My Worst Day At Work - has this happened to you?

blackhat career consulting emotionalintelligence executive happiness leadership productivity riskmanagement Feb 04, 2022

Contributed by Steve Hunt.

When a man cries, it’s an event. His wife and kids freeze in their tracks. The compassion instinct kicks in for those around him, but inside he is piling on dozens of emotions, embarrassment and shame mixed with gratitude for the hugs, then more sadness and embarrassment.

I wasn’t lucky enough to hold out for the hugs at home. I had to settle for the kind older woman on the city bus offering me a tissue. The ride from downtown to my condo on Chicago’s lakefront seemed an eternity. When I closed the door behind me, I sobbed.

My emotions are very private to me. I don’t show them at work, and rarely at home. I do the superficial things, of course, like smiling, a warm hug for an old friend, a genuine look of care at hearing bad news. But mostly I keep it in. Occasionally father-son-bonding movies will draw a tear – but that’s in a dark room with no witnesses.

On this particularly bad day, I felt awful. I hated the feeling of being treated like just a warm body punching a clock not at all valued for my more-than-two-decades of field experience.

The cry did me good. I replayed the day’s events. This job was unusual. I was a consultant sub-contracted under another firm. I had not been involved in any contract negotiations or setting of expectations. So, as the weeks wore on, my role was more and more relegated to tedious technical tasks, some of which I honestly was not very good at. I was losing my confidence and possibly losing a client, to boot. I went for a run along my favorite tree-lined path at the lake to shake it off.

Perils of the Profession

During the run, my head cleared. Even when consulting goes well, much about being a successful consultant is an artificial construct. The CIO hires me based on my bio and references, but then tells his IT department, "listen to him. He has advised Sultans and Presidents. He knows what he's talking about"

It's like I'm suddenly imbued with all the authority of the CIO. The IT team, if they respect their boss (which is not always the case), will show me the same respect. However, if their boss is not held in high esteem, I'll be starting behind the eight ball and considered the puppet of an ineffective leader.

In a normal work environment, co-workers learn each other's talents, quirks, strengths and weaknesses. They learn to trust each other through experience in projects and personal conversations at lunch, a supportive pat on the back and a genuine smile.

A consultant has none of this collateral to draw from. We are "propped up" by whomever recruited us.

That's why, while we are onsite, we attract so much attention and disrupt so many work activities (in a bad way), and why, when we leave, our recommendations are so quickly discarded. We are not part of the culture. We are not members of the community of trust built by genuine involvement.

Executive consulting like this. The way it's usually done is broken. It is artificial, disruptive. It creates tension and degrades trust. That's because an outsider should only ever be a guide, suggesting ways a team built on trust can reach higher. A consultant should never pontificate or act superior.

The best consultants are consiglieres, advisors, Yoda or Yogi Berra. They show the young Jedi the path to her or his own inner capabilities. The path to improvement. Thinking back at my role models over the years, I've seen great consultants, like @Kevin Richards, @Ben Rothke, and @Michael Silva gently and downright lovingly guide their clients to personal betterment. And others, like @Ann Rogers, @Bill Jacobs, and @Alison Niederkorn, show me how to combine professionalism, kindness and generosity.

Honoring these traits more in the breach than the observance, I stumbled often in my early years as a consultant. But I discovered on this particularly bad day at work that my pride was hurt, proving to me that I needed to work harder on humility and understanding. I’m trying to take every setback as a learning experience.

What setbacks have made you a better person at work or at home?

Steve Hunt helps professionals like you to excel on the path to growth and improvement