Archive for January, 2011

Here are a few thoughts on what it takes to be a good consultant (something I work at everyday):

Consulting is generally filled with smart people. I mean that in the high IQ, “Gee, s/he is really smart” kind of way.  That is one thing to keep in mind if you think you want to be a consultant.  If you are not “smart”, you probably won’t make it.

Here is why:  The premise of consulting is that you are going to tell an experienced executive (15+ years of experience, and many rungs up the corporate ladder) something they don’t already know about their own business.  That is hard to do. It requires you to be able to learn as much as possible about their business in a very short period of time, and then share insights that the executive didn’t already know by applying things you’ve learned from other projects (even though they may not be that similar).  This type of quick learning and fluid intelligence is precisely what “smart” people are good at.

Consulting is generally filled with social people.  If being smart weren’t hard enough, you must also be very social to be a good consultant.  Good consultants are “Trusted Advisers”.  Who is the most trusted adviser in your life?  It is likely your best friend or a family member….someone intensely personal to you….someone you trust and like.  As a consultant you must be both expert and trusted.  Expert requires intelligence.  Trusted requires social skills and strong ethics.

Being both socially adept and very smart is hard to do. How many really smart people do you know?  How many of them are also socially awkward?  Being a good consultant requires an almost Goldilocks-like balance of smart and social since the two are often inversely related.

Consulting is filled with older people.  Consulting is as much art as science.  If there were firm answers to the questions executives ask, they wouldn’t need consultants.  It is human nature that when we are unsure about something we tend to stick with experience, which often means gray hair.  You can be a young consultant, no doubt, and very competent…however, gray hair helps ease the more difficult conversations.

Consultants are performers and social architects.  There is a social dance that goes on with clients and at big meetings.  Consultants lead clients to the conversations they need to have to move the project.  Good consultants, like good politicians, allow the client to give continued feedback while the consultant controls the agenda and guides the outcome.  Clients control consultants while consultants corral clients in the direction they want to go.  Remember, if executives already knew what they wanted, and didn’t need any corralling…they wouldn’t need consultants.  It is a complementary dance.

Consulting is about consensus building and storytelling.  Remember that there are often no “correct” answers to the questions being addressed.  So a good consultant, like a good lawyer, must build the case in the simplest, most appealing way to get people on board.  Logic alone is not enough; you have to be able to tell a compelling story.  If college rewarded length of response, consulting rewards brevity…preferably in bullet points (less than 3)…even more preferably in a graphic/picture.


So, being a good consultant is not easy.  It takes a mix of talent and years of work.  Like leaders, most consultants are made, not born.


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