Sic Transit Gloria’: Lessons in Humility and the Power of Consultants
By Chuck Violand
While it might look easy from the outside, one of the most difficult jobs of anyone who advises a business owner—whether the advice comes from a senior member of the company or a hired consultant —is being the person whose job it is to whisper in the client’s ear that their ego is becoming a problem.
It’s even more difficult for them to accomplish this feat without losing their head or getting fired. Yet, this is perhaps one of the most important aspects of their job that is never mentioned in the job description.
Most small businesses have been enjoying a long stretch of success over the past several years. In fact, small businesses are thriving more than ever before, according to multiple studies. Admittedly, the Coronavirus caused a scare, but the evidence seems to suggest that many businesses—especially those in the trades—enjoyed growth in 2021 and are continuing that performance with an even stronger year in 2022.
While this is without a doubt great news for many small businesses and their workers, it also presents a paradoxical threat to their continued success.
To the victor goes the spoils—but will the spoils spoil the victor?
In the 1970 movie Patton, actor George C. Scott, who plays General S. Patton during word War II, is visiting the site of an ancient battle when he muses to his chief of staff, “For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians, and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot €¦ A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: “Sic transit gloria (all glory is fleeting).”
In Roman times, “captured treasure” included gold, precious gems, armaments, and more. In business, it includes added customers, increased market share, and growing profits. Just like with ancient conquerors, when we start parading these treasures around, it’s easy to become complacent; to trick ourselves into thinking they can’t be lost or to lose our focus on what it took for us to earn them in the first place.
Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. That’s the paradox of success, and there are two sharp edges to that sword. Success and its accompanying confidence and affluence can sneak up on an unsuspecting business owner.
One day, we can’t afford to buy a used car. The next day, we’re test-driving a Jag simply because we can. We start believing that our success will never end or even slow down. Before long, this thinking and decision-making migrates to other areas of our business.
Our cash flow is healthy, so we think we can afford to ignore our receivables, but that’s counterproductive. Similarly, our sales will be strong for a while so we think we can afford to relax our marketing efforts, but that doesn’t mean we should.
One of the most difficult jobs when advising a business owner is filling the role of the privy counsellor or Curia regis—a king’s advisor and council—who keeps the owner grounded when they’re on a winning streak or when they’ve enjoyed a string of conquests. Despite its difficulty, it remains crucial for a business owner to succeed in any industry.
This is one of those situations where I should count my blessings. In Roman times, when the ruler got tired of his advisors cautioning him about his ego, they were simply thrown to the lions. Today, consultants just get fired.
However, perhaps it’s time that owners recognize the value of their consultants even in times of great glory in order to stay structured, humble, and prepared for just about any industry changes that could come their way. After all, the most valuable riches an owner can possess will forever be a loyal and encouraging team by their side throug thick and thin.
Chuck Violand is the founder and principal of Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Through VMA, he works with business owners and companies to develop their people and profits. For more information, visit www.violand.com.
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February 21, 2023