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Passion, People and Principles

Who Can Help?

post # 74 — May 12, 2006 — a Careers, Managing post

The CEO of the consulting firm was giving a speech to his assembled troops, young and old, encouraging them to get involved in business development early, citing one of his own successes as a young consultant.

Noticing that he was being undercharged on his telphone bill, he speculated that the telephone company was undercharging many of their other customers. So, he wrote a letter to the telephone company’s CEO, identifying the opportunity for the telephone company to make money, and landed an initial assignment that grew into a significant consulting relationship.

Quite a creative, impressive piece of initiative for a young person! The only problem was that, while the majority of the audience was incredibly (and appropriately) impressed by the CEO’s piece of autobiography, only a minority thought they would have had either the ability or the courage to do something like that.

The behavior seemed very forceful and aggressive to many of them – they questioned whether they would ever have the courage (or the wisdom) to do something like that. It seemed “foreign.”

There was a similar reaction to another point the CEO made. He was pointing out the benefits of staying in touch with everyone you went to school with, since your classmates may turn out to be people who, in future years, can hire you.

The CEO’s intentions were pure – he pointed out that the key to business generation was having a sincere interest in people and a sincere desire to help them. He cited the example of one of the firm’s great business-getters of all time, for whom there was almost no difference between his social circle of best friends and his customer base.

Again, while the impact of the speech should have been motivating, it was not so to all of the younger people present. Isn’t there something false, many of them worried, in staying in touch with people for such mercenary reasons? Do I really want there to be such an overlap between my work community and my personal community? Yes, it worked for the superstars, but is it ME?

The CEO was sincerely trying to use his experience to help his junior people succeed, and was giving them wonderful advice. But it was the advice of a “natural.” He wasn’t getting through to his novices and apprentices.

They were not thinking “Oh, now I see how it’s done – that’s easy.” Their reaction, just when anyone skilled is trying to show you how to do something was “Wow, I’ll never be as good and as smooth at doing this as that person, why should I try?”

The truth is that if someone is going to help us learn something, we do not learn best from the “naturals.” We learn best from someone who credibly, visibly, “been there – done that!” Someone who started out struggling with these issues.

If I’m struggling with a drink problem, don’t offer me a teetotaler as my counselor – they just won’t understand my struggle, and they absolutely will not be able to help me. If I’m struggling with weight, don’t give me an instructor who never had an extra pound of fat on him or her.

I need to work with someone who knows how difficult it is to stick with the program, what it feels like to get the “midnight munchies” and someone who can give me tips derived from really personal experience about how a NON-natural, a NOVICE, begins to build the new behaviors into a lifestyle.

The best teachers and trainers prove to me that they understand my struggle, and give me tips, tactics and suggestions appropriate to my stage of development – not just the examples of what the superstars can do.

1 Comment

David Koopmans said:

Excellent post; I don’t think that the skilll of teaching someone how to do something is very widely understood in senior management ranks. It is also about leadership; how much more effective are you as a leader if you are able to connect with your team at their level, not yours? Wouldn’t this create a much greater level of trust and loyalty?

posted on May 12, 2006