The Consultant's Calling: Bringing Who You Are to What You Do / Edition 1

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A classic revised and updated for the twenty-first-century consultant
Revised and updated for consulting in the twenty-first century, this new edition is for anyone who wants to know what consulting is really like as a career, as a living, and as a life. Geoffrey Bellman reveals how to make the job rewarding both financially and personally as he examines the practical issues of managing time, clients, and money as well as such broader concerns as how to balance work with family life. At once practical and personal, this book is for all types of consultants, all those who work with consultants, and all those who dream of being consultants.
Geoffrey M. Bellman (Seattle, WA) has consulted to organizations of all sizes, from the inside and outside, including numerous Fortune 500 companies. He is the author of several well-received books, including Getting Things Done When You re Not in Charge the bestselling book that has sold more than 80,000 copies.

This book is for anyone who wants to know what consulting is really like as a career, as a living, as a way of life. A successful consultant for many years, Geoffrey Bellman shows how to make the job rewarding--both financially and personally. The Consultant's Calling examines every aspect of the work, from the practical issues of managing time, clients, and money to such broader concerns as how to balance work with family life and how to remain honest with oneself. Both personal and pragmatic, this book is for all types of consultants, inside or outside organizations; for those who work with consultants; and for those who dream of becoming a consultant.

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Editorial Reviews

Presents the firsthand insights, observations, and advice of a seasoned consultant on how to make consulting work meaningful and fulfilling--as well as financially rewarding. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787958473
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 10/29/2001
  • Series: Jossey-Bass Business and Management Series
  • Edition description: New and Revised Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 711,807
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Geoffrey M. Bellman lives in Seattle. He has consulted to organizations of all sizes, from the inside and the outside. Bellman is the author of best-selling books Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge, Your Signature Path, and The Beauty of the Beast.

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Read an Excerpt

We are on this earth for a purpose; our life task is to discover what it is. As unique as our individual pursuit might be, we are each just one of billions of people simultaneously searching for purpose . . . and that is what turns the world. And that's where consulting comes in. In large and small ways, consultants help people discover their purpose— at least that is what I think we do.

My own purpose has been to advise people working in organizations. This is not just my job, not just my profession, but my purpose, my calling. I was drawn to this work as strongly as if a magnet were embedded in my body, attracting me to organization forms and functions. The source of my motivation is as mysterious and compelling as that. Why has my fascination continued for so many years? Why do I find myself attracted again and again to work with these huge, maddening, miraculous creatures called organizations? Yesterday I found myself stuck to the side yet another one! It must be the magnet.

When I envision my life, I see myself working; I cannot imagine doing nothing—at least not for long. Consulting has meant self-employment and self-discovery; it has fed my family and my soul. I expect to continue working the rest of my life. For thirty years, I found most of my fulfillment with corporate clients who paid me money; for the last five years almost all my work has been with community clients who pay me compliments. It's all work.

Work, though essential to life, is not life. As important as work is to finding our individual meaning, it twists us out of shape if we let it. This book sees work through a life perspective. I wrote it tohelp us honor life purposes in our every consulting move. Honoring our life purposes will result in different actions than we would take if we were to honor authority, money, power, tradition, or even friendship. It opens us to alternatives that are unthinkable when consulting is played primarily as a competitive sport. So there it is. I have given away the secret. You have yet to finish the Introduction, and you already know what the rest of the book is about.

You are about to be marinated with and basted in my perspective on consulting. That perspective will seep into your own as you read. I hope you like the flavor and sop it up! When you find that you really like the taste, pause to note why: How does it fit with your preferences and possibilities? And when it gets a little too sweet or sour, remind yourself that this is just one consultant talking; there are many other flavors available. Pay particular attention when you find an idea distasteful—especially if you have an emotional reaction to it like anger or disgust. Although your reactions may simply be revealing where I am off base, they could be clues to areas that you might want to explore more deeply. My own experience shows that when something or someone is distasteful to me, that thing or person often stands for a part of myself with which I have yet to come to terms.

