The Consultant and the CEO
post # 394 — June 28, 2007 — a Client Relations post
R Shawn Callahan, Founder of Anecdote Pty Ltd in Australia, has a question for all us. He writes:
â€œFor the last month or so I have been working well with a client and her staff helping them develop their brand strategy. My client heads a division of a company. A couple of weeks into the project Iâ€™ve become aware that my client has an abysmal relationship with her CEO, whom she reports to. I also quickly learned that the CEO is a tyrant and displays many of the characteristics Bob Sutton described in his book The No Asshole Rule. The CEO makes the lives of her staff miserable. They are both terrified and befuddled by her unpredictable, bullying and overbearing behavior.
â€œLast week my client went overseas for work and the CEO has decided she wants to run the branding project during my clientâ€™s absence. The CEO attended a meeting of the leadership team Iâ€™m working with and she proceeded to denigrate her staff telling them that their opinion meant nothing and then proceeded to attack the project. The staff all looked at me to say â€œsorryâ€ but couldnâ€™t say a word.
â€œMy question for you and your readers is this. How involved should a consultant get in trying to help a group of people who canâ€™t make headway because the way the CEO behaves?â€
Shawn, others may disagree, but my opinion is that you have virtually no choice. You were not hired to help the group deal with their boss, and itâ€™s neither practical nor â€œthe right thing to doâ€ to try and take on that role. Youâ€™re gonna lose!
Maybe, if you really have superior psychological, political, interpersonal, sociological, emotional and intervention process skills, you could pull this off. But the odds are incredibly low. Itâ€™s one thing to be explicitly hired as a process consultant to help an organization function, with the CEOâ€™s explicit consent. Itâ€™s a whole â€˜nother thing to take it on as an extra challenge on a project where you were hired to do something else.
And if that means the project you were hired for is doomed, well, itâ€™s doomed.
Anyone else have different advice for Shawn?