Consulting, when you get down to it, is mostly about people, namely: 1) know yourself, 2) know your clients, and finally 3) Navigate the gap between the two. Ironically, parenting is the same, though more difficult due to the charged emotions involved.

In my case I got an extra dose of learning by leveraging my family situation. Specifically: 1) I joined a pre-built family with established and very different rules from my own (i.e. Ally and the two boys) and 2) Our third son was born autistic with large demands and very different rules and perceptions. Nothing else in my life has honed my consulting skills more than adapting to these two things.

Like consulting, parenting in this environment was a very humbling, but oddly rewarding experience and transformed me into who I am today.

But it can be hard to distill all the life lessons into easy navigable steps. Today I was reminded about three of the most critical lessons. The adversity that enabled me to relearn these lessons was a baby sitter failing to show. Namely, I depend on baby sitters to free me up so I can work as my wife is chronically ill and cannot watch Ben, the autistic kindergartner. Of course, an hour before the babysitter was scheduled to arrive, I learn she could not make it because her roommate: borrowed her car, drank too much, and could not make it home last night. Further, he had too work early. So instead of driving home, picking her up (in her car), and dropping her off, he went directly into work. The net was he’d didn’t get in trouble with his boss, she did. And I am out a baby sitter. So today, as I discussed the situation with her, I am reminded of three simple consulting lessons:

Solve problems, not people or organizations
This first step starts with taking a deep breath to keep your animal brain at bay. Once adrenaline kicks in and you start feeding your anger, nothing good will come. The desire to rehash what happened to vindicate yourself or show how you have been victimized, leads only to the animal brain taking over and rational thought literally turning off as your body goes into fight or flight mode. The tricks I use to keep this from happening are reminding myself of my goals and preventing myself from rehashing what happened. Next, allow others to vent, but do not engage and stay out of judgement. Refuse to entrench into a position in an argument, but rather stay focused on finding a solution. Be flexible and see if you can do the right thing even while conforming to the other person’s world view. Forgive yourself when you slip, but always return to solving the problem and not fixing the person or organization. Know what you need and state it clearly. At worst, if you cannot control your rising emotions, let it go and walk away until later – own your behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Do not take ownership of other’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Remember the other person is likely rational even though their perceptions differ from your own. Evaluate if you can handle the environment and bow out if you cannot. Do not compromise your values or integrity for anyone or any organization. These are not their responsibility regardless of what they’ve done, so don’t try to change them into surrogate parents. Ask yourself why you want them to be in charge?

The Dynamics of Human Dysfunction and the Golden Rule: “Do Not Enable the Victim”
Luckily the dynamics of human dysfunction are very simple. When communication breaks down each party places those involved in three camps: victim, mediator, and perpetration. The counter intuitive part is to stay in the perpetrator role. This means take a stance of truth, which is likely a perception outside the drama circle. The victim cannot do this. They cannot leave the drama circle though within the circle the victim is the most powerful role because they are never responsible. The mediator, the role consultants naturally take, owns the behaviors, thoughts, and feelings of the victim. They prevent the victim from feeling pain or adversity and from taking responsibility. Unfortunately, in this life the only path to maturity is pain/adversity. So the mediator is robbing the victim of very valuable lessons learned. In the end, the mediator will finally leave and if too much responsibility has pent up, the victim truly will be overrun and cannot survive by the unfiltered consequences of their earlier actions. This truth can combat the natural inclination of a kind, caring consultant to enable an organization: when you enable, you hurt the victim. Comforting and listening are fine, but don’t protect the victim from the responsibility or the consequences of their actions and the pain associated with it. This is often their only opportunity to grow and learn as a person or organization. Without it they are blinded to reality.

The Dynamics of Human Dysfunction and the Golden Rule (again): You Cannot Want The Answer more than the Child/Organization
This is a proactive perspective of “protecting the victim” Personally, this was my vice before the kids matured me. That is, when an organization screws up, I would go out of my way, often burning 80 hours a week, trying to show the client what they needed to do. Almost always the client, no longer feeling the pain, would let me take up the slack and completely forget about the problem to focus on other things. As a consequence, I and my family would suffer from my sacrifice. In the end nothing positive would change until after I left and the pain was felt. Near the end of the contract, I would often slip from mediator to victim mode – complaining about the weight I was carrying. Yet it was my choice all long. That too can be hard to see in the mediator role. Letting go of protecting the victim, also means letting go of the perception you are better. It took having kids to realize you cannot want something more than the person who is supposed to do it. It comes down to trust. You have to give them the rope and trust they will do the right thing. Generally, people and organizations conform to your perception. If you do not trust and instead act as mediator, they will have no degrees of freedom to make decisions – as a result they will fulfill your perceptions and prove to be untrust worthy. It takes a stiff upper lip to let your clients/kids fail – but that is what you have to do in order to let them grow and mature. Usually it takes getting burned a few times doing this to teach a well meaning consultant the right path.

Anyway as I type this, we found another baby sitter to cover Ben today. So I am ending this blog a bit early and returning to work. 😎

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