Why Leadership is still the No. 1 Human Capital Challenge:
The Consultants’ Crisis
by Ravi Elangkoh
From young children to mature leaders, humans tell white lies for a number of reasons. One of the most common reasons is to avoid facing the harsh consequences of the truth. We fear offending the powers that be. We could be punished for speaking up. We might be labelled a troublemaker or rebel-rouser.
In my past two posts, I highlighted typical examples of “liarship” among client corporations that request leadership training and development. However, I am not pushing all responsibility to the client alone. Leadership development consultants have their share of blame as well. As consultants, we ourselves should demonstrate exemplary behaviour.
“These leadership development consultants are either too weak to stay upright in the midst of client pressure, or they are simply crooked enough to be a willing partner in unethical practices.”
Unfortunately, a significant number of consultants tarnish the reputation of the fraternity. These consultants are either too weak to stay upright in the midst of client pressure, or they are simply crooked enough to be a willing partner in unethical practices. Having been in this industry for over 20 years, I have come across three common stumbling blocks that consultants often grapple with.
Like it or not, “give kickbacks or get kicked out” is more prevalent than you think. A manager once asked me to prepare a cheque of 10% the amount of the training contract to be handed to him the next day when I was supposed to collect the signed contract. I declined his offer.
Another manager went shopping with me. Everything seemed innocent at first. But after scouting around for a smartphone in between soliciting my views, he selected one and coolly asked me to bring it to him the following day for our next meeting at the office. I refused and lost another contract.
“Some consultants give in to kickback demands out of desperation for business. They are at a crossroad of crisis – if they don’t do it, they could lose their much-needed livelihood; moreover, someone else would do it anyway, so it might as well be them.”
Some consultants give in to kickback demands out of desperation for business. They are at a crossroad of crisis – if they don’t do it, they could lose their much-needed livelihood; moreover, someone else would do it anyway, so it might as well be them.
But if all consultants were to make a united stand for a no-kickback policy, then there’s a chance we could put an end to this unsavoury practice.
Avoidance of conflict
Eager to please their clients, some consultants avoid conflict at all costs. They would say whatever the client wishes to hear. If the client says they like Programme X, then Programme X is what the client would get. And so, consultants comply with the client’s wishes without the slightest demur, giving them what they want rather than what’s really good for them.
If a consultant dares to disagree with his client, he risks incurring the client’s displeasure and losing the contract to another consultant. This is a big no-no in a highly competitive market filled with many other training providers, what more in the increasingly tough economic times to come.
“Why can’t we educate our clients to accept only truthful diagnoses and purely professional recommendations? As an analogy, would a patient with a stomach ailment want to be prescribed medication for the head instead?”
Why can’t we educate our clients to accept only truthful diagnoses and purely professional recommendations? As an analogy, would a patient with a stomach ailment want to be prescribed medication for the head instead? Or should the doctor be persuaded by the patient to reject the bitter but effective medicine and opt for a sweet placebo instead?
Ego is a formidable stumbling block. I had a defining experience when my team’s proposal for succession planning was flatly rejected. The CEO of the client organization couldn’t accept the fact that his measures were merely short-term and would be unsustainable in the long run. He refused to even consider an alternative solution and terminated our contract just like that.
As the alternative solution would have caused a temporary revenue dip in the short term while new leaders underwent training to succeed their predecessors, it is very likely that the CEO did not want to bear the inconvenience during his watch. In situations like this, CEOs need to think differently instead of clinging to old thinking processes.
Caveat to Consultants
We have seen how the auditing firms of scandal-ridden mega-corporations such as Enron and WorldCom crumbled together with their clients just because the audit consultants had bent to their clients’ wishes rather than do the right thing. It would be sad if leadership development consultants had to sink with their clients in the same manner.
More in the next instalment….