In this series, I’ve been talking about how character and presence—who we are—combine with what we do to allow us to have the most impact with our clients.

Ultimate success as a practitioner hinges on your willingness to 1) fully be who you are and 2) limit your clients to those who appreciate what that means. Think of yourself as a musician with your own radio station, specializing in a particular type of music that truly speaks to your heart. Your broadcast goes out in all directions, but only a percentage of the people it reaches have their radios turned on and only a few of those are drawn to the kind of music you provide.

This raises a question: Who is your intended audience? Is it all who are within range of your broadcast, or only those who hold your kind of music in high regard and admire how you perform it?”

Many practitioners in our field judge themselves (and are judged by others) based on the number of people who listen to their “station.” When this is the goal, the only way to succeed is to appeal to the widest possible range of interests and needs. There is nothing wrong with doing this, but it means you can’t play the music you love and are uniquely good at (or you can’t play it often or as passionately as you feel it). In essence, you are a radio station manager trying to attract as many listeners as you can, not a musician trying to reach his or her niche audience. It’s the difference between 1) being a business first and, whenever possible, being true to what you love most, or 2) being true to what you love first and making a business out of it.

The upshot is, catering to what others want to hear comes at the expense of playing your own music—and keep in mind, this isn’t just the music you enjoy, it is also what you are best at.

You can’t wow everyone, but for those who are predisposed to your kind of artistry, you are “music to their ears.” Yet, when the “number of listeners” takes precedence over playing for people who are actually affected by your type of music and distinctive style, not only are you less fulfilled, your audience receives less value. 

Playing the kind of music everyone expects may produce crowds, but most of them will be spectators. Audiences receive much more benefit when they truly appreciate the music and the artist. Through their engagement and enthusiasm, they actually help create the overall experience themselves, and don’t just sit back, passively taking it all in. This only happens, however, when there is a match between the musician’s uncompromised expression of his or her style and what the audience loves.

If you interpret your task as seeking the largest possible audience, it doesn’t matter what music you play as long as it draws a big gathering. If you view your role as that of a virtuoso for a specific sound, you not only want to focus on playing that kind of music, you primarily want to play for people who can appreciate it.

The twist here is that by limiting your audience, you gain, not lose—you enlarge your true fan base by playing to a more select market. True fans are the ones who not only praise what you play, they respect how you play, and they open themselves up to let the music have its intended impact.

This doesn’t mean you never play what people want to hear in order to feed your family, but if this is necessary, don’t confuse it with delivering your best value and don’t forget it is a choice you are making—you are not a victim. To practice this craft to your level of capability requires that you play you own music. This is non-negotiable. If you decide, for whatever reason, that this is not feasible, adjust your expectations about what you will accomplish in this field and keep in mind that it is your decision, so don’t allow resentment  to build up with clients or others.

This also doesn’t mean you avoid playing for audiences who show only a slight interest in your music. It is important to be accessible to listeners who are unfamiliar with your work because, through exposure, they may become raving fans. The question is, where do you spend most of your time and energy?

In my opinion, seasoned change practitioners shouldn’t expend resources talking people into listening to their music, playing for people who are clearly unimpressed, or only playing “requested” songs. Believe enough in yourself and your unequivocal brand of music to stand on that as your foundation, instead of pandering to the crowds. It is wonderful if your followers grow into crowds of true fans, but don’t play so throngs will come—play for fans and see how many there are.

When catering to the masses, you become part of the mass yourself. Competitors are everywhere and your only chance with this approach is to be the best of the commodities available. When being true to who you are, you are, by definition, distinct. There are no others who can convincingly replicate your unmistakable presence, so for the listeners who value your music, there is no competition. There may be other performers they enjoy, but when in the mood for your music, they consider alternatives as substitutions, not replacements.

What are you doing with your music?

As change practitioners, we each have our respective musical style, if you will. It is a composition that blends what we do (our concepts and techniques) with who we are. Both are important, but it is our distinctive character and presence that has us occupy space that can be claimed by no other.

Here is the inquiry I want to raise with this blog series: What are you doing with your music? Are you placing a higher priority on being a common denominator so you can secure enough affirmation from clients and prospective clients to be allowed to perform your professional role? Or, are you bringing forth your true nature and boldly expressing your authentic presence so potential clients can easily determine if they resonate with who you are. It is the second of these paths I hope you will consider. I believe it is in your best interests and those of our clients to bring your best game to the table…and that requires that all of who you really are must show up.      

Of course, you have to be a good musician for all this to work, but remember, the intended readership for this blog is seasoned change practitioners—professionals already skilled in their chosen implementation methodology who are seeking mastery in their craft. Assuming this is an accurate description of you, the critical issue becomes ensuring you are performing in front of the right patrons.

My hope for you is that your intended audience isn’t just anyone or everyone, but that it is a particular constituency made of clients who love to listen to the change implementation music you are passionate about playing. Even though this “market” is smaller than all the potential clients out there who might pay some attention to your music, this is home for you. This is your fan base and you should remain loyal to it by maintaining the integrity of who you are. That’s what they resonate with and what you owe to yourself and to them.

The finest music you’ll ever play surfaces in front of appreciative audiences. To bring out your best and to deliver the greatest value to your clients, your job is fourfold:

  • Know who you are and what change-related music truly comes from your heart.
  • Play that music with all the authenticity and passion you feel and broadcast your frequency as strongly as you can.
  • Recognize that your ability to play the music as well as you do is a gift and strive to share it with people who resonate with its significance. (Others may be listening, but play for your fans.)
  • Don’t compromise your musical talent in order to gain a larger audience or to please certain listeners in powerful positions. Be who you are and build your change facilitation practice around that.

Don’t measure yourself by the number of people listening to your music—measure yourself by how many are touched by it…compelled in some way. Clients won’t open themselves to the vulnerability required for them to be genuinely impacted by your efforts unless you are playing unabashedly from your soul.

I realize this poses some significant challenges for some of you, but bear in mind that we’re all in the same boat. As change practitioners, we pay for either our victimization or our sovereignty. Either way, the invoice is expensive, so make a decision and get on with it.

For those who choose sovereignty, the work to be done is comprised of three steps:

  • First, deeply explore your character so you can understand and accept who you are.
  • Next, embrace the presence you broadcast as a natural reflection of your core and an expression of your unique gifts. 
  • Finally, seek out clients who value your character/presence package instead of trying to artificially mold yourself to fit all prospects who might come your way.

Summary

Character and presence separate change technicians who merely submit deliverables and meet timelines from those masterful practitioners who provide valuable insight and wisdom to their clients. We all use some kind of approach or framework to support our work, but our character and presence allow us to leverage these enablers for optimum client impact. Clients need to engage both their heads and hearts before they open themselves to meaningful advisory relationships. Well-constructed methodologies can impress a client’s intellect, but it takes a strong character and a trusting presence to speak to someone’s heart.

Your true nature is synonymous with Who We Are and it has an epicenter called your character, which is conveyed to clients through the presence you cast. It is by way of your inherent character and the presence you emit that you are able to invoke the kind of impact you strive for with those you serve. To feel fulfilled professionally and provide the best possible value to clients, find your voice and perform without reservation in front of the right audience.

 Go to the beginning of the series.

Next series: Cultivating Character