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What's the golden triangle of professional services and why is it crucial for career success?

For anyone who works in professional services, you’ll instantly recognise the joy and the challenge of working across 3 key demanding areas that appear to need simultaneous attention and energy:

  • delivering brilliantly on what you’ve sold to your clients

  • generating new business and a commercial pipeline

  • leading and developing your people

Whether it’s a small agency, a boutique consultancy or a large scale firm, there will be a degree of all these 3 elements at play and this is what we call the 'golden triangle'.

1. Ensuring high quality, high impact work is delivered to clients is vital to current client satisfaction and the longevity of the relationship.

2. Identifying, opening and closing on a pipeline of new commercial opportunities is equally important. The ability to generate new business is the life-blood of the firm, ensuring everyone has great work to do, the firm is profitable and growth is possible.

3. And none of this works in the long term if people are not led brilliantly, developed and nurtured. So whilst focusing on the client and the commercials, we need leaders to be excellent at bringing people with them and developing talent and the firm for the future. At the more junior levels this may well look like being expected to do internal people-related projects that contribute to the firm and this is certainly a juggle given the other 2 elements of the triangle, even if it's not significant people leadership responsibility.

As careers progress, we still need to keep our eye on the ball across all 3 but the key to success is knowing when and what needs to change in terms of emphasis across the triangle and how to make a shift.

For some, this is really hard. You've built your career on your reputation for delivering amazing quality work for clients and been promoted as a result. But this doesn't take you all the way. There is a ceiling on how long this serves you; there is a point where it's important to leave some things behind and adopt new ways of working

For example, I see in my coaching work how likely it is that a Director reaches the edge of burn-out or sacrifices commercial results if they are trying to personally deliver at the same level they once did as a more junior consultant. Instead it's about knowing why and how to deliver more through others. What is it only they can do? There is a reason they are a Director.

Mindset and behaviour shifts from one part of the triangle to another. There are pivotal stretch points in the ‘golden triangle’ of professional services where transitional development can make the world of difference.

In the work that I do, it's not unusual to find a natural spike in someone’s profile where perhaps they are brilliant with people but don’t think they can sell and feel stuck. Or there’s real commercial confidence but a lack of awareness of their impact on people and it's holding them back from reaching the most senior levels; some call it followership.

We know there are skills elements to focus on here and experience is a great way to learn and yet, the greatest blockers to progress are typically more about what's going on inside the individual's mind. Thinking dictates behaviour. All sorts of things can be holding someone back. So the beauty of coaching is unlocking the cleanest, clearest and most resourceful thinking you can do.

Take commercials.

"I'm not a salesperson";

"I can't cold call";

"I'm no good at networking";

"Others are so much better at BD than me".

There is so much here about the inner critic and our assumptions. For example, when we reframe selling to building relationships, new light floods in around what is possible. What strengths is the individual over-looking? What if we right-size the idea of what's the worst that can happen and give people confidence to experiment a bit and see what the results are? Sometimes we also need to go back in time to unlock some things from the past that have become solid 'truths' for us but are actually no longer relevant to this new phase of life and need to be left behind.

Take people leadership.

"People don't listen to me";

"I end up doing the deck late at night because the quality isn't good enough";

"I don't want to be seen as not rolling my sleeves up so I decided to travel to be with the team for those last minute pitch changes rather than go home to see my kids";

"I clash repeatedly with X person and I don't know how to make it more effective".

We can explore so much here. What's it like to be on the receiving end of you? What are your natural preferences and how do they help and hinder you and others? How effectively are you communicating, listening and delegating? What are you assuming you must do as a leader or must not do and how might this need to change?

Ultimately, I love Marshall Goldsmith's phrase here: "what got you here won't get you there".

Great coaching gets to the heart of unlocking new potential. It identifies the assumptions in people’s thinking, what's really holding them back and gets practical about new ways forward.

We’ve worked with countless consultants to help them progress their careers, whether they are new to management or seasoned Partners.

It's ok to be an expert for your clients and help them solve complex problems AND recognise when you might benefit from expertise to help you unlock your own conundrums and answer your own important questions.

We love working with bright, motivated people interested in growing and being better in whatever way that matters to them, their people and their careers.

For more info, visit and start the conversation today.

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