Is your career lacking the right SPARK? Senior figures in business and politics rely on the right consultant to hone their image and performance. Their calling card? Dynamism, and above all discretion, says MAGGIE ARMSTRONG
There is considerable trust involved in handling someone else’s affairs, be it as adviser, personal assistant, strategist or stylist. And when they do talk, people in these roles usually give away little. It’s “the speechwriter’s omertà”, as one ghostwriter put it to me.
Stylist Marietta Doran’s considerable expertise was behind many of the images on last year’s European election posters. For a consultancy fee, Doran will tease out details of a client’s lifestyle and personality. She then researches styles and labels, mapping out appropriate stores before they next meet. But Doran goes beyond selecting a wardrobe. “A relationship develops,” she explains, “and a level of familiarity that is vital. We trust each other. And trust is paramount.”
It would be easy to assume that a professional woman simply needs a smart suit, but Doran’s job is far more nuanced than that. She explains: “Barristers and solicitors must look the part so clients feel secure with them, but they favour understatement. Labels like Prada and Burberry will inspire confidence but not distract.” Businesswomen operating in international circles must compete with their Italian and French counterparts. “For them I will choose Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana and Armani,” explains Doran.
For business coach Barbara Patton, discretion is the foundation of all her client relationships. “My value as a business coach lies in the fact that I am 100 per cent on my client’s side. I have no other agenda,” she explains. Within this “safe space” senior-level businesspeople, from finance directors to CEOs, thrash out their issues with Patton in two-hour sessions once or twice a month for a period of six to twelve months. And like Doran, Patton is at the end of the phone after the official coaching period ends. “I develop close relationships with clients,” says Patton, “and that doesn’t end when the contract ends.”
With more than two decades’ experience at senior executive level, Patton provides a sounding board for professionals dealing with a unique set of challenges. “It might be managing a board of directors for the first time, learning to influence their peers more effectively, or simply dealing with the loneliness of being in the top job.” Patton begins each new client session by establishing the “coaching agenda” – specific things her clients wants to achieve. Within this framework, she works with them to progress these goals as well as dealing with everyday issues that crop up between meetings. Sessions are purposely scheduled just once or twice a month to give clients time to implement what they have learned.
“With more than two decades’ experience at senior executive level, Patton provides a sounding board for professionals dealing with a unique set of challenges.”
If it all comes down to helping each other do our best, why does a weapon have to be so secret? A speechwriter friend of mine also declined an interview. “Everybody knows politicians don’t write their own speeches. Their images and words have been crafted and manufactured, but the illusion has to be maintained. Anyone in a position of power should not be seen to have a weakness. It can be very damaging.”