HYCS #6 – Are We Ready for Our Clients?

HYCS #6 – Are We Ready for Our Clients?

Before we jump into the complexities of dealing with clients, let’s pause.

Word Count: 664

Reading Time: 2.5 minutes

Assignment Time:  5-20 mins

I remember my first rowing lesson.  I’d just gotten a 16-foot, lap-strake rowboat, and I could not row it in a straight line.  My neighbor Walter came over to give me a few pointers:

“Look at your wake.  Is it straight?”

“No!  It’s an ‘S’ shape.

“Then you’re doing pretty well.  My first time I went in a circle.”

Walter rows a boat like it’s an arrow shot from a bow:  Straight, fast, effortless.  I’m grunting with the effort of going nowhere.

“Just stretch out the ‘S.’ Go a little less to the right and a little less to the left with each pull.”

My “S” wake becomes a “Z.”

“I think I just made it worse,” I say. “What am I doing wrong?”

“You’re trying too hard.  Don’t dig in so deep with the oars.  The boat wants to move.  Let it.”

I switch between not getting enough oar in the water and digging in so far it veers to one side.  Then I hit it just right.  In one stroke I get optimum depth, minimum effort and maximum movement.  The effortless glide.  It’s intoxicating.

It doesn’t last.

“You’ve got to stop turning around to see where you’re going,” Walter says.  “It’s pulling you off course.”

“But how will I know I’m going the right direction?”

“Pick a point in front of you and keep your boat moving away from it.”

“That’s insane.”

“It works.”

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Consulting is like rowing.  If you dig in too deep you’ll go in circles.  If you skim the surface, you won’t go anywhere at all.  Your client wants to make progress, but sometimes can’t relax enough to let it happen.

There is a touch that is just right – not too much, not too little.  When you get it just right, it doesn’t feel like you are in control as much as connected to something bigger.  That feeling can take some getting used to.

What’s most puzzling of all, you make progress by paying attention to your goal and to what you’re moving away from.  In consulting, that means paying attention to yourself.  Your reactions, your feelings and thoughts, your confusion all let you know whether you are on course or heading off to the shoals.  There is nothing more important for a consultant that knowing where you are, and what you are thinking.   This is all valuable information for your client.

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We’ve spent the first five weeks talking about how to be the captain of your own boat.  Next week we’ll start picking up the passengers we call clients.

This week is a good time to go back over the fundamentals so we don’t lose track of them.

This week’s assignment has two parts.  The first is to review the first five installments of Honing Your Consulting Skills, which you can find here:

In Finding Your True North, you wrote your definition of consulting.

You Picked Your Point in week two, so you’d know where you’re heading.

In week three, you learned that it only takes one person to be powerful, and the importance of checking in with yourself as you generate options.

In week four, I hope you saw the power of trading certainty for ignorance.

Week five alerted you to the danger of assumptions that lurk just out of awareness.

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The second part of the assignment is to make a short list of specific client behaviors that didn’t pass your gut check.  I mean things that don’t add up, like:


  • A discrepancy between word and action
  • An unsettled feeling left over from an encounter that you can’t name
  • A solution that seems too big or too small for the problem
  • A deadline or budget inadequate/too generous for the project

Next week we’ll start looking at how to fully listen to clients without losing track of ourselves.  It feels very much like getting your rowboat skimming lightly over the water and heading directly for your destination.