Achieving and maintaining your core “zen distance” from your clients and their decisions may be the most difficult skill you will learn over your years as a consultant.
This distance (sometimes called “disinterestedness” by spiritual folks) allows you to serve your client in the most supportive manner, without judgement, even when your client chooses a path you do not approve of, or which may cause the business to fail. Does this sound contradictory? Should you not be rushing in to save the company from its leadership’s wrong direction?
Actually, no. The zen of it all is to remember that you are the consultant. Your position is to advise, however strongly you make your point. What you need to remember is: this is not your company. It is your client’s company. And it is your client’s right to risk and fail as he or she chooses.
Yes, you should make your point. Loudly if you like. I tell my clients when they start with me, “If we should disagree, I will insist on my viewpoint and back it up until I know you have heard me and have considered my opinion. After that, whatever decision you make, I will back you up to the very end — succeed or fail.” Of course, it must be an ethical and legal decision, but beyond that — my job is to support my client and the path chosen for the company. And to help it succeed on that path. Why should I think that my opinion of the risk and reward is more savvy than the CEO’s opinion?
My company (and yours) is a consulting practice. We can make whatever choices we like about our practices.
So you have two things to learn about zen distance:
- the first is to communicate clearly with your client, and then support whatever decision is made — cheerfully and in good faith (not in resentment, at your client or turned back upon yourself). This is discipline.
- The second is to be at peace with yourself when your vision of the company’s future is not put into play. This may be more difficult than the first discipline, as you must get out of your own way (your own ego’s way) and step back, confronting that you are not the primary mover of your client’s success — that you are an adviser. You chose to advise and support, not to direct. You chose to be the shadow, or the number 2 player, not the leader.
You will confront the need for this zen distance again and again, especially if your practice involves you deeply in your client’s business and success, and personally with the team. This is the most rewarding kind of consulting, and the most challenging.