challenging position to be in. I find legitimate leadership indispensible for overcoming interpersonal challenges and in maintaining a satisfying career. Best to you in your own consulting career.


  3. Whenever I think of leadership, I am always reminded of Ghandi's statement, "There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader." In other words, Humility.

    So then, I would say "H and the 3 Cs" :).

    Perhaps a leader can succeed in developing trust with only the "3 Cs" (minus humility). They would likely suffice through the completion of most projects. However, for sustained success over multiple projects in the same organization, I would think humility to be a vital practice for a leader.

    Back to Ghandi. He led successfully for a half a century.

  4. Jeanette - Your post is very good. I agree with your Goldilocks Approach.

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Thanks Duane and Robbie!

    Duane, you mention a very important trait for leaders to have - humility. Ghandi is an excellent example of a leader who exhibited humility. Humility tempers confidence, or the first of the "3Cs", and a trait of "Just Right" approach.


  6. Great article.

    I started to add something about tailoring the 3C’s based on the company’s culture but then thought different. Having a consistent exhibition of the 3C’s should actually transcend any companies culture. And this is a true sign of leadership.