How did you get into a career as a consultant?
Already as a university student I decided I would work in human development. I’ll probably still be doing it when I’m 90. The work has taken me into in many roles: consultant, speaker, entrepreneur, author, educator and mentor for leaders. And many places. I’ve lived in USA, France, China and Singapore while working in more than 25 countries on 6 continents.
My expertise in human development reaches into personal development, learning, leadership, organisational development and institutions all the way up to global economics and government policy. I hope to work on developing the next species of humans before I'm through!
What are the key responsibilities in your role?
As an independent consultant , I have the responsibility to deliver to clients, usually working on a new programme or to deliver a programme that I have created. But as I have a lot of pro bono responsibilities I have to deliver to these stakeholders as well. Early on in my career, starting as a freelance consultant and author in France, I took to heart Charles Handy’s concept of managing a portfolio of activities.
Describe a typical day.
A typical day can be very different, so I’d prefer to describe a week. Some days I’ll be working all day with a client to deliver a programme, and this usually means taking a plane from Singapore to get there. But that same week I may have a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Singapore and a conference call with the Founding Members of the ASEAN Human Development Organisation. During that week, I’ll typically take time for some exercise and a restful day to write (as I approached age 70 this time management became more important - no more burning the candle at both ends). Then there may be a day when I catch up with people in my network by having a lunch and some coffees in town. Weekends are for writing which may be work on a book or a white paper, or it may be for shorter documents. But also time for catching up with family, doing expense accounts, reading.
What skills are needed for this role?
My role is more thought leadership and strategic consulting than just delivering a service. Over my career I have explored certain areas of human development deeply enough to write a book on it, which means also thinking through what I want to say that’s different or new.
What challenges do you face in this role?
By the time I reached age 40 I could see the risk of being a thought leader in a sort of guru role — it is that your ideas are no longer new and you become a “has been”. So I have to keep learning and trying out new ideas. I have avoided being the stand up speaker type of guru. It’s like being a pop singer and singing your hit song for the rest of your life. It has also required going to where things are happening. When I moved to China in 2002 it was because I didn’t want to miss the historical moment of hundreds of millions of people moving from poverty into work in a global economy. I’m experiencing the same thing now in ASEAN after my move to Singapore.
What keeps you motivated to go into work every day?
I have been fortunate enough to be paid to do something I love, and through the years the rather overused dictum “do what you love” has proven surprisingly effective for me. I have had to reinvent that, and myself several times, as I’ve moved to different parts of the world and through different stages in life.
What advice would you give someone considering a career as a HR consultant?
If you want to live from your ideas you will need to work hard and be inventive, and you’ll have to reinvent yourself several times. If you want to write your ideas you will need the courage to be an independent thinker.
There’s much more to our profession than HR and L&D – which area would you like to specialise in?
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