HYCS #1 – Finding Your True North

HYCS #1 – Finding Your True North

Welcome to the first lesson in Honing Your Consulting Skills.  We’ve got one tiny thing to accomplish this week:  Your personal definition of consulting.  It’s a tiny assignment, but it’s a mighty one.

Word Count: 1060

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Assignment time: 3 – 6 minutes


I just returned from 2 weeks in the small town where my mother grew up.  This town of 1500 is full of people who have known me all my life.  While looking through a Life Magazine about the Apollo 11 moon landing, a letter from my mother fell out of the magazine.  In it, she talked about how she had to “force”  my brother and I to go see Columbia, the command module for this historic mission when it was on display.
“That’s not what happened!,” I burst out.  “I loved going to see those recovered Apollo modules.  We went to see every one of them.”  Then I told my Aunt and Uncle about visiting the Kennedy Space Center as an adult and almost missing the last bus out because I was so entranced by the videos of the astronauts in space.  I held up an 8 X 10 glossy showing Neil Armstrong staring at the flag he’d just planted on the moon.  “I remember taking this picture to show and tell.  I love space.”

Defining consulting – what I mean by consulting – is how I keep others from defining it for me.   

In a role as service-oriented as consulting, one of the most important things I bring to the table is clarity.  I spend time getting clear about how I can add value and how I can’t.  I make sure I’m clear about what I need to succeed and how I might fail; clear about who I can help and who I will refer to someone who is a better fit.  As a consultant, you can’t walk into any meeting empty-handed.  You have to walk in with hands full of clarity about what you’re doing there.  The people in that room always have an idea about why you’re there and who you are.  Every encounter is an opportunity to let them know who really are.

The Definition Evolves as You Do

Cindy Cashdollar is a jaw-droppingly good lap steel guitarist.  She’s so good, she’s starting to admit how awful she was when she started.  Mastery is like that:  If you work at it, you get better.  As you get better, you start to see how awful you used to be.

When Cindy first started, I bet her definition of lap steel guitarist was not making a mistake so big it took the band down.  She needs a new definition to guide her now that she can’t play an unmusical note.

An outdated definition holds you back, like a shirt that’s too small.  Staying current gives you room to stretch out and keep growing.

My definition has evolved from “Consulting is getting your expertise used” to “Consulting is a process that helps you collaborate with your client” to my current definition:  “Consulting is maximizing autonomy and contribution for me and my client within the constraints of the situation.”  In practical terms, this means I help my clients to generate better choices than the ones they start out with.  I needed this redefinition to help me include what I am currently learning about healthcare, about the brain, and about myself and the way I work best.

Your Turn

How are you defining your consulting role?  In my definitions above, I’ve italicized key words.  I haven’t paid much attention to how well the sentence flows.  It’s the key words that help guide me, not the elegance of my prose.  Focusing on 1-3 key words will help keep this assignment short. I’m going to recommend a process called mind-mapping for your definition.

Mind-mapping Your Definition

1. Turn a 8.5-11-inch piece of paper so it’s horizontal.  This is also known as landscape mode.  Just turning the paper sideways signals the brain that something new is about to happen.

2. Start writing down words that describe your consulting role.  As you write each word, circle it.  WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING.  Do not edit yourself, even if you start to doubt your sanity.  Especially if you start to doubt your sanity.

3. When you’ve run out of words, draw lines between words that go together.  The moment you know which 1-3 keywords are the right ones for you, stop mind-mapping and write the sentence.  (There is no need to complete the mind map.)

4. Compare the sentence and the mind-map.  Does the sentence capture everything you need it to?  Circle the key words in the sentence.  More than 3 keywords are unmanageable.  2 keywords are possible, but they’d better be linked.  1 keyword is the easiest way to stay clear.

5. If you’re having trouble being concise, look for the “shoulds” on your mind map and in your sentence.  They have no place in your definition – cross them out!  Give yourself the freedom to write the definition you want.  No one ever has to see it.

6. Spend no more than 5 minutes on this.  Do not agonize over it.  Do not wordsmith the life out of it.  If it doesn’t work in 5 minutes, set it aside and sleep on it.  I mean this literally.  I’ll be asking you to sleep on many things during this course in a very structured way.

Sleeping on your definition

Just before you drift off to sleep, look at your mindmap or read your sentence.  Let it be OK that it doesn’t feel finished.  Picture yourself waking up in the morning and loving it.  Really get this picture in your mind and the sensations in your body.  Repeat this for as many nights as it takes.   In the morning, look at your mindmap/sentence again and you’ll know just what to do with it.

This sort of mental rehearsal has oodles of research to support it.  More recent research suggests that rehearsing or setting yourself a problem before you drift off to sleep makes it even more efficient.

True North

You know how a compass always points north?  That’s what your definition will do for you.  No matter how lost you feel, no matter how strange or depressingly familiar the territory, you’ll be able to find your way home.

Next week we’ll use the aspiration + discipline method of setting a goal for the HYCS program.  It’s a method I use with clients, and I’m pleased to share it with you.