Take a Cue from Consultants — Tell the Truth and Never Miss Deadlines

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Leadership can get confusing especially during times of turmoil.  You hear it’s an art; it’s a science. You hear you need to play the hard-ass; you hear you need to be an empathic listener. You hear leadership is developed through training.  You hear it’s innate. You hear the necessity to move from a manager to a leader.

Leadership lessons can be gleaned from Attila the Hun, Jesus, Ted Talks, Abraham Lincoln, Lao Tzu, Homer Simpson, and many others and from lots of sources. Prospective leaders are told to be firm, be empathetic, be inspirational, to lean in, to move quickly, to wait and see, and above all to be themselves.  Leadership lessons are like a smorgasbord to be gorged on.

So what is the leading in turmoil answer? Given all this advice and information, how is one supposed to lead in uncertain times? After many years as a consultant, and now as a college president, I have learned one effective way to lead is to lead like a management consultant. It may sound counterintuitive.  Consultants are known for showing up, borrowing your watch, telling you the time, and disappearing. There is no leadership in that behavior.

Hold on just a minute.

Consultants are often brought into tough situations. We can we learn about leadership from consultants even when the consultant is not talking about leadership. I suspect the consultants don’t even know it, but there are three simple facts about consultants that leaders should adopt in times of turmoil.

  1. Consultants tell the truth. The maxim is that consultants can state what no one else will say because the consultant will still have a job tomorrow. In fact, that is a major reason why consultants are hired – they do tell the truth whether it be based on analysis, observation or research. Leaders must tell the truth no matter how hard that reality may be. To be credible and speak the truth in an organization is to be a leader.
  2. Consultants don’t miss deadlines. It may require staying up all night for weeks, but by hook or crook, it will be done on time. It’s a lesson that newbies in consulting learn early – miss a deadline and you will be fired.  Leaders set examples and set expectations and meeting deadlines is a good one to set.  A “whatever it takes” mentality is one that can serve a leader well.
  3. Consultants bring hope. Hope is delivered in the form of the prospect that things will get better, that change will be implemented, that the deadwood will finally be revealed and that we might succeed. That is exactly the same thing that a leader needs to convey – hope

Many, many business consultants roam the universe. The good ones are aware of the value that is possible when they bring all three of these traits to the party.  These are the consultants that make a difference. For the leader who wants to make a difference, it might be time to borrow the leadership watch from the consultant. I learned from consulting and consultants, and it is now one way to lead in times of turmoil.

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