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When Fools Walk In…

Here is some of the worst behavior I’ve seen from consultants in the recent past. They reflect insecurity, lack of taste, unethical conduct, and general unprofessionalism. I accuse no one among our readers, but make sure that you don’t fall into these shoddy behavior styles which scream “amateur” from the rooftops.

  • Telling self-aggrandizing war stories.
    I’m sorry, but people don’t make sales on airplanes or elevators and, if they did in some great exception, the stories are as boring to listen to as the golfer who keeps reminiscing about the six-iron shot that landed three feet from the hole. Not only was it blind luck, but none of the rest of us really learn anything from it except how much the teller enjoys bragging about it. Examples, and brief anecdotes, are fabulous if there are learning points or insights for the listener. Personally, I’ve never gained much insight from listening to someone tell me they love how good they are.
  • Drawing exaggerated attention to yourself.
    I watched in a combination of horror and fascination as a consultant walked into a scheduled continental breakfast with colleagues in his sweaty, reeking workout clothes, having made a point to come directly from the gym. I suppose his need for orange juice and Danish overpowered the need for a shower and change of clothes. On another occasion, a consultant, alone among the meeting’s members, had a full breakfast delivered to the room since he overslept and missed his normal morning meal. Everyone else present clearly wished he were still sleeping.
  • Volunteering to allow others to benefit from their experience.
    How often have you been in groups in which the speaker or chair asked for questions and a consultant instead volunteers, “Well, let me explain how I do that.” No matter what the credentials of the original presenter, or what the interests of those around, there’s always someone who has to ensure he or she gets “air time” by tediously explaining that they have a better way.
  • Dressing inappropriately.
    I believe that it’s always safe to either dress in a way that mirrors your client or audience, or to dress a notch above that. It’s usually unwise to dress below the people with whom you’re interacting, because it tends to show disrespect and is distracting. I once had the mesmerizing experience of watching a woman address a group in skin-tight jeans and a low-cut cashmere sweater. The men in the room were annoyed or amused, and the women in the room were furious. Not much communication going on during that episode.
  • Denigrating others.
    A classic symptom of passive-aggressive behavior is to denigrate others in order to elevate oneself. It’s also extremely unprofessional. Yet I’ve observed consultants who make casual comments such as “Didn’t he die?” or “Wasn’t she dismissed?” to create confusion and innuendo. There is nothing wrong with debunking bad approaches based on solid evidence and substantiated opinion, but character assassination is something else again. Unsolicited feedback is always for the benefit of the sender, not the recipient, and whenever someone quotes the nameless (e.g., “I’m just telling you what people are saying in the halls…”) run for the exits.
  • Attempting to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.
    I’ve run into consultants who claim to have published books, yet the “publishing house” is owned by them! “It’s not self-published,” they’ll angrily exclaim when challenged, “it’s a separate entity.” Yes, I and I say “potato” and you say “potahto.” Honesty, one would think, is one of the hallmarks of our profession. Why assume that the rest of us are stupid? An organization is not a consulting client if you have only done free work for them or they have purchased one of your products. When I questioned one consultant who cited a client with whom I was actively engaged, yet had never seen him present, he mumbled, “I was at a meeting and they indicated they would like to do business with me.” This is topped by a guy who claimed he was “instrumental in my career.” In reality, he had come to me for help on several occasions, and ultimately tried to undermine me with others when he imagined we were in competition. There’s competition which will never frighten me.
  • Big hat, no cattle.
    This is my favorite Texas phrase, and it means, of course, someone who talks a big game but can’t deliver on it. I’ve hear people huff and puff but, when you clear the air, they are only theorists, have no practical application, and never deliver on the big plans they convince others to implement or support.

Consulting is basically an unregulated profession, and we much all, individually, do whatever we can to build and nurture its integrity and professionalism. First, we can refrain from these and similar boorish behaviors. Second, we can shun and discredit those that do. If we don’t police ourselves, someday we’ll be faced with someone else legitimately trying to do it for us.