What do you do?

“Hello, my name is John. What do you do?”

How many times have you gone to a conference or a meeting not knowing many people,  you get into a conversation with a stranger and the inevitable question comes up?

“What do you do?”

How do you answer this question?

I’m a business advisor and consultant but I’ve stopped saying that.  Mainly because if I’m in a crowd of non-business people I tend to get blank stares or a disingenuous “Oh, that must be interesting”.  And if I’m in a business crowd I see them mentally check if their wallet is still in their possession.

So now my answer is much more fun and interesting, for me and them.  “I’m a translator!”

Usually I  get a curious stare, then a genuinely interested reply.  “Really.  What do you translate?” To which I reply, “I help companies translate strategy into results”. More often than not we then engage in a genuine conversation, learning more about each other and our respective work.

Why do I use this rather oblique approach?  Because a long time ago I learned about the power of metaphor and analogies. Homo sapiens is a very social race and all early learning took place through story telling, using metaphors that create visual images in the mind which helped to embed the lessons for lifelong recall.

Most people don’t have a visual or mental image of “I’m a consultant”.  The average person can’t picture what a consultant does (some CEOs feel the same way). But say, “I’m a translator” and most everyone can form a mental picture that carries some meaning for them, usually slightly exotic and interesting.  Once we interact with another person at the level of emotional engagement, no matter how slight, there is a human connection and real dialogue can begin.

One of the systemic problems I find with most management consultants is that they never really engage with the very people (they call them clients, not people) they are trying to help.  How many PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets have really made an emotional connection with you? (If you get aroused by Powerpoint animations please see a doctor at once.)

So here’s my point: no emotional engagement, no real interest. No real interest, no openness to learn.  And no openness to learning, no change or improvement.  And we all know that data and information are a very poor substitute for real learning.

“Hello, my name is John. What do you do?”

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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2 Responses to What do you do?

  1. Paul says:

    I get in similar scenarios, more so in planes. Hi Paul what do you do?.”Im a preacher”.. Look out Ive said it. Preacher, can mean anything from a radical hothead to a fire and brimstone hell and damnation warlord to a legalist and religious nut, Of course I don’t consider myself any of those and Im’ not. But there again, I gues thats the real challenge of being a preacher, The challenge to be who you really are.. How you explain it, is your job
    Just a thought and thanks for a fine blog that unlocks a response and provokes thought.


  2. Raunak says:

    love the post! for a few months now, my answer to that question has been,”I solve problems”


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