I asked one of my consulting clients for a testimonial yesterday.
“Anything,” she said, “it’s genuinely changed the way I do everything. It’s not just the shift in my business relationship with [BigBiz, Inc.]. I dumped a boyfriend last week because of our conversations! So, seriously, what would you like me to say?”
My client and I, like the few women commercial litigation clients I had during my twenty-five years as a lawyer (2%?) were quickly becoming friends. And I was proud of her. Truly proud. Like a parent would be.
“I’m proud of you,” I finally said, even though I’d been thinking it for weeks. “You’ve shifted the power in your working relationship and that was difficult to do. You were persistent. You’re a first class learner. And you’ve been brave.”
She laughed, the way we women do when we’re praised, wanting the moment to pass instead of savoring it a little, particularly when we know deep down we’ve genuinely achieved something important in our own lives and careers but don’t want to appear self-satisfied.
So I said it again. “I’m really proud of you. You’ve done great work and you never gave up. You didn’t fold to the power of BigBiz, Inc. You stood up for yourself.”
My client is a tough cookie. We’ve never actually met in the flesh but I’ve got a picture of her in my mind from my days in New York City when I was a newly minted college grad trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. She’s got a voice that ranges between smoky-nightclub-after-midnight and Wall-Street trader-shouting-buy-or-sell-on-the-stock-exchange.
This is a powerful woman and she was powerful long before I met her.
Still. It takes courage. Don’t for a moment believe that it’s just you. Yesterday at my Forbes “On the Docket” blog, I wrote about women lawyers who were angry about being bullied out of their “origination” credit. “Origination” is the credit you get for bringing clients to the firm and sometimes for keeping them there simply by being damn good lawyers. They feel intimidated and they’re some of the most powerful women in the country.
“It takes courage,” I said again to my client. “Most women think it’s them. They believe they’re the only ones who feel inadequate to the task of popping their head into the managing partner’s doorway to say, ‘I want to talk to you about sharing the origination credit for the work we’ve done for Major Petroleum Company, Inc.'” We’re all afraid of asking. Hillary Clinton’s afraid of asking. Sure, Clinton can run for President, but I’d wager a cool thousand that it’s not easy for her to ask for a raise.”
“And practice,” my client offered.
“Oh lord yes, practice,” I responded. “And here’s the thing. We tut-tut and shake our heads over the failure of citizens to confront their governments about genocide. What were the German people thinking happened to all their Jewish neighbors? They knew they’d been sent to camps and they knew they were being executed and starved to death. Why didn’t they do something?”
They were frightened. We’re not talking about blowing the whistle on corporate wrong-doing for which we might lose our jobs, disable ourselves from paying the mortgage and encounter long-term unemployment. Any German who said, “hey, wait a minute – you can’t put Jews in camps” was liable to be imprisoned and executed. Any ordinary citizen who did what Miep Gies did in a effort to save Anne Frank’s family put her own life and that of her family at risk.”
“That’s why we call them heroes and award them metals for bravery and uncommon valor. If I do not practice standing up for myself and for those who don’t have a voice here and now, I won’t learn the lessons or develop the strength of character to stand up when the Nazis march into town.”
“But my question,” my client reminded me laughing. “What do you want me to say?”
“I want you to say that my consulting transformed your entire life in addition to getting you the business deal you wanted.”
“In your own words, of course.”
Howard Gadlin discusses how neutrality is not necessarily a quality of an ombudsman, rather it is one of three pillars and an aspiration in their work.By Howard Gadlin