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The 10 Attributes of a Successful Consultant

What is the DNA of a successful, independent consultant; the personal building blocks of a rewarding, lucrative career leading a practice with roughly 1-100 employees?

This is not an idle thought-exercise. I frequently field questions about the consulting profession from mid-career executives “in transition.”** Even professionals who have already hung up a shingle or accepted a senior position at a small firm wonder whether they are well suited for independent consulting. Particularly if their performance has been flagging as of late.

Rather than offering an off-the cuff answer, I set out to make a list of important attributes. Five minutes and 46 attributes later, I realized the brainstorming approach would not yield a satisfying answer. Therefore, I made a list of the most successful independent consultants I personally know. (Fortunately, the nature of my practice enabled me to draw from a large pool.) Then I cataloged my impression of what has allowed each of them to flourish.

drawing-from-a-pool

There’s no uniform profile or precise mold every outstanding consultant conforms to. My list included individuals who ranged from nerdy to suave, inspiringly humble to shockingly arrogant, and consensus-builders to autocrats. However, there are definite commonalities among those who have ascended to the top of our profession.

Below are the attributes I saw most frequently in my analysis; the characteristics that describe you now or could in the future if you commit to embracing them:

idiom_consultant

Please join in the conversation by adding your thoughts in the comment section. What attributes would you add to the list?


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43 Comments
  1. luda fedoruk
    June 24, 2015 at 7:15 am Reply

    This is a fun article.

    • David A. Fields
      June 25, 2015 at 7:03 am Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it, Luda!

  2. Maggie Watson
    June 24, 2015 at 8:12 am Reply

    Superior listening and observation skills. Taking the time to determine what the actual issues are before devising/offering solutions. Have to pick up on on the subtle and not subtle cues.

    • David A. Fields
      June 25, 2015 at 7:05 am Reply

      Great additions, Maggie. Listening and not jumping to conclusions are two difficult skills for many consultants to master. They make all the difference in the world, though, to winning clients and delivering extraordinary value. Thanks for contributing.

  3. R Mallory Starr
    June 24, 2015 at 8:40 am Reply

    Re other qualities – Adaptation. This means is flexible enough, observant enough, and sensitive enough to be observant enough, to understand and adapt to the culture of colleagues and prospective and actuall clients. The prospective clients, actual clients, and colleagues are more and more becoming representative of varied social classes and cultures in the US and internationally.

    • David A. Fields
      June 25, 2015 at 7:07 am Reply

      You are SO right, Mallory. We have to meet our clients and prospects where they are, and that means adapting to their situation, their style, their culture. Thank you for the terrific addition to the list.

  4. Kevin Martin
    June 24, 2015 at 9:06 am Reply

    Good article. I agree with Maggie that listening skills (and expert questioning skills) are paramount for the best consultants allowing them to frame solutions their clients really need. I also liked your “drawing from a large pool” sketch.

    • David A. Fields
      June 25, 2015 at 7:10 am Reply

      Yes, Maggie was dead on. As you said, the listening and observation skills combined with communication skills allow us to frame and reframe ideas for our clients, which is critical to success. Glad you liked the drawing… you get extra points for appreciating puns.

  5. David Shaw
    June 24, 2015 at 11:03 am Reply

    Persistence because work can be feast or famine. Courage to confront resistance and client nonsense. Thought-provoking article – thank you. I like your choices.

    • David A. Fields
      June 25, 2015 at 7:13 am Reply

      Thanks, David. I like your choices too! Indeed, we must harbor the ability to stay the course through lean times and inexplicable client behavior. Thank you for injecting those idea into the discussion.

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