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client & Business Development

Leadership: Aligning What You Do With Who You Are

By Wally Hise, PE, CPSM
Icouldn’t pass up an opportunity to write this article. Leadership and business development are two of my favorite topics that go together like peanut butter and jelly. At a high level, leadership can be described in two areas. First, competency, which is what you are capable of doing. Second, character, which is who you are capable of being.


Let’s start with skills-based competency—what to do and how to do it. Developing competency requires discipline, dedication, and commitment to excellence. Today’s mission is to be the best at whatever your current role is. If you’re a proposal manager, be the best proposal manager you can be. If your title is regional business development manager, do every facet of that job to the best of your ability.

Know your market.

With respect to business development, competency is the foundation of being an expert in your market. My primary focus is the U.S. federal government; yours might be health care, higher education, or wastewater treatment for public agencies.
Whatever your market is, develop a deep knowledge of trends, funding, clients, industry partners, and competitors. I research and study those elements on a national level because that’s how we run my part of the business. Your view might be a specific client segment, service area, region of the country, or any combination thereof.

Develop strategies.

Using your knowledge and expertise, develop strategies to grow market share, attract and retain clients, and win new contracts or projects. These three focus areas each require different strategies. For instance, growing market share can be accomplished by employing targeted marketing campaigns, developing key relationships and partnerships, expanding your client base, cross-selling services, or making investment hires.
Strategy inflection points revolve around answering the questions, “Which?” and “Why?” Which clients should we target and why? Which firms will we team with and why? Which relationships do we need to develop and why?

Make decisions.

As your strategies take shape, you’ll need to make decisions to advance and improve your firm’s position. You’ll also need to prioritize and determine checkpoints and milestones. Conduct research, formulate options, get opinions from respected colleagues, evaluate risk and reward, then move forward. Leaders make decisions. The good news is, decisions can be revisited as situations change and your strategy takes shape.


Your character is who you are, guided by your intentions and values. Character is conveyed through thoughts, words, and actions. When you practice the two important character elements described below, you’ll stand tall among others.

Be accountable.

For a recent strategic planning meeting, I was asked to close the day by addressing the topic, “How do we hold ourselves accountable?” We started with an open discussion on what accountability meant to the participants. As you might expect, people offered the following: Do what you say you’ll do, meet commitments, and follow through.
I’ve found the best way to drive accountability is to define the desired outcome, set clear expectations, agree on a time frame, and address performance. Accountability isn’t just about keeping score for others; you must also be introspective and hold yourself accountable to the same standards. When you or your teammates fall short, own it. Then determine the root cause and a viable new path forward. Be accountable to yourself, your team, and your organization.

Lead by example.

When I was growing up, one of my mom’s favorite sayings was, “Practice what you preach.” That’s the old-fashioned version of lead by example. Another way to say this is, “Model the behavior you want in others.” In my mind, it’s simple: Don’t ask people to do something you’re not willing to do yourself.
I sometimes lead major pursuits, including the time-consuming task of assembling a team of qualified subconsultants. I can’t just review and critique proposals prepared by others; I need to write project descriptions and technical approaches as well. And I prioritize my time to talk to clients and learn how our project delivery teams are performing, demonstrating the importance of getting client feedback.
“Accomplished business development leaders set the tone and walk the walk. They tackle the tough problems with grace and humility. Being a leader is not only about what you do, but also who you are.”
I take a focused and disciplined approach to my business development role—an approach grounded in technical knowledge, management skills, and leadership. I learned, fine-tuned, and applied these skills over decades.
Accomplished business development leaders set the tone and walk the walk. They tackle the tough problems with grace and humility. Being a leader is not only about what you do, but also who you are.
Wally Hise, PE, CPSM is Business Development Director for HDR’s Federal program. His team is focused on major pursuits and proposals for new contracts across all clients and service areas.
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