This week I enjoyed ‘An Evening with Rufus Wainwright’ at Sadlers Wells in London. Watching the very unusual first half of the performance, I was mulling over the power of the performer, the generosity of the audience, the nature of being an expert and relationships. I know. High faluting stuff. It was that kind of show.

Why are these musings making it onto immediate future’s blog? The star, the performance and the audience illustrate perfectly a dynamic of the consultant/client relationship.

At the risk of quoting that yeast extract related cliché, Rufus Wainwright doesn’t appeal to everyone. But I think what is less contentious is his talent – he is often referred to as a ‘musical polymath’. Rufus is an expert; his fans know this. He regularly releases new material, stamped with his very particular style but still with the ability to surprise. He knows his stuff. He is consistently excellent, performing at a high level.

Sadlers Wells is a magnificent setting; we walked into the theatre ready to suspend our disbelief. As we sat down, an official appeared on stage. He read out a message to tell us the first act would be a ‘song cycle’ and that we were not to clap. The audience looked around at its companions to comment/laugh. Then we all obeyed!

There was total silence throughout the set. On came Rufus Wainwright, commanding the audience to just listen, and we did. It was just him, a piano and an extremely complicated set of lyrics and music. He took centre stage for a brave performance. We willed him to be successful. The trust circle was complete.

The interesting thing though is, that he fluffed it a couple of times. A couple of times in the first act and then maybe three times in the second act. As he tackled a particularly complex and pacey section of song with difficult key changes, he got it wrong and had to catch up with himself.

We had all paid our money and taken time out of our lives to travel across London to listen to this artist, who’d got it wrong. Yet nobody considered it a bad performance. The opposite in fact. People were commenting during the interval that ‘it made him human’, it ‘made the performance even better for not being absolutely perfect’.

What parallels do I draw from this? Firstly that clients are willing to take a leap of faith and trust us do a good job.

Secondly, if we deliver an excellent service, we will demonstrate that we are worthy of that faith.

And finally, if we are expert at our job and perform consistently at that high level, the occasional error will be tolerated. (Although I’m not sure a client would prize the fact it makes us human).

Essential to all of this of course is the real dedication to excellence. Anything less can quickly degenerate into complacency. Rufus doesn’t hold back from his performance and that commitment to being great is the life blood of a strong client/consultancy relationship.

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