There is pressure in my consulting profession to present the work we do as a service to organizations.
This is tricky. Who pays the bills after all?
Just yesterday someone asked me how I could write the way I do, with language that is “real” but distinctly not corporate, business-oriented prose, and still find work as a consultant?
What a beautiful question. I’ve been asked it many times in my career.
The answer I gave yesterday, for better or worse, is that I don’t really serve corporations, and that trying to translate my work into corporate-speak ends up with me taking work that isn’t really mine to do. Does that mean I have fewer clients? Yes, it certainly does, but it’s the work I am meant to do.
For sure, part of my work is helping organizations of all kinds become better, but it’s deeper stuff that actually compels me, not the ultimate “good” of a particular corporation per se, which is often reduced to profits and competitiveness. I am sure this is also true for many of my colleagues, though some may not wish to say it too loudly. Many would ask, “But don’t you have to start with where the client is at?” — wanting to know, then, how to adjust their website words to mirror what looks good and matches the current market’s buzzwords and the culture of the workplaces where they’d like to get in. “You can’t just say what you want,” they tell me. “You’ll only be serving yourself; you won’t get any work at all.” Maybe ethically correct, but also too “pure,” politically dumb and impractical.
Such a beautiful question, don’t you think? (It reminds me of a colleague who said to me, “I can never actually find an organization, anyway. All I ever find are people.”)
So who do I serve, and why? Here’s a picture. You can click on it to make it slightly larger.
Who I serve is the “You” at the center of the concentric rings of water as they are about to move outward. To be even more accurate I might say there’s an invisible inner you who is the truest client of my work, the one at the tiny point where ripples start from underneath.
A few years ago, a very accomplished man personally hired me to help him adjust to a dysfunctional organization. He wanted a reality check. He wanted to know if it was him or the workplace that was the problem. He’d previously received a 360 degree assessment of his leadership skills. Sure enough it was reported he was not “collaborative enough,” not a “team player” and that he was viewed as a “high level whiner.” Mind you, this is someone with extraordinary intellectual and humanistic gifts who totally cared for his customers and the colleagues who could keep up with him. Oh, there was no question in my mind that he could rub some the wrong way. He could be sharp, keenly observant, acerbic. In fact, as we talked, he used the word “disdain” to describe his attitude toward the firm for which he worked. I shared that it actually sounded a little more astringent than “disdain.” It was more like “contempt,” I said.
This is a tough spot for anyone to be. If you have been there yourself, you know that the disdain or discontent or contempt can also be mixed with painful self-questioning. Stay safe or leave? Try to speak up again and again after having tried before without a positive result? Take a more “constructive” relational role as an informal change agent and gradually advocate for improvements — or learn to “cope” by being quiet and finding another life outside of work. What to do?
And what could I do to be of help?
I can tell you I wasn’t thinking of my work with him as a way to improve his productivity or motivation, “problem-solve,” help him adjust his attitude or decide to leave. Nor did I think of it as a way to change the corporate culture, make somebody more money, or enforce unspoken rules. It was only to serve a human being in a quest for genuine self-understanding and an authentic choice. And here’s why — because — if he chooses well — whatever that choice is — there’s a positive disturbance, one that will send out the right concentric rings of value, meaning, purpose, worth, trust, love and ethical action. Rings that touch organizations and sometimes change them, and that also touch communities and societies whenever someone, some one, becomes whole. I believe this in my bones, and it applies just as well with a little extrapolation to groups and teams, including senior ones.
Will this make my clients better “leaders”? Well, that’s a question to ponder, I suppose, especially for those of you who want to hire consultants like me to serve the ends you deem important.
I certainly hope my language is clear about this.
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And that’s one of the reasons WHY I enjoy your posts. It’s ANYTHING but corporate speak.
Another great message that rings of clarity and truth.
Thanks for sharing my friend.
Thank you, Samantha! I appreciate your affirmations!
We are completely simpatico on this Dan.
