This podcast is linked to the recent quarterly article about the speech Marvin Bower made way back in 1964. Rather than focusing on the many useful elements of the speech, we will focus on the unifying theme of finding outstanding people, inspiring them and requiring the highest levels of conduct from them.

We will discuss something very personal to us. Firmsconsulting recently had a series of events in the Southern USA. We invited clients and students from several schools to attend these events. At one such event in Dallas, a long-time reader attended. He was a 28 year-old MBA from, lets say Wharton,whom we will call Edward.

This podcast discusses Edwards behaviour during the few days he spent with us and we will focus on the sequence of events which led to what we felt was a weak display of values. The striking thing about this is that we consider value breaches to be spur-of-the-moment decisions due to high emotions. Edward’s sequence was the opposite. Based on his behaviour, choice of questions and actions we could observe him plan and build up to this moment. In other words, Edward was not emotionally driven, but rationally chose his course of action.

 “A man’s character is most evident by how he treats those who are not in a position either to retaliate or reciprocate” by Paul Eldridge, 1948

As mentors, we need to provide very specific and direct advice for mentees to improve. We feel Edward will be an outstanding professional if he eliminates this pattern in his behaviour. As mentors, we need to guide him to change his behaviour, though he does need to demonstrate he understands the problem and is taking steps to correct it. You get to make mistakes in life. Just make them once.

Listeners should note how we analyze the situation and diagnose the problem. These kind of obstacles are very important to fix since they are usually never discussed or mentioned in feedback. Typically, you may be told to be more of a “team player” but that does not help if you do not understand WHAT you did to make your colleagues think otherwise, or WHY you did it. These kind of soft-issues make or break important mentor-mentee relationships and define relationship structures in any consulting firm.

Unintended breaches of value are treated far more leniently than planned breaches of value. Intent is what matters.

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7 responses to Poor Networking & Mentor-Mentee Etiquette

  1. Hello Raghunath,

    All good points. However, attacking is an intent and not a style. You can attack a problem in a very pleasant way. There is no reason to be a jerk about it. I know you are not saying this, but I think many people take some strange pride in making others feel smaller when they point out an error.

    An attack is fine. But a red card attack is still wrong.


  2. Hello FC,

    Its an old Podcast, but a potentially important one. To really make sense and impress what’s sought to be conveyed, a lot more details are required about the man’s error. Anything could be disliked by anybody..that’s really situational and can’t be termed a ‘value’ breach. If attacking/retaliating is not Consulting style, that’s a culture. But at super successful organization like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, etc, its daily routine and nothing is carried into the next day. So much for the value breach. And remember, you can try things out at B-school or FC and live to see the next day, but not at McK. So, it should be ok to try things out.

  3. Y Xue, all very excellent especially the last part “Lastly, even if someone betrays your trust and respect, we need to develop the confidence and intelligence to handle it gracefully.”

    This is the point I was making above in a comment and in the podcast. No matter what anyone does, it needs to be managed professionally and gracefully. It is really easy to have great values and principles when you do not need them, but when they are tested many people through them out of the window.

    The podcast and comments focus on Edward, but I want to focus on us as well. We could have easily have cut of Edwards relationship, but we chose not to. While I think Edward made a pretty bad mistake I do feel he is young and needs to be taught these elements. I may not have mentioned he is from Latin America and I also think he somewhat struggles to understand what is and is not acceptable.

    We have kept the strong mentor-mentee relationship with Edward but we have taken the time to sit down with him and explain exactly where and how he stepped out of line, and we have agreed to move past this incident.

    One piece of advice I gave to Edward is that mentors are not your friend. Friends make you FEEL better while mentors make you better. A mentor-mentee relationship is one of confidence and development. I think Edward has learned from his mistakes and will become better.

    The last thing I wanted to do is punish a person for one mistake and end a relationship which will be enormously beneficial to his future. You only learn by making mistakes and provided you do not make the same mistake twice, your mentor will help you.


  4. Very interesting podcast! I had some reflection about it with my own experience. Thank you, Michael.

    To me, Edward missed a great opportunity to learn how to maintain/start a long term relationship. Although such soft skill is not particularly emphasized on Big-3 websites, it is a crucial ability for any consultants who want to become partners one day. It is also mentioned in any book about the Big-3, e.g. the most recent one “The Firm”. In such long term and professional relationship, mutual trust plays an instrumental role. In addition, we have to learn to maintain such relationship with people who do not appear to be important, because we shall respect everyone. Sometimes even with people we don’t like, because we are professionals.

    In Edward’s case, when he noticed that a partner was reluctant to disclose certain information, his first reaction could have been being patient because anyone could have a bad/strange day. Being patient allows us to learn about others. If it is indeed the case that the partner is unwilling to disclose, then we can take the opportunity to learn the following two points:
    1. Learn to trust the judgment made by that particular partner. He must have good reasons, and we shall respect that.
    2. Learn what type of information can be considered firm-wide protected. Many firms have such information. It’s better to build up an understanding of it. Such understanding can guide us when we interact with any senior people and executives.

    Lastly, even if someone betrays your trust and respect, we need to develop the confidence and intelligence to handle it gracefully.

    These are my understandings.

  5. Hi Davor,

    I think anyone who has ever engaged with us telephonically or in person will admit we are extremely professional. Far more professional than most firms or organizations. In fact, it is the one thing we are widely known for. We do not act like a business but a firm of ex-senior partners, which is what we are.

    We used the same coaches/people in these events as we use in all events and have never had these problems. Moreover, remember that Edward has had this problem in the past so the only common trend here is really on Edwards side.

    To say “where there is smoke there is fire” is to inadvertently imply that every “jerk” has a right to be a “jerk”. I think that completely misses the point of professionalism. No matter what happens, a professional always acts with the highest degree of respect towards the other person. In other words, there is NEVER a reason to step out your principles. Your comment implies there are times when it is justifiable to act this way, and I am saying it is never justified. That is a crucial point I want to make: “consultants never attack”.

    Extending your line of reasoning implies there must be a lot of problems at your bank, and I suspect there is and is not. It comes down to the individual.

    I think to some extent Edward felt he had a special relationship with us and should have been allowed to know/do more than the other attendees. Having known us for over 18 months and working with us fairly closely may have led to this. Still, this does not excuse his behavior. Nothing excuses such behaviour. Thinking you are entitled to anything does not permit such behaviour.


  6. Last sentence should have been:
    Sorry, no hard feelings, I am just thinking critically and trying to understand the other side

  7. I would link this podcast to the interview that girl Malala (who was badly shot by Taliban in Pakistan and survived) gave few days ago to cnn. On a question, how would she react if she would face her shooter trying to kill her again after the failed first attempt, she responded that at first she thought, the right thing would be to throw a shoe at him/her, but then realised that such an action would make her the same as them. I guess, Malala exemplified the values broadcasted in the podcast on which we all could draw inspiration.

    Q: I am still struggling to understand why did Edward continue to “irritate” FC coaches on the catch up? You mentioned that he had a trait to attack if he wouldn’t be getting info asked. Well, i am working in highly energized environment at an IB, there are many people in my environment exhibiting similar towards me, however i keep calm and act professionally trying to gain mutual respect.
    How did your people react, maybe you should reconsider how do you guys hold yourself or interact and is there anything on your side that could be changed. Potentially, he may have been irritated by your coaches as well. Usually, where there is smoke there is fire. There has been little said on that in the podcast, majority was one sided towards Edward’s behaviour.

    Sorry, hard feelings, I am just thinking critically and trying to understand the other side.

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