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My heavy-duty, Fortune 500 career occupied about 25 years of my life (before I transitioned to entrepreneurs and professional services providers). I worked with the best of the best in many cases, and learned more than any formal education could ever provide. But the most astounding thing of all is that in most cases—and I’m talking over 80%—my advice was sought to validate or invalidate an initiative or major decision. Only infrequently was I asked to create something new or solve a problem.

At first I thought this was about a lack of confidence or poor experiences in the past. But one day, while waiting for a meeting, I was reading everything on a hall bulletin board and came to the fire extinguisher, which had a tag indicating it had been inspected and tested by the fire marshal’s department. That’s when I realized I was a primarily a fire marshal and not a fire fighter. That is, I helped prevent crises, not just help to respond to them.

Hewlett-Packard coined the term (for me) “breathing our own exhaust.” They had legions of bright people but they realized they needed outside perspective and expertise to provide fresh air. The usually listened to me, although not always, and I was consulted to approve or reject or amend their plans for anything from implementing performance guidelines to enhancing customer relationships.

I had become a trusted advisor without realizing it at first. Having an expert whose future was not dependent on promotion, salary, obtaining a corner office, or vesting in the retirement plan was highly economical for my clients—and highly profitable for me.

Don’t feel you have to change the world, or the industry, or even the client. Just help to guide them to the best road to arrive at their goals, objectively and dispassionately. That’s worth a small fortune.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

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