When you think of management consultants, what comes to mind? What are the characteristics that make a highly successful consultant? It takes a certain combination of traits to survive in consulting, like sheer determination and focus. But what does it take to truly thrive?
I recently had the good fortune to attend an event with recent MBA graduates. After fielding many questions about how to best prepare for a career in consulting, I was asked a question that I had never been asked before: “Can you tell me about the attributes of the consultants who seem to really enjoy their work?”
“Can you tell me about the attributes of the consultants who seem to really enjoy their work?”
It was an excellent question and one for which I didn’t have an answer on the spot. I could speak to what it takes to be successful as a consultant, but what it takes to enjoy being a consultant was a different perspective. After some reflection, I followed up with the student by email and outlined these five traits of successful consultants who truly enjoy their work.
- Curious. Do you look under the hood to find out what went wrong or sit back and wait for roadside assistance? Successful consultants aren’t discouraged when they encounter a problem—they are energized.
- Proactive. Do you prefer step-by-step instructions? In my experience, the consultants who most enjoy their work are assertive in identifying solutions to new problems. Those who hold back and wait for others to take the lead are, in general, less effective in consulting roles.
- Adaptable. Do you value routine and stability or does change excite you? Sometimes a project requires the consultant to take a visible leadership role. Other times, the consultant is very much in the background. Sometimes a consultant will focus on one project with one client and sometimes they will juggle multiple projects. Flexibility across many situations is an important attribute of a successful consultant.
- Collaborative. Do you prefer the quiet room in the library or the group meeting space? Consultants must work well with others, including the full spectrum of personalities and work styles. Some consultants find that easy, and some don’t. I’ve learned that if I can find at least one thing (hopefully more, but at least one) that I appreciate about a person, I can usually find a way to collaborate effectively.
- Self-motivated. Do you need recognition or is the hard work your reward? Clients don’t typically bring in consultants when things are going well or if the task at hand is easy to complete. Typically, there’s a problem to address or a tight deadline to meet. Consulting is not a 9:00 to 5:00 job. It’s a profession, and it takes personal commitment to do the hard work, solve the hard problem, go the extra mile for your client.
I very much appreciated the woman who prompted me to reflect on, not only what it takes to prepare for a consulting career, but also what it takes to enjoy that career. I enjoy the consulting profession because it is a way to serve organizations and teams by providing tools and insights to help them bring out the best of themselves. Consulting is a service profession and being in service is honorable work.
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