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There is a time and place for everything, so when are you diagnostic (asking questions) and when are you prescriptive (leadership & giving orders)? While there a fine line in management for that, as a consultant (or freelancer) it's rather clear cut. Before you're hired and during the discovery phase you are diagnostic, but once that is over and you are hired and on the job you need to be prescriptive. Here's why.
Imagine you are at your doctors office. As usual you sit down in her office and she asks “what's wrong?” You cordially reply that you have a slight fever, your head is spinning and you have a cough. She replies by asking a few more questions.
After that, she thinks for a minute and tells you have a cold and “take two and call me in the morning.”
This is exactly how a consultant needs to behave. First the doctor was being diagnostic, and as soon as she knew enough she told you exactly what needs to be done.
On the flip side, image if that same doctor instead of telling you what needs to be done said something along the lines of: “well, you can possibly take a pill, or you can go home and ignore it or you can get some chicken soup or you can … which do you think it best?” You would be rather put off by something like that. You go to the doctor to get expert advice and recommendation. Not to be served a thousand options.
Yes, there is a time and a place for giving multiple options, but for the most part your clients will hire you to give them expert precise advice on exactly what to do. They want your expertise and your knowledge to recommend the best course of action based on your experience.
Knowing when to be prescriptive …
Knowing when to be prescriptive is a very easy skill to learn. It comes down to what stage of the project you are in. If you are near the beginning and barely know anything, then being prescriptive will only make things worse. Though, once you've been around for a while it's time to be a leader.
If after spending time with the client, he comes up to you and asks “What do you think our best course of action is?” That is the time to give your expert advice on the one path to take. They can also say something like: “Well, what do we do now?” You give the same answer. You are the expert so you have to act like it and give them what they need: which is the solution.
You should know what the options are, but only recommend the best one for your client.