Promoted? It's Time to Drop Your Clients. Now.

You've been a trusted advisor to your clients throughout your career. You've helped them dive into their own pains, discover potential problems, and turned them from clients to partners. 

Now your management team wants you to lead the team and help them do the same thing.

Are you ready to stop doing and start leading? If you are, then the first thing you should do is to drop all your clients. All of them. 

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Leadership of a team is an incredible privilege, and it's a full-time job. I was fortunate to be promoted into a leadership role a couple of times, but I initially made the mistake of thinking that I can be a doer and a leader at the same time. By keeping my client list, I stunted my own growth as a leader, and tt wasn't until I left for another position did I realize that I sabotaged my own potential by doing what I thought at the time was the right thing to do.

Why is it important to off-load your clients once you become a leader of a services team? To me, it's all about fairness:

  1. It's not fair to your clients
  2. It's not fair to the other clients
  3. It's not fair to your teammates
  4. It's not fair to yourself

It's Not Fair For Your Clients - You can't give them the same attention as before

When you were working in a services team as an individual contributor, you are most focused on solving client pains. When you take on the responsibility of leading a team, you gain a new focus: solving team pains and building a healthy team. 

I thought it was possible to do both: be the client's trusted advisor and to be a good leader to my team. I'll say this: you can try, but you'll end up rationalizing your deficiencies and sacrificing one for the other. I had a full list of clients before I took on a leadership role, and I consciously decided to keep my full client list when I transitioned. My clients gradually heard from me less and less, and some eventually griped that I wasn't available to them the way I used to be. I was an adequate consultant, but I ceased to be their trusted advisor because I stopped mining their pain. I stopped proactively listening because my time as a leader competed directly with my job as a trusted advisor.

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Was I trying my best? Sure, but my best wasn't good enough for them. I had built a trusted advisor relationship with my clients, and over time that relationship became transactional. At that point, they no longer needed me to give them advice because they wouldn't only reach out to have things done.... and that made our organization replaceable in the eyes of my clients.

It's Not Fair For Your Other Clients - Your priorities carry more weight

I try to lead my team as a group of equals where everyone has a voice, but inevitably as leader, my words carry a heavier weight. That works well in team meetings where I can use my voice to push everyone to participate, but that additional influence also makes people feel that my clients are more important, and that just isn't fair for those clients that happen to be left off my list.

The fact of the matter is: perception matters. The clients belonging to the person who leads the team will be perceived to have unequal treatment. They may get additional face time. They may get priority responses. They may get advance notice of new opportunities. They may get all these advantages just because they are being taken care of by the team leader.

Even if it isn't true, perception is enough to skew how your team handles your requests from your clients. In the end, it's just not fair for the other clients that don't belong to you.

It's not fair for your teammates - You're not helping them grow by keeping your best clients

Odds are, you have some pretty great clients with whom you've built solid trusted advisor relationships with. When you transition to a leadership role your job is to help your team learn and grow, and the best way for the team to learn is to immerse in the work of existing clients who have already placed their trust in us.

Our accounts may be seen as the most prestigious, most challenging, or most complex - We have an opportunity to give our teams the chance to grow personally (and as a team) by taking over ownership of your clients. Our teammates have the right to battle through the same way we did to earn the trust of our clients, and our teammates will benefit from first-hand learning practical learning rather than third-hand academic knolwedge. 

It's Not Fair For Yourself - You have a new job now

The fact of the matter is you got promoted for a reason: to provide leadership to your services team, When I took on a leadership role for the first time, I had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, I had really good mentors around me, and they helped me realize that I had a lot of learning and growing to do as a leader. 

Leadership doesn't come naturally to everyone. Being a good empathetic human being is intrinsic to me, and that is a good start to being a good leader but that isn't enough. There is a lot of learning about the schema of leadership, and I owed it to myself to dedicate my full time and effort to be the best leader I can by investing my time learning and practising. 

In Conclusion - Drop Your Clients Already!

One of my colleagues kept reminding me: My job is to build and grow the team. No matter how deluged with client work they are, the team needs a leader who is able focus on steering the ship rather than working below decks. Focusing on leadership is the sustainable thing to do, and the fair thing to do, and the right thing to do.