Run a Google search and you’ll find over 606,000,000 hits for “consulting”. Yes, that’s right: six hundred six million. Consulting today is such a wide category that it’s impossible to define it. When you hear someone say, “I’m a consultant”, you are often left wondering what they are consulting in, and what it is they exactly do.
Many of you may wonder what makes a good consultant (or consulting firm), regardless of the area of expertise. How can you tell a good consultant from one who is not when the offering available is so large? It’s not only impossible to define the consulting world; it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish the good from the not-so-good at first glance.
For over 10 years, I’ve been interacting with clients and colleagues in the consulting world. Leading and attending recruiting processes in more than 15 countries on 4 continents has allowed me to see hundreds of consultants in the interview and experiential context all trying to show me their skills. I’d like to share my insights here, in the hope that they will help you identify the consultants that can truly help you and your organization. I would also like to put forward a new category on the basis of these insights: the “conscious consultant”.
Consulting: what for?
To define the Conscious Consultant, we need to go a step backwards and ask: why does consulting exist at all? What is the purpose of consultants?
I have found that many consultants are not clear about why they do what they do and fall into one of two categories depending on where they come from and why they have become consultants: 1) Consultants who have developed a career in a firm where they sell their time as part of a project for a client and they go through the motions without much question, it’s a part of their career; 2) Successful businesspeople who retire or leave their professional careers to become consultants out of a willingness to offer their expertise and experience to help other business people in times of crisis – as has been the case all around the world for the past 3-5 years. Many executives leave their jobs with a “package” and become “consultants” or “coaches” or “mentors”, not necessarily pursuing a passion or gaining new skills, it’s just something they can do, it’s simple, it depends on them and only them, and all they have to do to be back in business is hang the Consultant sign on their doors.
Well, as I heard some years ago from a very inspiring teacher, “If you only have two unsatisfactory alternatives … choose a third”: The conscious consultant.
I would like to define a “conscious consultant” as a consultant who can connect with the true service – and I don’t use this word at random – and calling of what he or she is offering: the service and the calling to help fellow human beings reach the best of their ability. The service and the calling to be at the disposal of the learning journey of others who need something that the consultant knows he or she can offer. Just as a good doctor (I would call them conscious doctors too), a conscious consultant exists to offer not only solid technical knowledge but also the capacity to empathize and connect at an emotional level, maximizing the chances to solve the problem on which he or she consults – notice that there are many successful doctors but those we remember dearly are those who integrate service and humanity to help us heal – not for the purpose of satisfying their own ego or material needs but because they genuinely care.
Connection and Empathy
More than once (not to say always), I have found consultants who are totally focused on showing how much they know, how much they have done and how much what they offer is “the best” or “the solution”. This makes sense if we consider where they come from. For years they have been paid to provide answers. When they interact with a client, they feel safe when the client brings an issue in which they have experience, “I’ve been there, and I know what they need to do to solve this.” It is also true that clients ask for demonstrated experience, they want to feel they are in safe hands, and the consultant must prove they have it to get hired. Despite this, how come so many clients feel misunderstood, let down, even say they ‘hate’ consultants?
What a conscious consultant considers is, “If I were in your shoes, if I had your very same stories, very same experiences and very same culture, I would be doing exactly what you are doing.” This humility creates a spirit of compassion and empathy as the basis of the relationship between consultant and client, which in turn enables them to find solutions embedded in the client’s world of meaning and as such fully applicable. Instead of providing answers, conscious consultants ask the right questions. Instead of saying, “this is the solution,” they understand that the problem at hand may have different interpretations and produce different emotions because other people are involved, not them.
Technical Ability and Experience
I have met many consultants pushing their services forward to reinforce their egos, convinced and convincing that they are needed to win a contract, even when they doubt that they will be able to generate the expected impact. But a conscious consultant always wonders if he is the best option and is ready to offer alternatives if there are better solutions for the client. If, after a careful assessment of the alternatives, he still believes he is the best option, he so expresses it, with enthusiasm and passion but with detachment and temperance. And we always need to remember that in the end clients have the right to choose who is best for them.
Meta-competencies refer to what lies beneath the technical expertise and the business background. One, in particular, takes precedence over others: the ability to observe and question yourself, to know your shadow as well as your attachment to certain things. Being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses and above all, being able to question and learn. A conscious consultant observes his life and ego with attention. He recognizes his or her own light and shadow and can use them to the benefit of the person they are helping and never against them. Without the practice of self-knowledge and learning it is impossible to connect with another person who is in need of help and collaboration. A very good way to test the consciousness of a consultant is to check how aware they are about their own gaps, shadows and capabilities.
Walking the talk
Finally, the ability to show congruence; as simple and as complex as honoring the values and techniques that are being offered. A conscious consultant knows that he cannot offer what he doesn’t have. And that a good client will notice. The ability to own what you can and cannot do with the powerful combination of confidence and humility is the foundation of trust between a client and a consultant.
All in all, in today’s highly competitive world, with so many offerings to choose from, being a consultant is not enough. What increasingly sophisticated clients demand and will continue to demand, are consultants with a calling, connected to the true meaning of the activity they conduct, capable of assessing their ability to contribute and living in alignment with the values they espouse. A new category is emerging and taking shape: the conscious consultant. Clients will be grateful.
About the author
Francisco is Axialent’s CEO. As a member of Axialent’s founding team, he combines the experience of opening new markets, partnering with global clients in their transformation journeys, and creating business operating platforms from scratch. Read more >