Even Consultants Get The Blues!

A long-term assignment is wrapping up and you’re about to saddle-up and mosey down that dusty road into the warm, golden sunset.

Hold it.

What’s wrong with this picture?

If you’re a consultant, instead of being that stoic, lean and mean stranger, who rides into town, sets things right, or who stirs them up, depending; you’re more likely to be, at the end of that engagement, a wobbly basket case who can barely summon the gumption to press the elevator’s down button.

How come?

Well, man or woman, as I see it, you’re going to have a case of the postpartum blues, partner.

What are those, you’re wondering, especially if you’ve never been a parent? They’re the odd and often radical emotions you feel after you have carried a baby to term, introduced it into the world, and your hormones are in a transitional state.

You grew and bonded with this marvelous organism and now it is much more independent.

That’s exactly the feeling you get when a big-time consulting assignment is approaching “term.”

You have separation anxiety. How are you, soon to be two, going to get along without each other?

“But they’re not ready!” we wail, when we’re really speaking about ourselves.

What are WE going to do without THEM is really the question.

If you’re a good consultant, you do bond with clients, creating lots of identification in the process.

When I was part of the largest civilian Navy management training program in history, 18,000 senior managers trained in 18 months; members of our consulting team actually identified so much with our client that they joined-up at the end of the assignment.

My U.S. Navy coffee mug, in fact, is about eighteen inches to my right as I type this article. What does that tell you?

Where we stop and they start, where dependency turns into independence, is never clear to the consultant. Saying goodbye is especially hard when we’ve inaugurated an entire unit or business function or when we’ve saved a ship (pardon me) from sinking.

Having consulted for more than 20 years, and running a seminar for consultants and coaches at UCLA Extension and elsewhere, I console myself and my colleagues with these three thoughts:

(1) This is the life we have chosen for ourselves, and being able to have a big impact and then to leave in a timely way to engage the next challenge is exciting and rewarding.

(2) Consultants aren’t marathoners, we’re sprinters. Great in the 100 or 220 we FLY cross-country, we don’t run it.

(3) We should be like those teachers that say: “At the beginning of the year I’m happy to see students coming, and by the end of the year, I’m happy to see them going.”

Still, when we’re the ones riding all by our lonely into those sunsets, we need to buck-up and say: “Hey, it’s ok; even consultants get the blues!”

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