I have had the good fortune to be a consultant to high profile managers, and I, myself, have benefited from a consultant’s advice. The key to the relationship was always in objectivity and the wisdom we shared with one another—keyword: shared. Many think of a counselor or consultant (and I use the terms interchangeably here) as someone you go to for help or advice rather than exchange. We’ve created a paradigm of the wise old person with all the answers that tells us which path to take. “Yes, Grasshopper, you have come to a career crossroad.” “No, Grasshopper, veer right toward enlightenment.” “Wake up Grasshopper, this is your journey of which I haven’t a clue—open your eyes and put one foot in front of the other!” The latter is the ultimate truth. Your future is not theirs (nor is it yours) to predict. Short of a counselor having experience and a little psychology theory over you, they are really just good at helping you talk it out. After all, isn’t that what any counselor does, even those with deep pocketed clientele. They do what our friends simply cannot do (and wish to remain friends). They hold a mirror up to us.
Why we need them…counselors or consultants. Friends, good natured, loving people that they are, should not double as your counselor. Good friends that are in tune with you, tend to tell you what you need to hear. This automatically precludes them from being the mirror. Instead, here’s an adaptation of a familiar tale to illustrate the type of honesty one’s mirror should dispense.
There was once a very, insulated executive. Surrounded mostly by the fearful members of her boardroom and convinced by their flattery, she fancied herself the most magnificent, powerful leader in all the land. She imagined this was her image. When anyone uttered Grimhilde, it was followed by a gasp. “They all gasp at the mere mention of my name!” To her, this was proof of her appeal. “There isn’t anything in the land that can diminish my brand!” The next day she was gifted a large, gilded mirror which she commanded her staff to hang. “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, you reflect how well I manage my boardroom, my beautiful image, and all.” She became more and more absorbed by the reflection she perceived to be hers, completely unaware that others were reflected there too. Then a low voice spoke, “Grimhilde.” There was a collective gasp followed by a loathsome silence. “I am the mirror on the wall and see in the faces of this frightened thrall, appall at your mismanagement. Their gasps are not in flattery, but show they’re aghast by your ego of which they look upon unsatisfactorily. This admonition can serve you well if from it you realize working under you has been hell. Me thinks you can experience a turnaround if you open your eyes and bring your big-headed self back to the ground!”
Although Grimhilde was surrounded by many, it of course took the mirror to help her see areas of personal improvement, manage her image, and advise her to add individuals with diverse input to her team that would in-turn give her honest feedback. In this respect a consultant can save more than image; they can save a career.
Who is your mirror?
*I wrote this post as a ghost and it never saw the light of day–thought that was a shame–so hopefully it will have a chance to rest in peace here.