Let’s Go Put Ourselves Out of Business

A brief manifesto on being an effective teacher, coach, or consultant

Why do you do what you do? More specifically, why do you do the work that you do? Is it money? Do you do it for praise? Do you want to be known and respected? Or is it something else?

I was talking once with a woman who did a lot of consulting work for manufacturers. She would come into their plants, review how they moved around materials, where people assembled things, and how they did it.

She would do time studies, take detailed notes, and provide presentations to executives. Ultimately, she would be able to provide them with impressive cost savings numbers. If she did her job well, whatever they paid her was more than covered by those savings.

It Comes Down to Teaching

In an effort to make sure I understood what she was telling me, I summarized what I’d heard by saying “oh, so your goal is to save companies money?”

She laughed and said, “in the short term, yes.”

“What about the long term?” I asked.

“In the long term, if I’m really good at what I do, I’ll put myself out of business.”

What an interesting way to approach your work. But in hindsight, it makes total sense.

If she, as a consultant, cared enough to really teach these companies what she was trying to, they wouldn’t just make the improvements she was suggesting. They’d take it further. They would begin to think about their company in the way that she did. They would adopt the mindset of lean manufacturing and continuous improvement. That mindset would allow them to continue to get better day in and day out. They would have become irrevocably changed as a result of her work.

In the end, a company that does that wouldn’t need a consultant anymore. They’d now have the mindset to do it themselves.

It’s About More Than Knowledge

That conversation made me realize something. Teaching a subject effectively means more than just passing along the information and skills involved. It means passing along the excitement and enthusiasm for that subject as well.

Those excited learners are eager to put their new knowledge to work — to test and refine it. That includes passing that knowledge along to others. As it’s been said many times before, the best way to learn something is to teach it.

For those of us who teach, coach, and consult, we have to ask ourselves that primary question of why we do what we do. And we have to look to how we do our work as an indicator of the answer.

If you’re really passionate about what you do — if you care more about the subject matter and the service than the fee or the notoriety — you have the same long-term goal as my interlocutor. If you effectively teach and coach enough people about the stuff you’re passionate about, your long-term goal is to cultivate the mindset that will propel them forward without needing outside help.

Be About More

Teach others well enough, and you make it so that they don’t need you anymore. They’re hungry enough, and knowledgeable enough on their own. The rest is just experience.

But if you don’t love the subject matter enough in and of itself, you probably won’t pass along any enthusiasm or hunger in those you teach. At best, you continue a cycle of half-cocked, half-used knowledge and unrefined skills. At the very least, it guarantees the jobs of other coaches and consultants who will brought in to try to do what you couldn’t.

So whatever your short term goals as a teacher, coach, or consultant may be — go out and work on your long-term goal: putting yourself out of business.

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: https://goo.gl/UhzUYL.

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