As regular readers know, I read widely; topics I explore span (in addition to core themes of corporate governance and strategy) include philosophy, neuroscience, business, history, military strategy and more besides. I usually take notes, as an aide memoire for later reference.
Some articles are memorable, others less so. This one recently-published article piqued my attention because it reminded me of a question I face most weeks: "What do you do?" Most enquirers expect to hear a job title or a profession, to enable them to 'position' me, which is fine if the 'job' is a well-known profession or vocation, such as a doctor, teacher, plumber or lawyer. But what about a director, or an advisor? Is offering a one-word response helpful? Might it enlighten or obfuscate?
For those who understand the roles of director and advisor, one-word descriptors are adequate. But for others (the majority, even most?), the response is more likely to an awkward smile, as if to say, "I wonder what one of those is or does? Does he mean a company director, a movie director, an orchestra conductor, or something else?" or, "What is an advisor? It sounds like a fancy name for a consultant." What an unhelpful interaction!
Clarity and simplicity are vital if we are to communicate effectively. And the effectiveness of what we utter—whether our message got through—is determined by the listener not the speaker.
With this in mind, I try to read the person before answering. If they appear knowledgeable of business matters, I tend to say I work with boards, sometimes adding that I help them see around corners and govern with impact; an advisor. But if not, I say I'm a troubleshooter who works with business leaders, or something along those lines. One thing I never say: I'm a consultant—they are people who make decisions and implement things for others. I don't. Rather, I ask questions to gain insight and make suggestions. Whether the client takes up the advice or not is their decision.
So, returning to the headline question. The words we utter: do they matter? Yes, they surely do, if we are to communicate well.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.