This is my blog, so allow me to air my sole weird quirk: for the past five years or so, I just can’t fall asleep without listening to Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I know it sounds like I’m making it up or it’s it’s an exaggeration, but it’s not. I actually took an old pair of iPhone headphones and cut off one side so the other side would stop bothering me as I fell asleep listening to Dr. Covey.
When the sun’s up, however, I listen to lots of other people too, such as Anthony Valadez on KCRW. Valadez is one of KCRW’s many amazing DJs and one of my favorites; he’s got the perfect LA energy on air. And he posts cool stuff off air too. One of his tweets asked this:
Do you teach your kids “they way it will be” or the way “it should be”? Parents chime in. I’m curious.
— ANTHONY VALADEZ (@anthonyvaladez) August 21, 2014
Valadez’s tweet seems like just a casual, fleeting thought or a reaction to something that he might have overheard at some restaurant on the Eastside or something. But it’s actually a profound question that probes more deeply than one’s ability to have a voice in the big issues like race, or Ferguson, or Gaza, or poverty, or the price of a gallon of gas.
I think Valadez’s question goes to the day to day little injustices we see all around us. And I don’t think Dr. Covey really has a direct answer. On the one hand, Covey would remind us that there are two concentric circles: the circle of influence and the circle of concern (the former is usually contained within the latter). He would remind us not to waste energy beyond our circle of concern by not being overly reactive to external forces, like Ferguson — or even something pedestrian like why there’s a bunch of “red tape” when we need to bring some open source software package into the enterprise.
But really I don’t think that would be the end of Covey’s conversation with Valadez.
I want to think that Covey’s answer might be something like I gave to Valadez on Twitter. I said, “I’ve got small kids, so step one is to teach them courage. Then we’ll get to the latter.” What I meant by that is that you have to consider your principles first, then figure out how to act on them. While not stated, surely one of the levers of Covey’s “circle of influence” would be the extent to which you have the courage to act on your other principles. Surely that would naturally give you — or hopefully my kids — a much bigger circle of influence, so maybe my kids will have the circle of influence to not only refuse to accept “the way it is” but to actually change the status quo in the process.
In the world of consulting, where I am, it’s more nuanced than just having the “courage” to starkly your mind, speak the “truth,” or to be the “loudmouth” (as so many on Twitter compete to be), however. I’m contrasting myself with the prototypical activist on the street with a megaphone. While it surely takes a species of courage to be that person, the megaphone activist’s circle of influence will either (1) shrink rapidly or (2) fail to grow in sensitive political environments like Corporate America.
So where is the balance in consulting or professional services in the corporate world, generally? The majority of my peers would probably agree that clients ostensibly hire consultants like me to get them from their perceived point A to a perceived better place called point B, at least in technical engagements.
But I think they hire a lot more than just capabilities and technical prowess. I believe they hire confidence. They hire guarantees of execution. They shift risk. So to do my job — to deliver on those promises — means that I have to sometimes, sensitively and selectively, draw a distinction between the way it is for a client and the way I believe it should be. A megaphone would be so much easier.