I write to you as to a friend who cares about me and my work, a friend who will accept both my bragging and my complaining. This book is a lopsided conversation in which I imagine your partnership. Granted, you are doing most of the "listening," but I hope you will end up talking with yourself, reflecting on what you learn. You will hear about both my success and my failure in the work. Sometimes we will soar to lofty heights, dreaming about the profound cosmic changes that can be created in organizations. At other times, we will burrow into the minutiae of consulting, wondering what to wear today.

t of entrepreneurial spirit and unnerves others who do not want to depend on such a fickle employer.

The Calling

The Consultant's Calling is about responding to the voice within, the voice that calls us to pursue meaning and purpose in our lives. This book recognizes the possibility, even the necessity, of achieving much of that meaning through our work. Given that we spend many waking hours working, it makes sense to put those hours in service to a motive higher than money. Given that changes, struggles, and growth are part of the human work experience, why not benefit from that experience in personal as well as profitable ways? Why not recognize our consulting work as a path that leads toward meaning in our lives?

The dictionary tells me that a calling is "a vocation, occupation, trade, or profession." I like that definition because it is wide enough to include most people who work. People can be called to be painters, doctors, farmers, lawyers, preachers, teachers, truck drivers, or consultants. Although the dictionary definition has breadth, it lacks the depth I am trying to convey in the title of this book. I think of my calling as work I love to do, work to which I choose to devote myself. It is work that answers an internal call to "personal greatness," to borrow words from Peter Block. That is how I see my work as a consultant, and that is how I write about it in this book.

You do not have to be called to this consulting work to succeed in doing it. You can approach consulting as the work you do to pay for the life you want to lead. You can commit yourself to consulting as a role you play with organizations, a role you leave behind when you go home to your "real" life. Yes, you can do that, but it seems such a waste when there is so much to gain by allowing your work to be a primary path of contribution and fulfillment.

Some of us have been called but haven't had time to answer. We are so busy doing "it" that we have not paused to figure out what "it" is all about. We put the caller on hold; we will return the call... maybe tomorrow. Well, tomorrow is here! This book can help you take the call, to hear that inner voice that calls you to do your work in a way that serves your life. Make the time to figure out what you want, or be forever sentenced to doing what others want. Everyone struggles with the issue of gaining some semblance of control in his or her life. This issue looms especially large for consultants because of their need for clients. You can have what you want and serve your clients too. That is my belief; that is my experience.

Bringing Who You Are to What You Do

Our circumstances have much to do with how we respond in the moment. Circumstances, though influential, are not controlling; we always have a choice, and we always choose. That choice is between an external and internal "me," the me I present to my clients and the me that I keep inside myself. Too often, these two me's do not agree with each other, and I do not act to bring them into agreement. Instead, I put aside the internal me in favor of pleasing others with the external me. This book is about how to change that, how to create more congruence between who you are inside and what you do outside.

I have learned much from other books on consulting, yet I still needed to write a book of my own. I yearned to read more about how consultants lived their lives, found meaning in their work, struggled with their role. As useful as it was to learn about how to start my own business, market myself, contract with clients, and carry out the work, I was looking for something else. I knew that consulting success, narrowly defined and pursued, would not necessarily bring what I wanted. To be successful in this work I needed more than competence and clients and cash flow; I needed to make the work integral to the life I intended to live. I wanted to read about consulting from that viewpoint, so I wrote about it.

Among other things, this book suggests that

You are as powerful as your clients.
You don't need to accept every client who comes your way.
You can pursue your personal growth through your work.
You can build lifelong friendships with clients.
You don't have to work three hundred days a year, or even two hundred, or maybe even one hundred to succeed.
Your presence and perspective are as important as your skills.

Each of these statements suggests that success is defined within the boundaries of life, not in the marketplace. This is not a pipe dream. Or if it is, I have been successfully fooling myself and others since 1977. That is when I became an external consultant and began learning about, developing, and living by the guidance in this book. Now, almost twenty-five years later, I am reaffirmed in the basic beliefs on which this book builds. When I follow the guidance of my own book, I am richly rewarded. When I put it aside, I pay the consequences.

