People Don’t Care How Much You Know, Until They Know How Much You Care

After weeks of procrastination, I finally gave in and took the family laptop to the technical support desk at one of those big box electronics stores. The computer was showing signs of stress, would delay, blink on and off, and occasionally just fall into a sleep mode. The only thing predictable about the symptoms was their unpredictability.

I approached the desk and was discussing the issue the best I could with a chipper young tech guy. I felt initial confidence in him because he spoke with authority and confidence. His questions seemed smart enough and my explanation did not send him running. Then, as time proceeded, he distanced himself. His questions seemed more confusing, and the conversation brought back scary memories of Fortran 4 in college. Soon, I started thinking the conversation was more to impress me with his technical talent, than it was to offer help.

Just like my computer’s operating system, leadership is complex. Some of us have chosen the field as our professional path. We manage to stay current and are conversant with the trends, issues, and opportunities. However, for others, it can be overwhelming and confusing. The theory and jargon used by those in the leadership development industry is like a foreign language to those outside this field. The reference to too many theories or models will seem irrelevant. The professional credentials are now less important than the conversation about their leadership challenges or goals. Just like me at the support desk, clients often know where they need to go, but need help getting there.

While my entire career has been dedicated to leadership development, I have been a member of (and a support to) The Leadership Circle community for just over a year now. I’ve had the benefit of meeting some amazing and extraordinarily talented people. I participate in several conversations each day with clients and practitioners. They often ask me about what other people are doing to successfully introduce The Leadership Circle tools, and influence leaders to work with them.

Things I See When Working With the “Best of the Best”

  • Conversations clearly address and articulate the “Leadership Imperative.” The consultant will go way beyond a conversation about a leader or team wanting to improve their skills, or changing a style or behavior that interferes with their success. The conversation will be more about the client as an individual or a team, as well as the organization they are a part of. There is a clear understanding between client and coach about the organization’s strategic goals, the challenges that require greater leadership, and the complexities this puts in front of leaders. This will create the right context for the meaningful work.
  • The most successful practitioners will always seek first to understand, and then be understood. This empathetic listening concept was made popular by Stephen R. Covey and speaks to caring, respect, and positive problem solving. Unlike my conversation with the tech-desk guy, the priority is to ask questions; learn about the client and their organization—their needs, interests, goals, and values. They find a common ground through inquiry, not by talking about the tool or process they are presenting. It is about discovery. They assess how much detail is important to the client and follow that with discussing what you have to offer. When in doubt, the typical leader is much more interested in the end result (what will be gained from this). The features and benefits will show themselves through the process.
  • The conversation is packaged in a way that connects with the client. We all have a wealth of information, research, theory, and “OD speak.” Among our peers, this is useful to move conversation along, and stimulate thinking and agreement. Most executives, especially the non-HR leaders, care about this as much as I care about the inner workings of my laptop. You will surely make more progress and gain more commitment by talking with the leader about his/her needs, challenges, and willingness to create meaningful change. From there, you can speak with confidence and conviction because you have tools to enable this.
  • The most influential are those who represent or model the very thing they deliver. You would never hire an image consultant who sends correspondence with spelling and grammatical errors. Set the example. Present yourself as the leader that you are, be transparent with your challenges and your development journey. Being influential only occurs with a foundation of trust.
  • Focus on de-mystifying The Leadership Circle Profile and 360’s in general. I am surprised how many clients I work with who have been subjected to a 360° assessment in the past. I am also disappointed that common perceptions are either ho-hum (I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know) or traumatic (my team really gave it to me!). It is important to reassure clients of the absolute integrity of the The Leadership Circle tools, and assurance of its reliability and impact. Our goal is to provide people with a deeper understanding of themselves, the world, and their relationship to others. In the end, they will have better understanding of what is working, what is not, and why!

The laptop was repaired to my satisfaction. But will I go back there again? Probably not. More painful than the bill or the time without the computer was the disconnected conversation with the technician. This was also a minor decision with limited risk. I would not have been so easy going with a decision about my career development and goals, or a person I was hiring as a trusted advisor.

As a leader myself, I make a daily commitment to my own development; to constantly evaluate where I am making progress and where I am creating my own roadblocks. My heart-felt thanks go out to the generous people world-wide who make up The Leadership Circle Community.


“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~Benjamin Disraeli


Douglas Day

Author Douglas Day

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Paula Butterfield says:

    Hi Mike —

    I enjoyed this. My heart-felt thanks go back to you as one of the generous people who help those of us in the inner circle try to stay connected.

    Happy spring!


  • Hi Michael. Fifteen years ago when I visited my son’s school (The Singapore American School) there was a banner in his class which said the same thing. Since then I have been saying to all my colleagues at EY and KPMG ” Clients dont care what you know till they know you care. Many technical experts are so taken in with their expertise that all they want is to demonstrate how clever they are.

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