Business Psychology: Dr. Carl Robinson shares information about his career as a business psychologist specializing in leadership development.
Dr. Robinson, what is business psychology?
The application of psychology to solving business challenges.
As a business psychologist, what do you do?
I am the Managing Principal at my own firm, Advanced Leadership Consulting. I work primarily with senior executives and executive teams helping them improve their effectiveness. Most of my time is spent working hands on with my clients in a consultative / advisor relationship. About 10 percent of my practice involves providing psychological leadership assessments to help in the selection and promotion of senior executives. Another 10% revolves around helping executives develop corporate strategy and the organizational structure and steps needed to implement that strategy.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
Most of my work is one-on-one with executives. I spend 3 – 5 hours per day conducting telephone consultations with my clients. On some days, I will meet in person, generally on the job site. On those days I may spend anywhere from 2 – 8 hours with them. I spend from 2 – 3 hours per day on business development, e.g., contacting prospects, writing articles for publication, networking. I spend the remaining couple of hours reading professional publications/books to stay current in my field, responding to queries from prospects, the media, etc. In addition, I handle my own billing which only takes a few minutes each month. I also try to workout 3x per week which takes up about 1.5 hours of my time on those days. My typical work day begins at 8:00 AM and lasts till 5:00 PM. I believe strongly in having good work / life balance. I have a home office (3rd floor of our house) and at 5:00 PM, my 7-years old son calls me on the phone to ask me, “Can you play ball with me now?” I try my best to say yes 100% of the time.
What do you like best about working in business psychology?
I work with very smart and creative people who want to get better at what they do, and I get paid to help them to do that. I know that I am having a positive impact on my clients. I love watching people develop and grow. My work truly has a trickle down effect: Executives who become better leaders foster great work environments and tend to be good corporate citizens.
What are the most challenging things about business psychology?
As a solo practitioner, I am the only person responsible for both delivering my services and doing business development. Psychologists are not trained to be marketing and sales professionals and in addition, I am an introvert. That combination means that I have to push myself to do the marketing and selling required to run a successful business.
How did you build your business?
My current company started when a friend of mine, a venture capitalist, suggested I work with executives like him. I was working as a clinical psychologist doing psychotherapy but I was getting burned out. I met with him and talked about my situation and being an idea guy / entrepreneur by nature, he immediately began brainstorming. He said, “Carl, you should work with guys like me. I might not have been fired twice as CEO if I had consulted with you.” That sounded like fun. He helped me develop my marketing material and he introduced me to five potential clients and referral partners. One of those five was a board member of a start up that was being run by a very difficult founder. She asked me how I would deal with him. The next day the President of that company called and asked me to help them facilitate their first strategy retreat and to corral the founder. I took on the assignment and the rest is history, as they say. It was a success and word started getting out. However, my practice really took off after I began publishing my monthly executive briefings (newsletter) online and via email. Most of my new clients come from referrals from clients and other folks who know of my work. Lately, I’ve had people contract with me who found me via the Web. It’s really been an organic process.
What was your professional background before you launched Advanced Leadership Consulting?
For most of my adult career I worked in the clinical side of psychology. I took a detour in my early 30s and spent four years working as a recruiter and trainer on the corporate front. I returned to the psychology side after receiving my Ph.D., and I had a private clinical practice for about six years before I transitioned into business psychology specializing in executive coaching.
What is your educational background?
I was a college dropout who returned to college in my 30s when I was really ready to study. I then pushed through school while working. I earned a B.S. in Human Relations and Organizational Behavior from the University of San Francisco. I then completed an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Vermont College and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies with training in both Eastern and Western religion and psychology. My Ph.D. dissertation investigated personality factors that impact creative thinking.
What skills are most important to succeed in business psychology?
First and foremost is an understanding of human psychology, creativity, and skill in facilitating behavior change. Also essential is being business literate. I’ve run my own consulting business and co-managed / owned, with my wife, a successful retail coffee / espresso shop in Seattle – we competed with Starbucks. I know how to develop a trusted relationship with my clients. I’m intuitive, decisive and able to cut to the heart of the matter quickly. I’m willing to take risks. I don’t waste executives’ time. In my early career, I worked with adolescents who beat up and killed people. Senior executives do not intimidate me. I know how to hold my own with a C-level executive and that’s essential for anyone who wants to work with them.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a business psychologist?
First, get experience working in business and especially in management. Second, study human psychology – not necessarily via formal education. Get a well-rounded education – not just business or psychology. Definitely find a program or work for someone where you will learn the ins and outs of consulting and executive coaching. Then, learn how to market and sell. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who know how to sell and even though they are unqualified to coach, they have successful coaching practices. And then there are truly gifted coaches/consultants who don’t know how to sell so they are struggling financially.
Are there any commonly held misperceptions about business psychology that you would like to clarify?
On the executive coaching front, some people (mostly HR professionals) think that the primary difference between executive coaches is their style or personality and therefore, you should make a choice based on how comfortable you feel meeting them – on “chemistry.” One of my past clients told a potential new client, “Carl can be tough – he pulls no punches.” I’m successful because I sometimes ask my clients to stretch, which can feel uncomfortable. Based on the chemistry advice, many people might not pick me! Helping people to develop requires the ability to both support and push them. It’s a lot like being a good parent. It’s hard work for both the consultant and client. I employ skills, techniques and insights within a well thought out structure that I customize to meet the particular needs of each client. I developed my craft through many years of schooling, mentoring under experienced senior consultants, hard knocks and practice in the trenches. BTW, that potential client told me that she picked me because of what that former client said – she wanted someone who would push her.
What is the income range for persons who do this type of leadership consulting and/or executive coaching?
Most consultants who work for other people make between $70K – 150K/yr. Consultants who run their own businesses can make anywhere above that. I make as much as most of my CEO clients, which is much more than I ever imagined I would. Consulting is a great profession!
What are your long-term career goals?
I want to keep doing what I do until someone tells me I’m too senile to continue. I love what I do.
Any other comments?
It’s important to know that the only real way to know if an executive coach or consultant is qualified is by how successful they have been in helping clients grow – by their results. Check their references! Many of the people out there coaching got their credentials from coaching schools that exist by pumping out coaches – where no one gets flunked who pays their tuition.
Great advice, Carl. Thank you!
To read more about Dr. Carl Robinson and his company, please visit his website Advanced Leadership Consulting and sign up for his excellent free Executive Briefings.
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