Avoiding headless dolls and counterfeits

Last night, my six-year-old, Sierra, and I were having “Mommy time.” Usually, we read a book about mice or foxes, but last night, she wanted to play dolls. We headed to her over-sized dollhouse (frugal me thought it could be a bookshelf later), and I picked up the first doll I could find–which was a wannabe Barbie she got at the dentist.

When we had arrived at that dentist last year, they sat us in a waiting area across from their main treatment room–the door to which was wide open. The setting was like what you’d imagine just outside Hades itself–intermittent screams mixed with gnashing of teeth against metal and a low overall moan. I started to get hot.

About forty minutes later when Sierra got seated in the treatment chair, she started wailing before they touched her. In fact, she screamed so much that they didn’t fill her tooth. The dentist and her assistant just stared at me the whole time with their eyes pitched up from over their fancy goggles as if to suggest I could stop it all if only I were a good mom. After about five minutes, they said since she couldn’t be a “good girl,” she would have to come back another day and get laughing gas. (I had to drive around thirty miles for this experience.) I politely gathered my things to leave.

On the way out, they handed Sierra’s older sister a doll for “being good” before looking at Sierra with a blank stare before tears erupted again. Thankful for Sierra, Sascha was past the stage of liking these dolls (if she ever did), so she handed the sequin-dressed figure to her baby sister in the car. (And Mama made an appointment with an entirely different dentist as soon as she got home.)

Last night, I picked up this doll to make it cook dinner on its plastic stove or something, and Sierra said, “If you want to take off her dress, you’ll have to take off her head. Last time I did that though, her arms fell off too.” She showed me how the dress was stuck on with no zipper or Velcro to undo it. She looked like a Barbie, but she definitely was not.

Lately, as I’ve been head first in the consulting world–both management consulting for organizations as well as entrepreneurial consulting–I’ve come across a lot of experiences that resemble the one with Sierra’s doll. I’ve seen eager business leaders paying way more than they have to to get something with much less value than they need. The opportunities (and their salespeople) may look really glitzy–like the real thing. They may even provide joy for a little while–or one or two really good ideas. But then when you want to change the sequin gown for something a bit more authentic to the task at hand, the doll gets dismembered.

As a leader–whether of an established organization or of your own shop–how do you know when you are holding the real thing? How do you know when you should invest in a service, consultant, or product to help your business expand–and when you should throw the fake Barbie in the bin (or at the dentist) and run for the door–asking around for referrals before ever experiencing something so harrowing again? Here is my quick “gut checklist”:

1)Surround yourself with authentic relationships with those who will give you honest feedback about the decisions you are making.

As my husband said about our relationship when we first got together, “I want you to hold a real dollar bill so you’ll know what the counterfeit feels like.” If most of the people in your life are “real,” you are more apt to know when you’ve found a real opportunity–versus someone who instead cares more about your clothes than your cause.

2)If you are being treated like a sheep, you are probably about to get sheared.

I get very passionate when I see consultants charging five figures to come have a “VIP dinner” with them and 500 of their other cult followers. No one is worth five figures for a dinner–even if they are serving you their own kidneys–and few are worth that much for a seminar. Yes, they “are successful entrepreneurs making seven figures”–off of YOU. You won’t get your return on investment, unless it is to prevent you from ever spending this kind of money on another “consultant.” If you are being herded into a room with one guru answering everyone’s questions in a way that makes people cry (and you are not getting very many bathroom breaks) this is a good sign that you are being seen as a sheep. Your newly-sheared wool may be sold down the river to spin gold–leaving you naked and cold. If you want to be a big earner, don’t invest in big takers unless you have that money laying around as kindling–or unless you really need to cry. Buy their books if you want their tips, but save the real advice seeking for those who truly want you to be so successful that people are coming to your seminars.

3)Don’t skip the basics of how to build a strong business.

Know your numbers, build real relationships, provide a true service, take care of yourself in the process. You’ve heard all of that before. No consultant can deliver you overnight success. A good one will listen to you, advise you, and help you turn a profit in a way that doesn’t require being a fake Barbie. A good one has already built one, two, or more businesses for others, and enjoys seeing you succeed more than he or she enjoys seeing you bleed. A good one won’t give you fake Barbies or have screaming sounds filtering into the waiting room–but instead will help you brand yourself and find sales channels and success that is in alignment with your mission and personality.

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