HYCS #37 – Help! I can’t sell and consult. Can someone tell my boss?

HYCS #37 – Help!  I can’t sell and consult.  Can someone tell my boss?

 Internal consultants have bosses that must monitor their performance.  This can really mess up a consulting engagement.

 Reading Time: 3 minutes

Assignment Time: Seconds that can lead to the best work you’ve ever done.

In allowing my irritation to get the upper hand in the leadership paddock, I’ve broken the first rule of being trustworthy to a horse:  Regulating my own emotions.

Master, the leader of the herd I’m in, makes a beeline for me for me, cutting neatly through the group of people who are in the paddock with me.  Seeing his approach gives me time to take a deep breath and remind myself that I’m in his paddock, with his herd.  His home, his rules:  Master lives here, and its his job to keep his herd safe.  To his eyes, I’m a predator who has just moved one of his horses. 

Master walks right at me and I step aside to let him pass.  Then he hooks a quick left, which moves me all the way around him.  He does this three times, with great precision and patience.  Then he nestles in behind me and nods off.  I’m not a threat.  His herd is safe.  He can relax.

Walking into a client’s office believing I have “the answer” is like walking into Master’s paddock and moving his horses around.    It’s going to unsettle your client and cause one of two reactions:  either they will school you like Master schooled me, or they will cede authority and responsibility to you.  Either extreme is a consulting failure.  No matter how many times you’ve seen this type of client, no matter how “right” your data may be, you’re still a tourist in their hometown.  Their town, their rules.  It’s easy to see if you turn the tables.

How would you feel if I walked into your office right now with my expertise on organizing a space and started rearranging your files and books and computer?  I’m right, according to the research, but am I right for you?  And even if I’m absolutely correct, is it my business I’m in when I tell you what you should do?  Will I be around to make sure it takes root?  The right answer can be all wrong for your client.   Consulting is learning what the best answer is for this client, at this moment in time.  It may be very little, almost unnoticeable to someone watching.

Which is where you can run into trouble with your boss.  Your boss needs something she can count, something that she can report on to her boss.  This may lead your boss to push you to sell rather than consult, which can make it hard to stay out of the driver’s seat with your client.   If you find yourself with too much responsibility for your client’s business perhaps this is why.   So what do you do?

1. You remember that you are a tourist in your boss’s world too.  Tempting as it is to believe you know what’s at stake for them, stop and consider the pressures your boss is under.  Then ask:  Have an entering conversation with your boss. 

2. When you are a consultant, you consult with everyone, no matter their position on the organization chart.  Being a consultant means you get to breathe a different atmosphere.  You don’t have to wait to become a VP to make a difference.  You do need to work the consulting cycle, every minute of everyday, in every interaction. Enter with everyone, listen to everyone, contract with everyone.  Your role, your impact, your career are no longer depend on your position on the organization chart.  They depend on your skill.

3.  You don’t sell to your client and you don’t sell to your boss.  You don’t tuck your tail and go home defeated either.  You do what it takes to help your client and your boss – and your boss’s boss – find the best way forward in their herd.  When you step all the way into the consulting role, you leave the victim role behind for good.  And it is good:  really, really good.  You need your real self – your authenticity – to pull this off.  And you’ll need to get good at finding the next really tiny step forward.  Ask your clients and your boss for help.


Write “tourist” on a post-it and put it where you can see it during every interaction this week.  Let it remind you to be respectful and curious about the cultures you are entering.  Every interaction is a visit to a new culture.