Working in the consulting industry myself, at first I found it a little ironic that it was so challenging to write this post. Flipping the switch from client calls and content development to writing was daunting, and I kept putting it off. Then I realized it was fairly emblematic of the challenges of life in the consulting industry in general: the constant switching of gears as you try to balance the needs of your clients with the needs of the business.
Consulting leaders aren’t alone in having to balance conflicting demands, of course. However, they are often pulled further in the client demand direction than to the internal. They often see it as a business necessity: if you aren’t meeting client demands, you’re probably not going to be in business much longer.
Another challenge in this space is that the qualities that make someone a great consultant may not necessarily contribute to making them a great leader. In fact, many “good consultant” qualities may be at odds with “good leadership” qualities. Sometimes it’s difficult to practice what you preach!
A number of qualities are transferable, though – and identifying them may help those of us in the consulting world feel a little less disjointed in our day to day work. Being able to effectively communicate, help others stay engaged, and utilize a degree of persuasion are behaviors that commonly appear in our research on effective leaders across all industries, and consulting leaders are no exception.
What’s interesting about our research into consulting leaders is thinking about how they are utilizing these behaviors. Also noteworthy is how important it is for these leaders ability to shift gears quite rapidly to meet the changing demands placed upon them. Whether that be a client saying they need something yesterday, or a junior consultant asking for developmental opportunities, the types of questions asked of them place them in a unique category.