An interesting post today by Stew Friedman in the Harvard Business blog. He muses on Batman, having just seen the movie (which grossed $155 million -- yes, you read right) in its first weekend. More specifically, he ponders what Batman's hidden identity costs him, and how that relates to work and business.
It also, I think, relates to business development. A lot, in fact.
Here's what Friedman has to say:
We all need to draw boundaries among the different parts of our lives, of course. We have to find ways to shut work off, for example, in order to pay full attention to our families, and vice versa. But those boundaries can be too thick; the mask’s costs can be too dear.
I think this is especially true when working with customers in a professional services firm. Whether you're trying to bring in new clients, or solidifying your relationship with existing clients, there is an enormous temptation to hide your real personality behind your professional mask.
Lawyers do this all the time. They have the obligatory Wall of Diplomas behind their desks. They dress formally. They speak a different language. They have extensive training in being guided by facts and logic rather than emotion.
The result, often, is that clients don't ever get a sense of what kind of person actually lurks behind that Hickey Freeman suit. And, unfortunately, that is the key to establishing and strengthening long-term client relationships.
A key relationship is not between a lawyer and a client. It's between two people. Even if you're the most serious, driven, stiffest personality in the world, it's absolutely essential that you lower your guard, drop the mask, and let the client see, and know, who you really are.
Ultimately, all long-lasting business relationships are personal. And the higher you go on the business food chain, the more personal they become. Particularly if you're an attorney, your clients are paying for your judgment, your experience and your sensitivity's to their needs. Great business relationships are all about communication between two flesh-and-blood people. Examples of this abound. Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Montgomery Burns and Smithers.
Okay. Maybe not the last one.
However, the point here is very real. While donning that mask -- remaining in your lawyer or accountant persona -- may have an upside, when it comes to really developing bulletproof relationships with clients, it's a bad idea. Don't do it, and if you are doing it -- stop. Be yourself.