Four Authority Engagement Models

If you’re a regular listener to the show, you’ve heard us talk about the “brain surgeon” engagement style of authority, which comes from David Maister.

This week, Jonathan and I take a deeper look at Maister’s four models (Pharmacist, Nurse, Brain Surgeon and Psychotherapist) and explore how your marketing, branding and revenue options might look for each:

Why being the Pharmacist is a frequent first stop when you start a business (but needn’t be the last).

When operating as the Nurse is the perfect fit—working on a standardish process with clients who want to understand what’s happening and participate in the outcomes.

How combining high levels of creativity and innovation with very little client interaction makes for the unique marketing and branding challenges of the Brain Surgeon.

Why operating as a Psychotherapist means balancing some Brain Surgeon wisdom with serious collaboration skills—and how to market to clients who want to be intimately involved in the problem solving process.

How to decide which engagement style makes the most sense and whether switching your focus might be the right next move.


“Compare the interaction you’ve had between a nurse and a pharmacist…the level of attention they bring to bear is noticeably different.”—JS

“I don’t think there is any one profession that always falls into one of these buckets, it’s how the professional decides to position themselves and work.”—RM

“The nurse will understand a whole bunch of lingo but hopefully they won’t deploy that on the patient and the patient can speak their normal sort of non-medical terms.”—JS

“If you have the misfortune to need a pediatric neurosurgeon, you probably don’t care so much whether they talk to you in the way that you want—you probably care more that they’ve done the kind of surgery your child needs.”—RM

“When you kind of just care about your craft—you’re consumed with your craft—then the positioning is to be recognized as the best in the world at this thing that somebody cares about but doesn’t want to do themselves.”—JS

“Depending on where you fall (in this model), you’ll want to design everything else around that—your marketing, your branding, how you make money within your business model…”—RM

“A brain surgeon is not going to send direct mail postcards and blanket a neighborhood or put flyers under your windshield wiper.”—JS

“You want your voice—which is part of your brand and your marketing—to match your engagement model. You don’t want to sell someone on being a pharmacist and then oops—you’re acting like a brain surgeon.”—RM


The Anatomy of a Consulting Firm by David Maister 
Managing The Professional Service Firm
True Professionalism
The Trusted Advisor

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