As we close out the year, I’m reprising one of my most commented on LinkedIn articles. First published January 12, 2015, it’s just as relevant today as it was then. I’ve also expanded the original list of qualities from 19 to an even 20, and updated a few other things based the LinkedIn comments. Here’s to a prosperous 2018!
Let’s face it, not all consultants are created equal. Some can seemingly do anything with grace, style, and ease while others struggle to make anything happen. Over the last 20 years I’ve interacted with probably a thousand management consultants, from local independent practitioners to global “big four” advisors. Some are rock stars and some never will be, regardless of their education or what consulting firm they work for.
In a nutshell, a consulting rock star is someone who loves helping clients succeed, does whatever it takes to do so, keeps their word, effectively manages expectations, and produces A-quality work. They make the right things happen. They are smart, professional yet personable, excellent listeners with self-confidence, and possess deep expertise yet little-to-no ego. Bottom line, they are emotionally intelligent and engender trust through their character and competencies.
About nine years ago I started an agency that represents consulting rock stars, and I’ve been compiling a list of qualities ever since. Some traits are more important than others; the non-negotiables are near the top of the list. If you’re a consultant who aspires to be the best, you’ll want to reference and reflect on this list.
- Truly experienced — Possesses deep knowledge (not just years of experience) in their specialty that is readily evident. Has conducted dozens of projects for a variety of clients. Has taken (or leads) classes and seminars. Continues to learn about their area of expertise.
- Puts clients first — Always places the client’s priorities ahead of their own, or at least makes it appear that way. Places all work products and recommendations in the context of the client’s environment. Is more concerned about making their client look good rather than themselves.
- Manages expectations — Doesn’t over-commit. Has a tendency to under-promise and over-deliver to exceed expectations. Gives early warning of potential issues, difficulties, or delays, and provides workable solutions to get back on track.
- Keeps their word — Especially when it comes to delivering something on time. If they say it, it’s a personal promise.
- Does whatever it takes — To keep their word, to make a deadline, to make the client look good.
- Really listens! — Actually hears and understands suggestions, comments, concerns, criticisms. Never interrupts. The other party feels heard and understood. Does more listening than talking (which seems counter-intuitive since a consultant is hired for their expertise).
- Leads by example — Practices a professional style that instills a sense of energy, passion and action. Inspires commitment to a successful outcome.
- A skilled facilitator — Easily manages groups with disparate views and backgrounds and achieves stated meeting/project goals. Ensures ownership for follow-up actions and meeting outcomes.
- A natural collaborator — Fosters an environment of teamwork, engagement, and contribution. Seamlessly integrates the client/consultant members of the project team.
- An active harmonizer — Handles difficult situations thoughtfully and tactfully. Proactively creates an environment where the sum of individual efforts is greater than the whole.
- Has influence and gentle persistence — Gets people to take action, makes things happen. Decisions get made, issues resolved, and milestones achieved, nearly always without ruffled feathers.
- A chameleon communicator — Effectively matches verbal and non-verbal communication styles with their client counterpart from top floor to shop floor in a way that generates trust and credibility.
- Collaborative problem solver — Helps groups solve their own problems by asking questions that ultimately reveal the answer and/or helps the client identify creative solutions. (Participation creates buy-in.)
- Knows details matter — Deliverables, work products, and communications are well formatted and flawless. (Literally flawless. Consistent fonts and sizes, bullet points aligned, no typos or extra spaces.)
- Instantly credible — Establishes credibility in their first conversation with a client and every meeting thereafter. Effortlessly inspires confidence and trust. (Having self-confidence and presence is vital, yet sadly some consultants seem to lack this.)
- An effective presenter — Influences outcomes and actions instead of simply sharing information. Meeting materials are well formatted, “clean,” and easy to read.
- A thoughtful writer — Emails and documents are cogent, concise, coherent, and have correct grammar (the 4 “Cs”). Easy to read, key points are clear.
- Never stops improving — Has a pent-up curiosity for learning. Still reads books and articles despite decades of experience. Participates in conferences, seminars, webinars. Seeks ways to improve soft skills like creativity, listening, persuasion, and presenting. Graciously receives input and feedback.
- Is personable! — Amiable, reasonable, authentic, and unassuming. Human, admits mistakes and/or shortcomings. People enjoy being around them. Easily likable, leaves their ego at the door.
- Always has positive attitude — Finds the silver lining in the worst situations, can regroup and keep the client moving toward the goal.
Although these qualities obviously belong on this list, finding a consultant who has all of them is not as obvious. Yet for a consultant rock star, every one of these qualities has become second nature.
Consultants, as we head into a new year, take an inventory. How can you be even better? What one or two areas would you like to improve this year? Now jot down a few ways to do that and share them with a buddy to create accountability. Set appointment reminders for mid-year and end-of-year to check your progress. Some examples: read a particular book, attend a workshop, ask a colleague for a critical review of an important deliverable, watch a video of one of your presentations, ask a client for feedback. Not sure what to improve? Ask a client or colleague for suggestions based on this list. The journey to becoming a rock-star consultant begins with you taking a pro-active first step.
Be your best!