There’s a misapprehension that in order to be a successful consultant (regardless of field), you have to be über-intelligent, certified to the hilt and trained to the nth degree. In fact, when I say “misapprehension”, what I actually mean is “nothing could be further from the truth”.
That’s not to say that a great consultant won’t exhibit one or more of the above – but they’re not the core traits of a successful consultant. In order to be a great consultant, you need the following 13 traits. Nothing more, nothing less:
- Self managed – You need to be independent, from a management perspective. You shouldn’t need micromanagement, and you should be able to stay on track of your progress in projects/engagements without direct involvement from a project manager.
- Passion – You don’t have to be the smartest in your field, you just have to have a passion for it. You also need a passion for the other things in your life, in order to maintain a work/life balance.
- Genuine Curiosity – You should be interested in, not scared of new things and new experiences.
- Willingness to learn – If you’re not willing to learn new things, you’ll never be a good consultant. Indeed, to consult, you don’t need to be certified, you just need to stay a chapter or two of “the manual” ahead of the person you’re consulting to.
- Ability to learn – It doesn’t matter how willing you are to learn if you don’t have the ability to learn. You must be able to acquire a learning focus when necessary, and develop new skills as required.
- Patience – Being self managed allows you to work to a deadline. Being patient allows you to work with changing deadlines and people who need your skills.
- Persistence – A close cousin of patience is persistence. That’s the ability to remain focused on something despite distractions, and be prepared to work towards a solution despite setbacks that you may encounter along the way. (One might also suggest that it’s about having the life experience to know that you’ll encounter setbacks, and to treat them as learning experiences.)
- Integrity – Something many people find most difficult is admitting they’re wrong. As a consultant, you don’t have that luxury. Lacking a personal sense of honour may give you short term gains, but in the long term it will garner you no respect and no repeat customers.
- Brilliant searching skills – A mediocre consultant knows some answers, whereas a great consultant knows how to find the answer. Ask yourself this question: “Am I a Google god?” If you answer yes, you have a core trait that a consultant needs.
- Extracting order from chaos – Consultants will often face a barrage of data. Up to 99% of it will be irrelevant to the matter at hand. Being able to extract that 1% – being able to pull the little bit of order out of a lot of chaos – is essential.
- Solve the problem, don’t answer the question – From an IT perspective, I use this example: an engineer, if asked a question by a customer, will do his or her utmost to answer the question as exactingly as possible. A consultant will look past the direct question and aim to solve the problem that led the customer to ask the question. Or in other words: if it doesn’t have a yes/no answer, no question is asked in isolation.
- Communication skills – You don’t need to have achieved the most senior rank in Toastmasters. You don’t need to have become an author. However, you do need to be able to stand up in front of people with minimum notice and talk about a topic you’re comfortable with, answering questions along the way. You equally need to be able to write accurate and readable documentation.
- Humility – As a consultant, it’s not your job to be the best; your job is to help others be their best.
There you have it. If you’ve got those skills – or you’re confident you can develop them, you’ll be a great consultant.