️Episode 018 – How Playing The Corporate Game (As An IC) Can Backfire

When you were an employee, you mastered the techniques and strategies to get your ideas approved, to convince stakeholders to follow your recommendations, to deliver value for your clients, and to keep the organization moving forward.

 As an independent consultant, it’s important to recognize that the strategies and tactics you leveraged when you were an employee won’t work the same way and can even backfire on you.

Today I want to offer you a way to step out of the employee mindset so that you can let go of the spoken and unspoken rules of the game – corporate politics, hierarchy and rules that you lived by in the past. 

It’s time to take control of your IC business. You can start by becoming aware of how playing the corporate game is creating obstacles for your business and how to avoid them.

In this episode,

[06:21] Trap #1

[08:30] Trap #2

[09:39] Trap #3

[10:38] Impacts of these traps

[13:51] How to shift into thinking like a business owner

[16:34] The three thoughts that you should practice


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**note: This is an automated transcript, so please ignore spelling errors and grammar mistakes*


Welcome to the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business podcast. I’m Melisa Liberman, a fellow IC and business coach. On this podcast, I teach you to become a consistently booked independent consultant without becoming a pushy salesperson or working 24/7. If I can do it, you can too. Listen on To find out how.


Thanks for joining today, we’re on episode number 18. And today, we’re going to talk about how playing the corporate game as an independent consultant can backfire. And this is part of the Think like a business owner series. So if you haven’t caught this series yet, this is the third one, there are two others. So you can go back and listen to those after you listen to this one. They’re related to thinking about time, as a business owner, and thinking about money as a business owner. And today we’re focused on essentially thinking about corporate politics, like a business owner, and not as an employee. So I’m super excited to dive into this topic with you today because I think it could be potentially creating a trap for you in your icy business, and we want to avoid that. So today, we’re gonna focus on three key things. The first is the three most common traps related to professional relationships to the corporate game, then number two, we’re going to dive into how these three ways of thinking like an employee can impact your business if they’re not managed if left out managed. And then finally, we’ll talk about the shift that you can make to start thinking and succeeding as a business owner instead of thinking about your way of doing business like an employee. So with that, I want to kind of start off with a quick story to illustrate what I’m talking about today. So I always like to use myself as an example, all the mistakes I’ve made in the past. So here’s the deal. You know, when I first started, one of the first projects that I worked on as an independent consultant, and Jesus been like nine years now. But anyway, one of those projects, those first projects, what happened, his former colleague called me, and asked me to do some work with them with his company, you know, I was excited about that dove all the way in, and really worked with him directly, right, he was responsible, he was, he was, in some ways the budget owner, and worked directly with him. And we crafted our statement of work and our approach. And from there, he said, You know, I’m going to sell this upward. So let’s get going. And I’ll get all the buy-in that I need. And so I just left it at that, right kind of that corporate mentality of, I’m going to respect the hierarchy. This is my client. And he’ll do all of the necessary steps internally to get buy-in and make sure our project is set up for success, all focusing on delivering against the strategy we created. Well, that was a bad plan. I abdicated that last step of the selling process to him. And because of my thoughts about the hierarchy, you know, we’re not talking about a fortune 50 company, here, we’re talking about a smaller startup company. So it wasn’t like I didn’t have access to that CEO, you know, that he was bringing into the fold. I just abdicated that responsibility to my direct client. And what ended up happening is, the project got canceled, the CEO got very angry, very angry, actually, that this work was being done without his buy in without his knowledge wasn’t his idea. And so we fell into this trap, I personally fell into the trap of, you know, respecting the corporate hierarchy, and thinking like an employee that I’m going to work with this individual, and it’s his responsibility to get all the buy in. And as a result of that, I lost the project, because we didn’t finish kind getting all of that buy-in. And because I had relied on my thoughts about a corporate hierarchy and what’s appropriate and what’s not. And we can dive into the sales process, certainly in a different podcast. What I’m sharing this example with you today is all about really, where do you have your blinders on? Because you are thinking about the structures that occur from a corporate perspective and the hierarchies and the rules the spoken and the unspoken rules within a corporate, where are your blinders? I just gave you an example of where my blinders were, and where your blinders are on. And I’m going to dive into three examples, three traps of where you’re blinders might be on. But first, I want to give you a little bit of a caveat. What I’m going to share today is about shifting your thinking, and the way you’re looking at corporate, from employee to business owner. Some of the thought processes I’m going to share with you today aren’t even help if we’re an employee. So I’m not here to say, well, this is the way corporate works, and it should work. And now let’s shift to the way a business owner would work. That’s sort of what I’m saying today because I think there’s a lot of room for improvement incorporated as well. And the way we look at hierarchies incorporates. So with that caveat, we’re not here today to fix corporate acne level, we’re not here to address what it’s like to operate as an employee within a corporate and how we look at these hierarchies and the politics. What we’re here today to do is focus on you as a business owner, and how your old corporate thinking could be creating obstacles for you and the success of your independent consulting business. Okay. So with that lens, we’re going to dive into the three most common mindset traps that I see for independent consultants, as it relates to the corporate game, the corporate hierarchy, the corporate politics, and then we’ll talk about how those are impacting you and your business. Alright, so number one, I’m beneath them in the hierarchy. So we have this thought a lot, I find I C’s have this thought a lot about themselves, as it relates to the people that we’re working with, whether it’s the people that we’re networking with, whether that’s the people that we’re selling to, whether it’s the people that could be referral partners, whether it’s the people that are our clients, we have a judgment about where we have a perception about where we would fall in the hierarchy, relative to where they fall in the hierarchy. Okay, the first thought we have is I’m beneath them in the hierarchy as worth interacting with someone. And as a result, we’re comparing you know, we’re comparing ourselves, we’re judging ourselves. And then we self-imposed rules about what’s appropriate to say or to do. So let me give you some examples of this. Some unspoken judgments, if we’re thinking were beneath the person we’re talking to in the hierarchy, you know, we could be thinking things like this person is smarter than I am, they’re more successful than I am, they’re more influential than I am, they have more expertise than I do. I shouldn’t even approach them a little bit like my story, right? Beneath the CEO in the hierarchy, I’ll let my clients work with that I shouldn’t approach them, or I shouldn’t waste their time. Or I should go up the chain like my example to not directly to them. Right. So those are the kinds of conclusions that we make when we think and kind of try to place ourselves in the corporate hierarchy. Obviously, we’re not in the corporate hierarchy anymore, but where we perceive we would be in the corporate hierarchy if we were there. And then we make these judgments about ourselves and then place rules upon ourselves about how we should be acting and operating. And we’ll dive more into the impact of this here in a minute. But I want to share these three thought processes with you first, so you can understand if you’re noticing if you’re doing this or not to yourself. So the first one was, I’m beneath them in the hierarchy when you’re judging yourself against whomever you’re talking to business-wise. And then the second one is the opposite. I’m above them in the hierarchy. So you might be comparing yourself to, you know, using your old lens where you left off at corporate, maybe you were a VP. So now as you think about yourself, or you are a director, you think about yourself where you were, and then you try to slot yourself into that hierarchy within your client, or within your networking contact or with the prospective client.


