The Fine Line Between Proficient and Poser

I don’t like being the new guy in the office. After 12 years of self-employment, I recently rejoined the corporate workforce. While I like my new job, my co-workers and the company I work for, I can’t stand not knowing all the particulars about how to do my new work, where I can go for the information and expertise I need and how things are done around here.

That will come with time, of course — it’s only been three weeks — but I am impatient when it comes to these things. After nearly 25 years in this profession, I had gotten used to knowing how to get things done — or, at least, acting as if I do.

There is a fine line between proficient and poser and I have walked it successfully for many years now. Allow me to explain.

I know how to do certain things very well. I can write and edit other people’s writing. I know how to form strong relationships. I know how to analyze communication problems and suggest effective solutions. I know how to think strategically, to build a plan and to measure my work. I know how to teach others about my craft.

But when it comes to certain specifics, I know nothing. As a consultant, when I began working with a new client, I knew little to nothing about them. I didn’t know the culture of their organization. I didn’t know their processes and their internal politics. Often I didn’t know their industry or the products they made or the services they provided. I had to learn all of that fairly quickly.

This lack of knowledge used to rattle me. But early in my self-employment, a more experienced consultant advised me: “Never tell a client you don’t know how to do something. If they ask you to do something and you can’t do it or have never done it before, just say ‘Sure, I can do that,’ and find someone who can.”

That’s called “faking it ’til you make it.” Well, not really. It’s called providing total solutions for your client by assembling the right talent for the job and managing the project to successful completion.

Sometimes, the trick is to understand the real problem and apply your skills to it. One of my last clients, a large non-profit association, initially called about performing a communication audit. What they really wanted was for me and my partner to conduct in-depth interviews with staff regarding a difficult personnel situation involving one of their managers, to assess the problem and to recommend a range of solutions. Neither my partner nor I had ever performed this kind of human-resources work before, but we had the interviewing and analysis skills necessary to do it. So we did, and the client was pleased.

One of my new co-workers, herself a relative newcomer to the company, gave me some good advice. She encouraged me not to feel bad about not knowing anything. “Your job right now isn’t to produce, it’s to watch and learn.” I just need to get comfortable with that fact until I can start producing.



4 Responses

  1. Outstanding blog, Robert – thanks for sharing. I recently started a new gig and at first was “highly enthused” (read: very impatient) about being able to make a big impact right away. Luckily I caught myself and am now taking this time to learn about the organization, understand how things work, and build relationships. Heck, I’ve only started to figure out my way around the building! 🙂 Whether building a house or starting a new job, allowing time for the foundation to set is the most important ingredient for future success, and something we can’t revisit or undo once it’s done (well, we can try…but it’s expensive and really annoys people).

  2. Hi Robert,

    May I ask why did you rejoin the work force after so many years of self-employment? I thought that once you’re self employed you don’t really look back…

    • I don’t mind answering that question at all. It was a very personal decision. As I looked at where I am in my life and career, I decided I wanted more financial predictability and stability than self-employment was providing me. For example, I was finding it difficult to pay high insurance costs and also save money for retirement. The appeal of full benefits and 401k was pretty strong. However, I have no regrets for my 12 years of self-employment. I learned a lot and gained great experience.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: