3 Key Characteristics of a Successful Consultant


I’ve had my own consulting business for seven years, and over that time I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to be successful. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with and learn from other consultants, and pick up on some key characteristics that help differentiate the successful consultants, from the not-so-successful consultants.

Obviously, characteristics will vary based on the type of field in which the consultant works.  These might include creativity, work ethic, etc.

For the purposes of this post, however, I’d like to share three key characteristics that I think all consultants — regardless of field or industry — should possess:

1) Patience.

Consultants are, by our very nature, entrepreneurial. We are go-getters. We are hired for our expertise and, in some cases, our ability to work independently from the bureaucratic chains that bind our clients. As such, it’s easy for us to get impatient and frustrated when our clients seem to move at a much slower speed than we would like — or than we are used to.  We produce memos outlining strategy with three key tactics that we’d like to act on immediately.  Sometimes, though, our clients just aren’t ready — or, as is often the case — have a long approval process to deal with before giving the green light.

I know a consultant who regularly gets so impatient with his clients that he’ll hang up the phone on them or make comments such as, “You get back to me when you guys have your act together.”

Good consultants are patient and realize that good things will come to those who wait.

2) A Good Sense of How to Pick His/Her Battles.

Let’s face it, we consultants have a lot of good ideas (sic). But our clients simply aren’t going to like every one of them — or aren’t going to be able to act on every one of them.  A good consultant knows which ideas to fight for, and which to let whither on the vine.  I’ve seen many a consultant where out his welcome by regularly trotting out “favorite” ideas that had already been rejected by the clients. Know when to fight for your ideas, and know when to give up.

3) Thick Skin.

As I mentioned in point #2, clients aren’t going to like every one of our ideas. In fact, they may downright hate some of our ideas. Some clients are also less subtle than others in telling us what they think of our ideas.  One consultant with whom I’ve recently worked takes criticism extremely hard. After one project in which the client rejected one of his proposed logo designs, this particular consultant sat in shock in his car in the client’s parking lot for an hour after the meeting. You’re not going to hit a home run every time. Heck, you’re going to strike out every now and then. A good consultant rolls with the punches, shakes off the criticism, and gets back in the game to continue providing value to the client.

What do you think of these characteristics? Agree? Disagree? Any others you’d suggest?  Please let us know in the comments!

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