So if you’re thinking I’m above them in the hierarchy, it leads you to make more judgments, right? You give yourself permission to think like, oh, I’m more experienced than this person, I have more clout than this person. I’m a better decision-maker than this person. You know, if we’re honest with ourselves, a lot of those thoughts that we have before thinking we’re above them in the hierarchy, fall into this category of I’m better than them in some way. Get no judgment here. We’re humans, right. So those are the first two thoughts that you may be having, you know, as you’re working on relationships within your icy business. Alright, the third trap that it’s very common to fall into is related to those which isn’t my place. We’re taught as employees like to stay in our own lane, right, in a lot of ways. Stay out of topics, stay out of decisions, stay out of giving input that isn’t our place. So as a result, when we approach our independent consulting business, thinking like an employee, we’re still kind of bringing along those residuals, right, that’s above my paygrade. Or that’s not for me to decide, or that’s not my business unit, or I don’t own that. All of those kinds of old employee ways of thinking. So now that you know what those three most common ones are, I’m above them in the hierarchy and below them in the hierarchy, it’s not my place. Now let’s talk about the impact of having these employee thoughts and bringing them forward into your independent consulting business. At the end of the day, the impacts are things like, you make assumptions about the people based on that perceived hierarchy, and you end up losing the deal, you don’t get the right buy-in. Because you either are kind of coming in overly confident, you know, you know more than they do, or you come in under the radar because you think you’re below them in some way. And you don’t build that relationship as a result. And a lot of times this, so it shows up very subtly. So that’s why I’m really diving into this for you today that shows up very subtly, you may not realize you’re doing it until you lose the deal. And then you kind of diagnose like I just shared that story, my own story with you, I don’t want you to get to the point of you losing the deal. And then you have to diagnose why let’s get in front of this. Ultimately, getting in front of it is shifting out of employee thinking into business owner thinking I’ll share with you how to do that here in a second. Okay, the second impact that those employees thoughts about the corporate game, the corporate structure, corporate relationships, the second impact that that has is that you end up waiting for permission, either explicitly or some other kind of implied sign that you can act or speak in a certain way. And then as a result, you’re not as seen as an expert. The third impact of thinking like an employee, as it relates to the corporate game, the corporate relationships is that you expect people above you to sell your ideas and gain approval. Again, like that story, I shared with you. And as a result of that, you become a commodity, who’s either paid less or even let go. Instead of being the expert who leads from the front. That’s another impact. Whether it’s selling your deal, you know, the consulting, engagement, or even selling the ideas that you have, after you land the engagement. And then finally, another impact of thinking like an employee, as it relates to the corporate relationships in the corporate game, is that you discount people you perceive are below you, without realizing it, you’re not doing it on purpose, not thinking as a human being they’re less than you. But in a business context, you might be. And as a result of that, you’re missing out on building relationships with influencers and collaborators for the work that you’re selling and delivering.


