Dangers of the Job
Dangers of the Job

In my office I have a picture of a woman with her head to the ground, looking up cautiously at the foot of an elephant, which she is gingerly “holding” with one hand just inches from her head.  Under its foot is an object that was obviously causing the elephant some discomfort. She knows the elephant might decide at any minute to shift its position and she could be crushed. This is often what it feels like to be a consultant — dangerous!

Many times people hire me because they are in some kind of pain.  And “naming” the elephant is just one of my duties — helping it to heal it is the other. Which is why this work is so dangerous. It is only with the consent of the” elephant” that I can do my work; any power or control is purely an illusion, something I remind myself about all the time.

My life as a consultant usually starts with a call to assist in some initiative, project, or planning endeavor. The client is usually very judicious in describing what the issue is and what they want to see happen. Over time I have learned that the presenting issue is rarely the real issue, which may be buried under layers of bureaucracy, process, culture, or dysfunctional relationships. Thus, I have learned to dig for the real issues, getting as much info as possible before agreeing to a contract, although still I might not uncover it until well into the work.

Here is where it gets most dangerous. I see patterns very quickly and can name an elephant in the room faster than you can say “boo.” This is not always welcome. Often the elephant has something to do with people in power — the very ones that have hired me. How do I point it out, clearly yet nicely, to those in charge?   I have not always done a good job of this — sometimes I have been incredibly clumsy and hurtful.  When that happens I can be (and have been) out of a job, or at least, never hired again.

Over the years I have come to believe two things about leaders, which helps me to address the elephant politely yet firmly:

  1. I believe that leaders are trying to do the best job they can — I have rarely found intentional malice.
  2. My experience has taught me that leaders are often really nice people with some really bad habits, to which impact they are often blind.

If my contract does not include taming the elephant, I feel it is at least my duty to give feedback, and to do so in a way that makes it possible for leaders and the system itself  to see themselves as part of a larger whole in which they can (and often do) have great impact.  Even then, it is still scary, and doesn’t always work out.

So, I have come to see consulting as a dangerous job, because we are only as good as our names and the customer’s last experience of us, and yet we need to be true to our values and code of ethics as well.   Thus, we trust the elephant not to crush us while keeping a wary eye out for any shifting movement as we get down to work.

Cathy Perme is the co-owner of Perme & Peterson Associates, LLC.

Fizz by Cathy Perme

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Fizz! How to Succeed as an Independent Consultant author Cathy Perme also wrote Confucius in My Cubicle: Practical Wisdom for the Leader in All of Us, released by Wisdom Editions in 2017.

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Cathy's marketing and selling background makes for a rich set of suggestions for getting business and building one’s brand. I think it is rare ...
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Barbara A Tuckner
Cathy's marketing and selling background makes for a rich set of suggestions for getting business and building one’s brand. I think it is rare for an independent consultant to "give away" so much of their business engine and expertise. That adds up to a heap of generosity; something that is remarkable in the "friendly" competitive consulting world.
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Down-to-earth, practical, and provides plenty of tools to use to develop your independent consulting business. Cathy takes a constructive look at how to succeed by intelligently marketing yourself, engaging others, and keeping it all in balance with your personal life.
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NES
Cathy gives dozens of ideas about networking effectively, making sales calls and using social media and she doesn’t minimize the effort that has to go into it. It’s a reality check for anyone who thinks they can just hang up their shingle and become a consultant, but a great guide for anyone who’s willing to put in the hard work to be a success.
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Cathy will take you from point A to Z on how to successfully become an independent consultant.
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Cathy will take you from point A to Z on how to successfully become an independent consultant.
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For those that take the leap, Cathy's methodical steps will surely be helpful in achieving success.
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I recommend to anyone starting a business.
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I recommend to anyone starting a business.
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Cathy shares years of lessons and a broad breadth of practical consulting and business experience in a very clear and engaging guide for starting and ...
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Cathy shares years of lessons and a broad breadth of practical consulting and business experience in a very clear and engaging guide for starting and developing a successful consulting company. Highly recommended.
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I appreciate Cathy sharing what she’s learned over the past 30 years about how to succeed as an independent consultant. Her advice is straight forward, ...
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I appreciate Cathy sharing what she’s learned over the past 30 years about how to succeed as an independent consultant. Her advice is straight forward, thoughtful, organized, and easy to follow.
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This has been a truly learning experience and has helped me grow both personally and professionally.
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This has been a truly learning experience and has helped me grow both personally and professionally.
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Took a very complicated and dynamic set of realities and personalities, surfaced underlying issues, facilitated a robust and healthy interaction, and drove the process to ...
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Took a very complicated and dynamic set of realities and personalities, surfaced underlying issues, facilitated a robust and healthy interaction, and drove the process to closure and action.
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Cathy Perme