A Reminder: Business is Always Personal

A Reminder: Business is Always Personal 150 150 Dr. Rachel MK Headley

A Reminder: Business Is Always Personal

True Story

I was working with a large team that is embedded in an even larger organization. I had worked with the Project Manager before, so she had trust in my expertise and ability to get the work done (the two main reasons that anyone hires you, by the way.).

When I had my first videoconference with the guy in charge, Wes, he was very cagey. Weirdly non-communicative. But, Wes is an engineer, so I thought it was just a personality thing.

Have you heard the engineering joke: When he’s having a conversation, an outgoing engineer looks at the other person’s shoes? (Instead of his own shoes…). I can say “Well, he’s just being an engineer,” because I used to be the only scientist on a team of 100+ engineers. I say it with love.

But, then Wes failed to warm up to me on subsequent meetings – both over video and in person. His body language was completely closed; he had a hard time looking me in the eye; he only spoke when it was extremely awkward to stay quiet.

The next day, I spoke at an All-Hands meeting, and I had braced myself to start off big, because I assumed Wes’s introduction would be lukewarm at best. But, when he got up in front of his team, Wes was engaging, well spoken, and inspiring.

I could not have been more surprised. I tried to not look surprised, but I might have failed.

Throughout my time with his team, I was impressed by their dedication, their work ethic, their passion, their knowledge.

When I had my closing meeting with Wes, I started out by mentioning how much I enjoyed sharing a few days with his people.

As SOON as I mentioned how great his team was, he totally opened up. His body language relaxed, he looked me in the eye, he smiled(!).

Then, it hit me like a thunderbolt – Wes was worried that I’d find him lacking.


Wes is a Fixer. In Change Management, a Fixer is someone who seeks expert mastery in a way that improves the world. And, biggest fears? Vulnerability, weakness, unintended negative consequences.

In my business, I tend to work with Fixers, so this wasn’t a huge surprise. But, I hadn’t made the connection earlier.

It’s why Wes acted reticent around me, but outgoing around his people. He’s a Fixer!

As I thought more about Wes’s extreme example of his heart-on-his-sleeve body language and attitude, it occurred to me that perhaps it’s a bit of a miracle that consultants get hired at all.

In order to bring in an expert, someone has to admit that she needs help. Often, we can lay the cause at someone else’s feet.

  • We need a Financial Consultant because of volatile markets.
  • We need an HR consultant because of the complexity of regulations.
  • We need a Change consultant, because our parent company implemented a major reorg.

In Wes’s case, he had been trying to lead change in his own teams for almost two years, and he wanted me to come in and evaluate what could be done to continue to improve.

He was asking me to evaluate his personal approach.

Although discovering that he had failed was a fear, Wes still cared about his team enough to take the personal risk to improve overall outcomes.

And, he also must have felt the problem was fairly serious to take on such a personal risk.

The Lesson

We are all in the people business. Sometimes a human comes along that resets our perspective, or alters our approach.

Wes taught me to look closer at just how personal the task at hand may be.

What you do might with the information that Wes is a Fixer is up to you and the situation in which you find yourself.

Perhaps I would still have waited to reassure him. Tension can be extremely productive.

But, it would certainly have given me a bit more peace of mind. And it would have allowed me to be a bit more focused on the task at hand, instead of thinking about just what Wes was trying to hide (and if that was, in fact, the case).

Wes taught me that instead of just looking at the type of person I’m working with and the problem that needs evaluation, but also at the degree to which the issue is personally relevant to him or her.

Business is always personal.

About the Author:

Dr. Rachel MK Headley is in the disaster-avoidance business. As an expert in transitions, she advises, guides, and speaks on how to use the tension around change to unleash your key staff, increase engagement, and improve overall organizational performance.