3 Things I’m Learning from Pollyanna Principled Consulting

question markThis week we have been immersed in another Pollyanna Principled Consulting Immersion Course with consultants from around the U.S. and Canada. As always in these groups, I learn as much as I teach. Here are just 3 things that have been reinforced for me by this terrific group this week.

1) The value of taking time to prepare for everything
The biggest part of what folks learn in our immersion courses is that the thinking we do is far more critical than the “doing.” When we jump into any portion of our work on auto-pilot, we miss the opportunity to be more conscious about the future we want to create. And if the purpose of our work is to help our clients create a better future, this is no small thing!

Therefore, much of the work in this course is learning how to prepare for every portion of a consultant’s work, to aim that step at creating visionary outcomes for their clients.

This is not about visualizing success and having it magically happen. It is instead about doing the work to prepare for every single thing you do. And that work is all about thinking before we do.

Most of us are not conscious of the power we have in every phone call: “In this phone call, I want to aim this group at making a dramatic difference in their community.”

Most of us are not conscious as we draft a proposal that will hopefully become a consulting gig: “In this consulting proposal – even before I have the job – I want to aim this group at their potential to make a huge difference in their community.”

Every time I teach this course, I am reminded of the power we have as consultants. If our clients are catalysts for changing their communities, then we as consultants are catalysts for aiming our clients at creating that change!

And I am reminded that every single step of our work – even and especially those steps we take for granted (like an initial phone call or preparing a proposal) – has the power to move clients closer to changing their world.

And that can only happen if we have done our homework to consciously prepare for that work.

2) We don’t change people; we change situations
If we’re aiming every bit of our work at changing the world – a phone call, a proposal, a meeting with a board – what does that mean in practice? It means creating the circumstances in which that phone call, that proposal, that meeting can lead to change.

If we can identify the best possible end goal of a phone call (for ourselves, for our clients, for their communities), then we can also begin to identify the circumstances that would lead to those results. And if we can identify those circumstances, we can skillfully put wheels into motion to create those circumstances.

That’s what it means to consciously create the future!

One of the participants noted yesterday that when we set the stage for success, we change the situations, not the individuals involved. I loved that observation!

We know that individuals will go where systems lead them (Pollyanna Principle #6). And so we don’t have to worry about changing individuals; we just have to create systems that encourage them to do better.

3) The answers are never as important as the questions
If we know this instinctively, why is it that we attend a training seeking answers? Wouldn’t it be more powerful to seek to learn questions?

I am reminded of this quite visually in our training room, as just 2 days of class have so far produced more flip chart sheets filled with questions than any other subject (We’re up to page 7, filling up with Key Questions, and there are 3 days left!)

Questions to ask a prospective client, to uncover the real outcomes they want from working with you as a consultant.

Questions that get “sophisticated” board members away from their aversion to words like “vision” and “values.” Questions that get past fear. Questions that lead beyond a focus on the organization, and lead towards a focus on community.

As I look across the room at page upon page of questions, it is a visual reminder that answers are a dime a dozen, but a good question is worth its weight in gold.


That’s just some of what I’ve been absorbing in this week’s Pollyanna Principled Consulting Immersion Course. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week reveals to us all!

Do you know how to craft great questions? Crafting Great Sleuthing Questions may help!

6 thoughts on “3 Things I’m Learning from Pollyanna Principled Consulting”

  1. This is fascinating. One question — how do you deliver all these questions and big game-changing ideas without having consultees feel overwhelmed? Basically, how do you respond when the organization freezes in the face of big change?

  2. Hildy — Love the peek inside the room and the great thinking and learning happening together! I’m with you all.

    Zoe — What I’ve found recently is that so many of my clients are feeling overwhelmed NOW by the long To Do lists, the panic, the fear. When we start talking about what’s possible, walk gently through “what is success” and “what is core to who we are” and “what role do we play in making the whole change” and “what are the awesome strengths we’re building on?” I see the clients become less fearful, more excited (by their own vision and commitment). And it helps us organize that long To Do list with purpose. It helps us streamline and make choices now that we know are aiming for what’s most important. It is different for everyone, but being prepared, thinking about the conditions necessary for THIS client, and being completely open to what will come — you’ll create it together.

  3. It’s so exciting to hear what is happening in the new class! This post is a great review for those of us still working on making this philosophy second nature.

    Elizabeth – Your response seemed dead on to me. The excitement (rather than dread) people feel when they focus on what is possible, is inspiring and exciting!

  4. I think sometimes we consultants quickly leap into “the doing”, without taking sufficient time to really learn about the organization we’re consulting with. Maybe we do that because we’re cast in the role of “expert”, and we feel like we have to get on with things.
    But questions like those that have been mentioned already are the key to ensuring that the “doing” is actually aiming the organization at creating the healthy, engaged communities we all want to live in (which, by the way, is the first question to ask: “what kind of community are you trying to build?”)
    Enjoy the rest of the week, class!!


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