How to Prevent Their Ego from Killing You

Most of my work has dealt with boosting consultants’ self-images so that they believe they are on a peer basis with their prospective buyers. Too often the consultant attempts to begin such a relationship as a supplicant and inferior, willing to compromise anything — including self-worth — in order to secure the business. Ironically, this usually leads to a loss of the business, because self-respecting buyers have no patience with people they don’t believe are as strong and secure as they are.

However, there is a converse position, which I just happened to run into again recently. This is represented by the consultant who takes on airs of invincibility, who is seemingly confident but is actually arrogant, and who lords it over his or her colleagues. These behaviors are almost always the indicators of a fraud, because any of us who are really good in the profession realize that a) we don’t know a great deal and are constantly learning; b) we’ve made enough mistakes to create a series of books describing them; and c) we know that there are a lot of “right ways” to do things and no single royal road to success.

Beware the frauds, because they’ll confidently tell you about how things should be done without any substantial track record of their own. They may have gotten lucky and secured one or two major clients, have a book or two published, and even been honored by an association along the way. But delve deeper. I’m reminded of the guys who run the pyramid networking schemes (Oh, excuse me, I must have meant “multi-level marketing”) who show up in a Cadillac and sport a diamond pinkie ring to convince people that they’re successful. However, their English is poor, the ring is fake, and the Caddie is borrowed.

Before you jump to accept guidance from anyone (including me!) check out some facts:

  • Are they the source of their apparent successful lifestyle, or is the source also the spouse, family inheritance, or partnership with others?
  • Do they have a comprehensive body of work that includes books, articles, speaking appearances, and other validation in the marketplace?
  • Is there a substantial list of clients over a period of time?
  • Has the consulting work been meaningful and successful in terms of client results, or does it consist only of a narrow methodology repeated over and over like a single novelty act?
  • Does the individual contribute to the profession by giving, not just citing his or her work, and can the individual admit to recent learning and mistakes as he or she continues to grow?

I’ve spoken at industry events where 70 people were encouraged to stand and introduce themselves and describe what they do, rather than use the time together to listen and learn. I’ve seen local chapter officers insist on being center stage instead of serving their constituents by allowing them to hear from others. I’ve seen purportedly “sharing” and “networking” sessions become bragfests for people whom I wouldn’t trust to watch my dog.

We can’t choose our families but we can choose our friends and we’d better carefully choose our role models and mentors. Don’t be fooled by bombast or be impressed by pomposity. Don’t worry about how good the potential role models claim to be. Simply ask yourself this: Would I hire them?