We all remember Meryl Streep’s character from the delightful film, but that was suspended reality right? What do you do when such a character shows up in real life and has real world implications?
I always say people show you who they are when times are hard and in business. When honey and money are overflowing people may be able to mask who they are, but lean times will bring out the absolute best and worst in people. In the words of Maya Angelou, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” When you are in a business relationship as an entrepreneur with a devil client or working for a larger organization where the client is a devil, it can be a challenge to navigate. Money is a dynamic of power and sometimes people confuse the two.
When a client engages you, the dynamic is such that they need you to either fix or manage something, they need you. Although they may have the monetary resource to pay you and receiving that payment could be the very lifeline of your family and personal obligations, you are in a position of power because it is your expertise, skill, and professionalism that has been engaged to fix or manage their situation. There are people in positions of power like a Donald Trump, the President of the United States, who says whatever suits him in a moment. There is little to no regard to who he is talking to, if he has engaged a firm or individual to help with XYZ, it is of no consequence, because as the President of his various business ventures, he is accustomed to being the number one guy, he does not have to be professional, although you in your role are required to be. How do you work with someone like that and still get the job done?
I am currently reading a fantastic book “How to Win Friends & Influence People.” Kindness goes a long way. If you have a devil of a client, be professional in your interactions with them, because that is what you ultimately are being paid for and be kind to everyone else on the engagement. If you are the principal and have engaged such a client, let your team know so that they are prepared for lively interactions that may have nothing to do with their work. If a client is a challenge, let your team know. If having them expands your company’s brand in the marketplace, be real with your team so that they support you with loyalty and exceptional work under an adverse relationship.
I had an assistant once that had been an assistant for 13 of his 20 years at a firm. The prior person he worked for stayed upset and agitated by the limitations of this individual. Now here I am the new person am I going to criticize this guy for being the same thing he has been for the past 13 years at an organization, not at all, he has been allowed to be exactly who he is by the organization. I will maximize systems and processes to get the best work I can get out of him in order to do what I need to do, but I will not expend my life energy being mad and frustrated and treating a human being like they are less than or like they are completely incompetent just because I can. It is a waste of my life energy and I have better ways to spend emotional currency.
Another thing to remember is that it is lonely at the top. People at the top typically have yes men surrounding them. It may have been so long since they were not in charge, that you being direct and to the point within a simple conversation, could bruise a worn ego. Two years ago I attended an event with Black Women in Entertainment Law, and Judy Smith was the key speaker. Judy Smith is the real “Olivia Pope.” What I found to be powerful about this political player, responsible for some very high profile clients, was that she was quite grounded in who she was, she new her worth and value to her clients, and grace and professionalism were the things that she spoke about. When you interface with someone at the top who has a brand that paints one portrait, and then you experience who they really are, stay grounded in who you are. “The 48 Laws of Power,” by Robert Greene is a great book to help you understand people and their motivators more often than not they have nothing to do with you. There is a funny scene in Jay Pharoah’s “White Famous” where he and Jamie Foxx are meeting in Jamie’s trailer and the question for Jay is whether or not he is going to put on a pink dress for Jaimie Foxx, how badly did he really want to be famous? You will have the watch the show to see the outcome, but people will test you, people in particular who are used to being in positions of power, will try to see what you are made of. People in crisis are not necessarily going to be their best. As a professional, you have to see past their negative existence and do the job at hand without compromising your ethics. The people you meet on the way up are the same you meet on the way down, and how you treat people on both sides of the ladder will matter.
We all live within the vacuum of time, and life energy is what is expended during the work day. Expend positive energy, it will serve you… even when dancing with a devil client! This entry is dedicated to my mom and my intended – thank you both for keeping me grounded.