Last night I picked up a copy of Aristotle’s Ethics that was on our dining table and flicked through to Book 4 on “Other Moral Virtues” in particularly, the section in 1127b4-24 titled “The boaster or exaggerator”. (I don’t want to give you the idea that I have philosophy books casually discarded around the house. What had actually happened was that I cleared some book shelf space over the weekend and saw that I hadn’t returned this book to my brother since I last borrowed it from him in….2006…and left it on the dining table as a reminder to myself to return it to him).
In it Aristotle writes,
“As for the man who pretends that his qualifications are higher than they are, if he has no ulterior purposes, he gives a bad impression (because a good man would not enjoy telling a lie); but he seems to be more irresponsible than vicious. If he has a purpose, then if it is to win fame or honour, he is not to be censured too much, as a boaster; but the man whose object is money or what money will buy is more disreputable; just as a liar may be either one who enjoys lying for its own sake or one who is striving to gain glory or profit”.
So what’s this got to do with this post?
Lately I’ve been thinking of using the services of a business coach. Someone who is outside my own current network, has their own business and who has a wide network in the local area. (I have mentioned before that one of my goals is to work locally with business and industries in my area which drive a substantial part of the Victorian economy). I need someone to ask me some hard questions to make me think strategically about what I want to achieve as an independent consultant.
After spending 24 years of my working life working for someone else, there are things that simply don’t come naturally to me. This is because as an employee working in the centralised corporate functions of HR and Learning and Development, you think differently than someone who has their own business. For example, for the first time in my life, I’m starting to think about business development, financial management, business strategy and planning and negotiations.
So not one to shy away from development (besides, you know how much I love the opportunity to learn), I’m searching for business coaches who can get me to start thinking with an end goal in mind and enable me to focus and channel my ideas into something that is distinctly “Activate Learning Solutions” for my clients.
The problem is that in my head, I have a stigma which I need to overcome and that is being seen as a “pushy salesperson”.
A Fine Line…
Recently, I read Euan Semple’s latest post called Social Media Purist where he wrote, “Call me old fashioned but I’d rather maintain my genuine intent to connect with others through ideas and conversations than start chasing work by trying too hard – even if it costs me work.” He was talking about content marketing.
This sentence made an impact with me because I’ve been having discussions with people for some years now about the perception of bragging, promoting and selling yourself and your work through the channel of public social networks and media. Sometimes I have a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach because I’m balancing the perception that some people have about social media – that it’s another forum to push my products and services versus those who use the medium to have conversations, network, learn and share their work and that of others – and from it, find work.
As an independent consultant, these thoughts are more prevalent now because the boundaries are shifting.
- If you’re an independent consultant are you expected to be the expert?
- Can you still “work out loud” when it comes to client work?
- How do identify the fine line between self or work promotion vs genuine and authentic knowledge sharing, community building and trusted relationships?
- How do you continue to work with your clients more like friends, business partners and cohorts and not as business transactions?
It’s a bit of a conundrum actually.
Of course, posts such as David Kelly’s How to Recognize Snake Oil In Your PLN Part 1 and Part 2, along with Mark Sheppard Dear Dave: A Letter to a Colleague on Metaphors, PLN and Perceptions and all conversations these generated in the comments added fuel to the fire in my mind. I had to read and re-read these posts to glean that really, we’re all selling but it’s your intent and your purpose (like Aristotle mentioned) that’s stands you apart.
I know that once I start this business coaching, there will be elements of the coaching program that will not sit well with me simply because of the uncertainty between what is considered as “inbound marketing” versus what is based and formed out of “relationships” and “conversations”. It will be up to me to change what is being prescribed to me and to make it work for my particular situation.
If they even dare mention my “click rate of my website” I will implode because that’s not important to me.
See my problem?
Seek The Truth…
I went back to Greek philosophy again because I recalled a conversation with my father some years ago while watching him paint an artwork in his studio. While he was dabbing some Cobalt Blue oil on the canvas, he described me, the consultant, as a new age “sophist”.
Sophists were the philosopher teachers of ancient Greece. They travelled around Greece teaching philosophies and rhetoric (persuasive argument) – for a hefty fee. Over time, they became unpopular because they started to challenge convention and the only people who could afford them were the rich citizens. Plato particularly hated them because “...the art of contradiction making, descended from an insincere kind of conceited mimicry, of the semblance-making breed, derived from image making, distinguished as portion, not divine but human, of production, that presents, a shadow play of words—such are the blood and the lineage which can, with perfect truth, be assigned to the authentic Sophist”. Plato believed that sophists were more interested in winning arguments than seeking truth.
Luckily, Aristotle wasn’t as scathing. He saw that sophists focused on the process of creating a persuasive argument rather than winning at all costs. To him, the process of getting to the outcome (in their case, the truth) was also important as logic (in their case, to find the truth) – the channel just happened to be…communication.
So this got me thinking about the part I play in my new role as an independent consultant and who I use public social networks. Much of what I have learned and applied to my work have come directly from my own personal learning network. They have given me the confidence to try, test, experiment, play and apply their new “philosophies” into my work and in so doing, I have communicated and taught others how – the process – to do the same and to customise these for their own contexts. The communication channel happens to be social networking platforms and tools and of course, now… I get paid for it.
Maybe dad was right.
So here is my challenge now – and for any independent consultant who finds themselves at the nexus of what may be seen as “traditional marketing” approaches versus “conversations and relationships”. How do you move into your new role without losing your own authenticity and identity that got you there in the first place? What do you think?
I’ve got some ideas but that’s for another blog post. That’s enough Greek philosophy for today.