The Inner Consultant

In my last two full-time jobs, I was not only responsible for fundraising, but I was also a member of the senior executive team.  As such, most of my time was spent at meetings.  The remainder of my time was spent fretting that I didn’t have time to do my job. Over time, I recognized that these meetings were my job.  In an ideal world, I would then come back to my office and delegate out to my staff.  But—and you know this story first hand—I didn’t have the staff to whom to delegate, nor did I have enough resources to get most things done.

I would think, “If only I had an extra hour….” And then, lo and behold!, a meeting would be cancelled, and I would have that hour.  The next 45 minutes would be spent trying to figure out which of the myriad things on my to-do list could be effectively tackled.  The final 15 minutes would be spent bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t organized enough, focused enough, efficient enough.

The truth was, I was looking in the wrong direction. 

The value of a consultant is that he or she has the ability to look out and up, while staff—so involved in the day-to-day doing tends to look out and down.  Looking up allows you contemplate the landscape, see where things sit, and look out to the horizon.  Looking down, lets you focus on what must be done now.

Those found moments—whether they were minutes, hours or even (once) a full day—would have been best spent being my own inner consultant.

Freed from the mundane, I could have concentrated on the future and devised the strategies that would have allowed us to get from here to there.  I should have been thinking about the relationships within, as well as outside of, my organization that needed to be developed and nurtured, and mapped out ways to accomplish those goals.

And instead of bemoaning the lack of staff and/or resources that make my work more difficult, I should have been assessing what and who were there, and worked more closely together to define what we could accomplish.  And then worked—together—to find the best ways for us to get there.

That, really, is the true value of a consultant.  She is someone who can see what resources you have, rather than the ones you are lacking, and can show you ways to use those resources effectively.  And because she is not bogged down in the daily grind, she is free to scan the environment and see where your strengths can lead you.

The strength of an outside consultant is that she brings a different sensibility.  The power of being your own inner consultant is the intimate knowledge you have of your organization and an understanding of what is the vision versus what are just the words.

Taking the time to lean back, take a deep breath and casting your eyes upward is a valuable and too-little used tool of an effective manager.  If you are always slogging along, doing what needs to get done, you are likely to miss a short cut, a scenic road that would enrich you, a new path that will broaden and enrich you.

When I was a young girl, my mother was always telling me to stop wasting my free time and “put down that book and go out and do something” as if reading and learning new things wasn’t already dong something worthwhile.

My best advice is to use that found time not to finish a project you will get to anyway, or tackle something that has languished on your to do for months (and probably doesn’t much need tackling anyway) but to take the time to dream, to or to plan.  Dare to cease doing things and start seeing them as they might be. 

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with nonprofit leaders and Boards to improve productivity and fund development.  Check out her website and her online classes at