Read an Excerpt
August 8, 2008, seemed an auspicious date on which to launch myself as a self-employed consultant. So it was with positive anticipation that I left the firm where I’d worked for more than sixteen years to set up my own consulting practice. The enormity of the change---and the challenge---was not lost on me. I kept my spirits high and my confidence fired up by thinking about what I had to bring to the table: over twenty years of experience as a leadership and organizational change consultant with a strong resume, a reputation as a rainmaker, and a wealth of contacts. There was also the possibility of working for my old firm as an independent consultant, and at much higher rates.
Twenty-three days later, Lehman Brothers filed for the largest bankruptcy in US history. The New York Stock Exchange fell more than seven hundred points in one day. Commentators were predicting that ATMs might stop working and that we would all be “eating grass” within a week.
Had I just made the biggest mistake of my professional career?
As the initial shock began to wear off, I realized that what I had always taken for granted was now in jeopardy. My former business life had been like driving a speedboat along an easily navigable river: no obstacles, full speed ahead. Now it seemed as if the water level had dropped precariously, exposing all the rocks, garbage, and other barriers that had always been there but that I’d never had to consciously consider before. I started to doubt whether my business relationships were strong enough to allow me to navigate in this new, uncertain environment.
I wondered: had I always been fair to others in my business dealings? Did I really try hard enough to produce results that benefited everyone, or was the focus more on my needs? I knew I had the skills, but did I have a good-enough reputation to weather this new storm?
Because my old company used a group of independent consultants as contract workers to meet shifting client needs, I’d assumed they’d send work my way while I built my own practice. However, my fears grew as I realized my former colleagues had many independent consultants to choose from and, now, less work to farm out to them. Why would they choose me?
As I took a long, hard look at my current business relationships, I realized that too many of them were in breakdown modemeaning they were not as positive, solid, or likely to survive these challenging times as I needed them to be. In fact, some of the relationships at my old firm had been so dysfunctional that they had largely influenced my decision to move on. Now that everyone was experiencing enormous stress in the wake of what was to be known as the Great Recession, many of these relationships appeared to be too tenuous to survive this new “normal.” What I needed was a way to transform them from breakdown to breakthrough.
You may have experienced something similar. Whether starting your own business or adapting to today’s uncertainty and rapid change, perhaps you have also found that stress has detrimentally impacted your business relationships?
Let’s face it: our hyper-connected world has profoundly changed the rules of business engagement. The higher up the hierarchy we go, the less inclined we may be to adapt quickly to a more cooperative, collaborative way of interacting. After all, isn’t that what leadership is about, according to popular culture? Getting people to buy into our vision, directing them to do what we want, being wholly focused on what “I” need to achieve?