Jumping the gun
Q: What are the three (or so) biggest mistakes -- professional and personal -- you've made on the road to where you are today? Were you able to overcome them?
It was early in my career, and I had just landed the biggest client I had ever had and crafted a piece of training work that would reach over 3,000 new managers. When that event went well, I was asked to follow up that training series with another high-profile leadership event. That went well also.
With two back-to-back successes, the client asked me to talk to a leader in their firm that was having some trouble finding a speaker/consultant for a large group of demanding partners for an event coming up in a few days. My contact connected me to the leader, telling him, "Talk to this guy. He's a wonder-kid."
"I've heard you are pretty good," the leader said. "I'm glad, because I was just talking to Robert Quinn, and he doesn't understand what I want. He didn't want to work with us."
Robert Quinn was the author of one of my graduate school text books -- a good one. I was being called in to do a job that Robert Quinn was in the running for. I was feeling like a superstar. Sure, the job was a bit ill-defined; the client group was high powered and a bit disgruntled, and the turnaround was very short. My experience and caution were whispering little warnings to me and making me feel a bit uneasy, but the client seemed so sure, the money was good, and they thought I was their man. I was the wonder-kid. I took the job.
The day was a mess. The poorly defined goals ensured both confusion and client dissatisfaction. The quick turn-around time had not allowed me time to carefully contract with this group, and their contentious views, unknown by me prior to the event, derailed the design I had for them. At the end of the day, the group was angrier and further away from both team cohesion and change than they had been before the event. I had been a disaster.
I had known better, but I made the mistake of believing my good press. Flattery and the intoxication of thinking myself unstoppable eclipsed good judgment. My wanting to be --prematurely -- in Robert Quinn's league only proved that I was not yet there. Rarely do I ever contract with a client that strains of that awful day don't echo in the back of my head and encourage me to pull that little worried voice front and center in my thinking.
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