Okay, so that is the impact of those three most common employee-based thoughts about the corporate structure and corporate relationships. So at the end of the day, the impact of having to bring forward that employee thinking into your independent consulting business is that you end up underearning, because either you have fewer projects, you didn’t sell them, or you have less revenue for the projects, you do land because they’re seeing you as less of an expert than you are, it’s watering down your expertise. And at the end of the day, you could be getting fewer results for your clients than what you’re capable of. Because you’ve put yourself in these boxes. Right, so now that you know what the old legacy employee thinking is those three most common, what the impact of that legacy employee thinking is, let’s talk about what to do about it, how to shift into thinking like a business owner. All of this is all mental. It’s a mental game, which is great news because you can have control over it right? If I were here on this podcast telling you that, you know, there are these hard and fast rules, and you better figure out how to how to live by them. There’s no power in that right. All the power for you right now is in your court. Because you can shift your thinking away from those old corporate legacy thoughts that have gotten you where you are today, I’m sure a great place right, but they’re not going to get you where you want to go. Because now you’re not an employee anymore. Who’s mastered that game. Now you’re looking at this from a different lens as a business owner. So the key here to becoming that business owner is to mentally remove yourself from those corporate structures and the rules of the game. Starting to think things like I’m not governed by my perceived place in the hierarchy. I’m not a colleague, or a direct report, or an indirect report, or subordinate to anyone, it’s dismantling those old thoughts about you as an employee, and rebuilding new ones. A very simple one that you can use and start thinking this over and over again. So it becomes your new reality is I’m an external expert who’s here to add value, very simply, plain and simple, right? These new thoughts, these new ways of thinking, these new ways of seeing yourself that help elevate you out of the corporate game, and into the expert seats, the simplest way to describe this to you is that you’ve got to see yourself in this way, you no longer see yourself in the corporate hierarchy. And where you may or may not land, even though you’re not an employee. And now you see yourself as an independent entity who’s an expert who’s there to add value. It’s as simple as that. Not necessarily easy, because we’re undoing a lot of thought processes we’ve built up over the last couple of two or three decades, right, depending on how long you were at incorporate. So it may not necessarily be easy, but with repetition, it can be very simple. So again, I’m going to share those three thoughts with you, so that you can start thinking about yourself in order to shift into that business owner quality thinking and get rid of that residual legacy, employee-based thinking that is holding you back. The three thoughts are, and we’ll put these in the show notes. But the three thoughts are, I’m not governed by my perceived place in the hierarchy, not governed by a hierarchy, we can simplify it down to that, right. I’m not a colleague or direct report and indirect to report or subordinate to anyone. And I’m an external expert who’s here to add value, you see how that removes you from the corporate structure and the rules of the game kind of gives you that autonomy, that’s really important for you to be able to do you to sell and to do your job, effectively. Okay, so let’s pull all of this together and put it into action. At the end of the day, you think like an employee is going to cause you to earn, and to land projects that are less than what you’re capable of doing. And so we want to avoid that. And in order to avoid that there are really three very simple steps. The first is that you’ve got to be aware, be aware of your employee thinking, I walked you through three of the most common traps today. Be aware of those self-imposed rules that you’ve established. Recognize where you’re waiting on permission from someone else unnecessarily, and pinpoint areas where you’re delegating or deferring, or abdicating to someone. Like, be aware of how you’re operating kind of from your old lens as an employee. Number one, that’s the first step, that awareness alone can be so powerful. The second step is to purposefully shift your thinking into that quality business owner level thinking, you’re not in a hierarchy anymore, my friends, you’re an external expert, and the rules of the game for you are different. And in order to be successful, you need to see that and act accordingly. Think of yourself accordingly. Okay, first was to be aware, and second, was purposefully shifting your thinking, I shared with you three thoughts a minute ago that you can leverage to really think like a business owner as it relates to the corporate game and the corporate relationships. And then thirdly, stay vigilant. Your human brain, like all of ours, is kind of like a boomerang map, be aware of what you’re doing and how you’re thinking like an employee, and start putting these new thoughts in place and seeing yourself as a business owner, your brain is designed to return right back to the starting points because that’s what you’re familiar with. That’s what’s comfortable. That’s what’s the known quantity if you will. And so you’ve got to constantly redirect it, and tell this new way of seeing yourself as a business owner. This new way of thinking of yourself as a business owner is the new automatic, the new resting point if you will. So those are the three things in order to replace your old employee’s way of thinking that’s causing you to underearn, and underperform. Be aware, purposefully shift your thinking, and then do that repeatedly and vigilantly until it becomes the new norm for you. Alright, so that is the process today for thinking like a business owner as it relates to the corporate game, to corporate politics to your corporate relationships. So go put this into action with those three steps and you can check out the show notes for the details in case you weren’t taking notes. So you’ve got it all right there. And I will see you again next week.


Thanks for joining me this week on the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business podcast. If you like today’s episode, I have three quick next steps for you. First click Subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to make sure you don’t miss future episodes. Next, leave me a review in your podcast app so other independent consultants can find a benefit, and finally, to put the ideas from today’s episode into action, head over to Melisaliberman.com for the show notes and more resources to help you grow your consulting practice from your first few projects into a full-fledged business. See you next week.

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