It's been over 100 years since the concept of consulting came into being, and the profession remains as popular as ever. Thousands of aspiring Consultants begin the journey each year but only certain individuals are able to establish the proper foundations needed for a fruitful career. So what makes a great Consultant?
First, there are the basics. Consultants need to be well-presented and educated, articulate, self-confident & 'business ready'. But these attributes will merely get you a ticket to the dance. To advance you have to embrace the variety and uncertainty that comes with such a career. You have to be prepared to quickly expand your knowledge, experience and professional network. With such good scope for opportunities, day-to-day diversity and the chance to build towards a day rate topping £2000, it's a wonder why more talented individuals don't back themselves with confidence and take that leap of progression.
That's what this article is all about: finding out what makes a great Consultant and how to adapt your mindset to become one.
Feed your curiosity
A quality consistent with all good Consultants is that of curiosity. Consulting is about problem-solving and many will have that insatiable curiosity in their DNA. They are constantly contemplating what the real problem is, what it’s root cause is and how best to resolve it. This is regardless of the type of issue be it people, financial, strategic, program management or implementation. They are unafraid to ask key questions that grow progressively incisive, even at the highest levels in business.
Think before you speak
To speak up and be opinionated you first need to have an informed opinion or point of view. What have you interpreted from a situation given your experience and expertise? Your insight and resultant input are the core reasons you've been hired. Great consultants have the ability to imagine it from the bosses perspective for a moment, "What can you tell me that I don't already know?" Your POV is something you develop over many months and years and should be comfortable and confident in sharing. Remember to remain humble, temper yourself and present your case accordingly. You want your client to see you as knowledgeable rather than a 'know-it-all'.
An equally common trait among successful Consultants is initiative, fuelled by impatience. This doesn't mean just doing what you want without being asked. Great Consultants take the concept of initiative way beyond that. True initiative is a shift in mentality away from hesitation towards action at every turn. Consultants should ask the simple question thousands of times per day: "What's preventing us from crossing the finish line right now?" When they find an obstacle they seek to eliminate it swiftly by any means necessary. If there's a test to be run or a form that needs signing then they take the initiative to advance those steps and progress. Initiative is the Ying to impatiences Yang. Together forming two halves of a key tool in any top Consultants depository: Initiative is the lofty tornado optimistically driving skyward, and impatience is the swarm of snapping sharks that relentlessly drives the change.
Invest in your clients
That Tornado should also encapsulate your natural passion. No faking here, you've got to really care about helping your clients. It's obvious when someone is just working for the money or takes a passive, careless approach to their work. A great Consultant gets invested in the client's issues and gets excited at the prospect of making a difference. Finding passion in your work is something you can't force. First, consider where your passions lie and then adapt your professional focuses in line with them accordingly.
Caring about the people above the bottom line is a large part of success in Consulting, and the wider world of business as a whole. This is where it's time to throw out the textbooks in favour of pragmatism. Models and frameworks are great, but you need to bring things down to a practical level and consider how to actually design and implement solutions for your clients. How does that impact Sarah in accounting and Bob in HR? Consider the unintended effects it will have on work, morale and any other important aspects of the work environment. A practical approach, informed by rather than built on appropriate theories, will ensure the best outcome for your client and elevate the great above the rest.
At the core of a great consultant is an excellent problem solver. Just like the rest of the workforce in some capacity right? Wrong. A Consultant is afforded isolation of task. Companies can command very clear results from you. Focusing in on your key aspects of performance and achievement within very fine margins. To a successful Consultant that should read as a chance at liberation and being recognised for greatness. Focusing on a singular purpose that you must deliver. Few occupations are distilled to that elegant simplicity.
Go back to basics
An area that many Consultants in the talent development arena lack is business acumen. To become great you must educate yourself on the nature of the beast. Understanding how a business operates, what drives decisions, and what makes the industry unique really sets consultants apart. If you don’t know the basics of the balance sheet or P&L statement, it will be next to impossible for you to connect the dots on how your work will impact the client’s bottom line. Even a simple appreciation for key business drivers, risks, and the financial aspects of your client’s business will suggest that you “get it”. Allowing you to bring a seasoned business perspective to the task at hand.
Prepare to adapt
Great consultants are also equipped with solving all types of problems, ranging from technology, financial, organisational and even political. However, with no way of knowing which type of challenge is around the next corner, both specialisation and generalisation must co-exist in your toolkit. You must be comfortable debugging an amortisation spreadsheet, drafting an ad-hoc work-plan and charming a hostile stakeholder, all before lunchtime! To succeed you should come in, fit in and get the job done. To repeat this trick when coming into work with no definite way of forecasting what obstacles lay in wait requires an incredibly flexible and adaptive outlook with the skills to match.
We all have bad days. We all hit brick walls. What distinguishes great Consultants is the ability to remain at their bright best when times are gloomy, motivating the team and helping the client to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Some problems are easily solved and others take time. The right solution may come after long days, much rework and iteration. Likewise, it may be you simply need stop over-thinking and let the solution come to you.
As Tesla says your "brain is only a receiver, in the universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength and inspiration."
A great Consultant knows when to rack their brain, and when to simply ponder instead. More importantly, when to keep going until a solution is found! So you were late solving the problem and got some tough and honest feedback? Don't let them get you down! You've got to be resilient, bounce back and deliver again. How else can you achieve greatness and be considered one of the elite?