Last year I was having lunch with a colleague. For the sake of this piece, we'll call him "Guy" since he's too shy to be cited here (and, since he’s a guy). Lunch quickly gave way to a debate and—and since we both stuck to our guns--I thought I'd open it up to you folks. Like many issues and debates there isn't a right answer, just different opinions.
It started with Guy discussing how some clients are more valuable than others. Be they bigger, less risk-averse, more deep-pocketed, whatnot. I understood what he was saying…we're not to the debate quite yet…but then I asked him which did he view as more valuable: Clients or Colleagues?
"Clients, silly!" said he. "Hear me out," said me.
He did hear me out, but not without first remarking "Clients pay my bills. Clients feed my family. Clients pay for my sports car." I understood his rationale but there seemed to be a big piece that Guy was maybe (or, maybe not) missing.
I retorted, “Who alerted you to that project, or full-time job you have now? How many times has a colleague sent you business or referred you for a new job? How many times has a colleague explained a new method or illuminated a new solution for you? How's about those uber-colleagues who fit the bill of 'mentor'? And what about all those times that you’ve run an idea, plan, program or piece by a colleague to ensure it's really ready so you don't fall flat and, uh, lose that valuable client?”
You see, clients can come and go; it’s the nature of business. But colleagues--if you treat them right--stick. Colleagues tend to look out for our best interests and clients can, too. But clients have a responsibility to look out for their own interests. And they should, that's the client’s role.
Guy paused and then said, "The client still feeds my family and fills my gas tank." So I explained that we likely define 'value' differently. And then I sprang for lunch—because, hey, I value my colleague Guy.
Net net: clients (or employers) absolutely pay our bills and bring us plenty of challenging, rewarding work. But colleagues point us to new jobs, new clients, and push us to new heights. Colleagues also provide us innovative ways of looking at a problem and point out pitfalls that could otherwise cause us a world of problems.
So, what say you? Am I silly? Or does my argument hold value? And yes, some clients also qualify as colleagues—it’s always a boon when that happens.
PS: I had lunch with Guy again in the last few weeks. We weren’t debating this time, but I did walk him through why, for his business in particular, social media is an important practice area. (He runs a research company that does work in interactive technologies). He couldn’t have agreed more that he needed to get up to speed. And then I explained, “Hey, when you land all those valuable new clients as a result of this discussion, remember that it was your colleague who nudged you into new waters."