A few weeks ago I decided to take someone up on an offer of helping me in figuring out how to market myself. During the second visit, we began a conversation that made me do some serious thinking on the back end.

We were talking about things I could and couldn’t do, and I mentioned how I never accept any job that I know I don’t have the qualifications for. He said that one should never turn down a contract or opportunity when someone asks for something as a consultant. Instead, they should say they can help, then find the ways to help a client out, even if help has to come from someone else. He felt that’s what a consultant was, and that if a consultant only solved people’s problems by himself, that was more of a repairman than a consultant. We debated this issue for awhile, then he asked me to think about it some more later on.

Talk about troubling. I had never considered doing this sort of thing before. I have another friend who has said something along the same lines. She said that she always knows someone else who could do the actual work, and thus never tells anyone she can’t do it.

I thought about it a lot. It troubled me. I talked to my wife; I talked to my mother. I asked a couple other friends, both consultants and non-consultants. Overall, it bothered me a lot, and because it bothered me a lot, I knew pretty much what my response was going to be.

My overall response is that it’s unethical to tell people I can do something that I can’t do. There are enough consultants I’ve known over the years who have promised things they couldn’t deliver, all to get a paycheck. In my opinion, those are the people who mess it up for the rest of us.

The same goes with employees I’ve known in my past, or peers. These people would promise they could get something done, so I let them try, then found they couldn’t do it because either they didn’t have the skills or the knowledge. Not everyone, of course, but you know, every time someone failed, I already knew they would fail; I just had hopes they wouldn’t. And the people who succeeded, I knew they would succeed as well.

Personally, I think it’s unethical to get people’s hopes up just to let them down because you knew deep inside you couldn’t do it. This is different than a lack of bravado; that usually means you had the talent but didn’t have the confidence. When you stand up and say you can do something, and people trust you, then it’s imperative that you be able to do it. If you can’t, and it’s because you always knew you couldn’t, you lose that trust forever; who wants that on their mind?

So, the next time I see this guy, I’m going to tell him my belief and that’s going to be that. As for the repairman thing, my wife says this world could use a lot more repairmen, people who know what they’re doing and can get the job done. I knew I married the right woman.