Readers of This Book

Experienced consultants occasionally need a "tune-up"; they know it is time once again to rethink what they are doing. They know this consulting life suits them, and they want to live it even better. Many of the most appreciative readers of the first edition of The Consultant's Calling were those old hands who knew that I knew what I was talking about. They liked the reinforcement this book offered them. Many thanked (or cursed) me for writing the book they had always wanted to write. I believe they will like this second edition, too.

Many readers will be new to this world of external consulting. They have read other useful books about how to set up their business, how to market themselves, and where to find clients with money. This book lets them inside the mind and heart of a more experienced consultant; it reveals what it feels like to do this work. Earlier readers have been reassured by my acknowledgment of my doubts, fears, mistakes, and failures. They liked knowing that they are not alone, that consultants who have been at this for years also struggle. They will be reassured to know that my struggles with consulting have not disappeared in the years since the first edition was published; the struggles have just changed.

The book is also for all of those "undecideds," individuals wondering whether this consulting life might work for them. Because it holds up an unpolished and even homely image of what this work looks like from the inside out, the book will help them imagine what it could be like if they were out on their own.

The book is also written for students, those readers who were assigned it as part of their studies of organizations and change. The first edition became a standard text in graduate courses in business, organization change, and consulting. It was particularly well received by nonresidential master's programs for adults returning to university. My talks with those students have informed this new edition.

Change agent is a bit of consulting jargon often applied to people who are helping change come about in organizations. I count among potential readers those who specialize in systems analysis, information technology, financial analysis, communications, public affairs, engineering, educational technology, health care, labor relations, marketing, public safety, the law, environmental affairs, and public policy. You can see how wide I imagine the audience to be. Many of these specialists will not define themselves as change agents, but they are—and much of this book can help them pursue their specialty even better. Some of my most gratifying responses to the first edition were from technical experts surprised at how well this book dealt with their work and people dilemmas.

Goals for This Book

I want to alter your perspective, to help you see your work in the world a bit differently. I am confident that you will act on any new perspective you gain and value. I am focused not on building your skills but on helping you see where and when to use the skills you already have.

I want to open new meaning in your work and life. I intend to stimulate your thoughts about how your work relates to the rest of your life. I will encourage you to become even clearer than you already are about your underlying values and how they can be acted on through your consulting work. I want you to consider making your work pivotal in your life's purpose, to find work that is truly a calling.


I want to bow in the direction of my clients, my friends, my fellow consultants, and my family. They are reliably my best teachers, and I am occasionally their good student. They taught me what I know about doing this work, leading this life. I want to thank my wife and editor, Sheila Kelly; I appear to be a better writer than I am because of her. I am grateful to Susan Williams and Bernadette Walter at Jossey-Bass for their guidance.

Seattle, Washington
August 2001

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Table of Contents

Foreword (Peter Block).


Introduction: In Pursuit of Purpose.

Part One: A Foundation for Your Work.

1. Creating Your Balanced Life.

2. Creating the Right Work.

3. Setting Your Work Boundaries.

4. Managing Your Calendar.

5. Making Money.

Part Two: The Clients.

6. Why Clients Hire You.

7. Why Clients Keep You.

8. Building Trust with Clients.

Part Three: The Consultant.

9. Love at Work.

10. Fear at Work.

11. Searching Your Shadows.

12. The Consultant as Leader.

13. Building Your Power.

14. Misusing Your Power.

Part Four: Partnership.

15. Building Long-Term Partnerships.

16. Making Rewarding Partnerships.

17. Avoiding Painful Partnerships.

Part Five: Understanding Organizations.

18. How Organizations Work.

19. What Works When Creating Change.

20. How Not to Create Change.

Part Six: The Marketplace.

21. You and the Marketplace.

22. Making The Leap into Consulting.

23. Stepping Back from Consulting.

Part Seven: Closing.

24. The Quest for Meaning Through Work.

Sixty Thoughts About Life and Work.


The Author.


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