When I left the non-profit sector to do corporate work, I experienced a period of conflict that was very challenging. Not that I found many “models” for great management in the non-profit world but the mission was more unifying which often transcended many issues (which presents a host of other problems).
I knew my limits would quickly be reached in playing corporate politics, using corporate speak or making promises to “fix” problems or people — it took some time to arrive at my mission and to learn to live in it — “to serve a human being in a quest for genuine self-understanding and an authentic choice.”
I’m not there for any other reason. I do this because I believe also that “if he chooses well â€” whatever that choice is â€” thereâ€™s a positive disturbance, one that will send out the right concentric rings of value, meaning, purpose, worth, trust, love and ethical action. Rings that touch organizations and sometimes change them, and that also touch communities and societies whenever someone, some one, becomes whole.”
These are my guiding values in doing this work (which isn’t easy). Organizations don’t need more conformity — they need courageous and autonomous leaders. I sincerely believe that in some small way, I make a contribution, a “positive disturbance” to this end.
It’s very comforting to know I/we are not alone in the vision and in the work. Thanks for capturing its essence so perfectly.
I deeply value the sense of connection and kinship, the “seeing,” you share here. I am most grateful, and I am touched.
Thank you so much,
Dan, another wonderful article. I resonate with your thoughts on so many levels. When I’m with a group of people, my concern is to assist them to be the leaders (human beings, actually) they are striving to become. Becoming Mr. Corporate-speak is not something that I do easily or comfortably and have realised that, on the whole, people are not interested in that anyway. They, like every other human being, want to be engaged in something meaningful to them and which nourishes them and others around them.…and that, in my experience, seems to be what motivates folks, not becoming some kind of corporate automaton. Glad there are others out there like you and Louise in this work.
Thank you, John, and I definitely think of us as being part of the same tribe. It is wonderful to call you a colleague and friend.
All the best
Dan, this resonates deeply with me: “Who I serve is the â€œYouâ€ at the center of the concentric rings of water as they are about to move outward. To be even more accurate I might say thereâ€™s an invisible inner you who is the truest client of my work, the one at the tiny point where ripples start from underneath.”
In serving this Center, this drop that contains the entire ocean, you serve the Self. Which brings delicious irony to the comment “You canâ€™t just say what you want,â€ they tell me. â€œYouâ€™ll only be serving yourself”. In a sense, that’s exactly the point! 🙂
Of course, we all know the pitfall of mistaking self for Self. But paying closer attention to our language helps to make that illusion more transparent to us. I like how this post conveys that sense of being aware of language.
This is a wonderful comment, and you add so much here to that discussion of self and Self. Indeed, the irony is delicious — and so is your clarification!
All the best
Brilliant Dan, You do know your way with words, no doubt on that. My best wishes with you, God Bless.
Have a great day 🙂
Thank you, Gurmeet! You have a way with words, as well. Isn’t it time you started your own blog, or do you already have one that I don’t know about?
All the best, my friend
🙂 Everything has been already said or is being said, nothing more to add my friend. Reading you and many others satisfies my needs to the fullest.
But not writing it down, who knows the future so maybe if ever need arises.
Thanks a lot, I appreciate it.
Have a nice day:-)
You are a guy with soul. Thank you so much for contributing here. I am left to only imagine the gifts you offer elsewhere…
All the best
My friend, I love your words — always have, always will. I just finished a course called Theology and Ecology on Common Ground. It is so easy to be discouraged and to simply freeze up when I think of all the damage human life, whose center is serving Self, has wrought on our precious Earth. And yet.… One of the things I learned was that it is not what we do that will fix this ecological crises, but who we are. Your illustration really speaks to this. It all starts with who we are. And going spiritually deep is the mechanism.
Thank you so much for writing! Your point about the importance of who we are is so important, and its means, the “going spiritually deep” part of us that enables entering a more profound “ecology.” Much appreciation to you for your most inspiring words!
All the best