How Management Consultants Defuse the ‘I Can Do It Alone’ Syndrome

How Management Consultants Defuse the ‘I Can Do It Alone’ Syndrome 1024 682 C-Suite Network

by Rob Steinberg


One of the most pernicious and pervasive problems in business is the “I Can Do It Alone” attitude that is adopted by so many so-called managers and leaders. These types are not the just founders of early stage businesses; they are commonly found in businesses at all stages of development. It is difficult to call these people managers and leaders because the attitude creates a condition in which they can’t possibly be effective in managing and leading others. Their trust level essentially extends only as far as themselves.

What are the impacts of the attitude?

Good management consultants can easily have an immediate impact on profitability because, as outsiders, they bring immediate attention to a key issue and have a singular focus on it. However, we are often delayed by the “I Can Do It Alone” types from providing helpful insight and solutions that will quickly advance a business. The syndrome may also arise once we are hired and then are stopped dead in our tracks, even though we are clearly on a path to making positive impacts.

The “Do It Myself” type, in addition to blocking much-needed help, has numerous other negative impacts. Like everyone else, the “Do It Myself” person has strengths and weaknesses and, at some point, the weaknesses will prevent completion of a project or growth of the business. The attitude is demoralizing for those who work around him or her because it sends a message that team members have no value. Even more deadly, the attitude spawns a business environment that is not focused on real business challenges because the so-called leader is out of touch with reality.

We have found the three ways to overcome the “I Can Do It Alone” syndrome obstacles.  The key to success of each of these approaches is overcoming the fear that underlies adoption of the “I Can Do It Alone” attitude.

  1. Manager’s Fear: Loss of Control and Resulting Uncertainty
    Our Response: The management consultant doesn’t need to take away control. In fact, consultants who are most effective work as part of a team. We require that we work as part of a team or don’t work at all. We know that if we work in isolation, our work will not be adopted and implemented by management, and we are wasting everyone’s time and money.
  2. Manager’s Fear: Exposure of Mistakes
    Our Response: Our approach is to be clear that we are not here to expose mistakes for the sake of assigning blame or creating more work for ourselves. We are working as part of your team to find solutions. It is critical that we send a message early and often that we are solution-oriented to overcome the fear of exposure. We also commit to speak with one voice with management to the Board and Owners so managers have the opportunity to present their point of view and craft the message.
  3. Manager’s Fear: Degradation and Unfairness
    Our Response:  Yes, the “Know It All,” “I Want The Glory” and “I Can Do It Alone” consultants pose those risks. They are as much out of touch with reality as the manager or leader suffering from the same syndrome. Our response is to provide a balanced assessment. If you are going to work as a team, when we point out a weakness, we counterbalance the negative comment with a recognition of the positives that have been created (and that counterbalance often requires several positives).
    Degradation and overly negative assessments (that ignore the entire and real picture) do not foster teamwork. They foster fracture and dysfunction. In short, we focus on telling the complete truth, keeping a humble attitude and reaching out for help in a genuine way to our colleagues and collaborators in the business.

In short, overcoming the “I Can Do It Alone” stopper requires that the management consultant win the trust of managers and become part of a team with them. We all know that in business, as in life, no one can be successful doing it alone.

Steinberg-6474Rob Steinberg is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Cornerstone Advisory Services, a management consulting, interim management and outsourced Operating Partner firm in the Twin Cities Minnesota. He was a Managing Director at CRG (now CRG Deloitte) and worked at a split-off firm from the West Coast Office of Alvarez and Marsal. He has served in 6 C-Level positions, including as CEO of several companies, and has provided consulting services for tech, manufacturing, construction and retail businesses.