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The 10 Most Powerful Consulting Skills for This Moment in History

Extraordinary times present you and your consulting firm with the opportunity to make extraordinary contributions. You can employ the toolkit you’ve assembled for consulting to support broader, deeper impact.

As noted here, you’re already doing good by promoting your consulting firm, building relationships, helping clients and sending chocolate-covered espresso beans to worthy colleagues.

There’s room for more.

An urgent, social discourse is sweeping the world, and as a consulting firm leader you are blessed with a particular set of skills that can advance the conversation.

I quickly cataloged a score of consulting skills that you may have practiced dozens or even hundreds of times over your consulting career so far.

As you ponder the list below, consider how you could apply your innate and hard-won capabilities to constructive exchanges with your clients or staff or friends or family.

The 10 Most Powerful Consulting Skills for This Moment in History

Are you directing any of your consulting skills to support social progress? I’m curious about how you’re using your business talents to create value beyond the consulting arena.

  1. Paul Lemke
    June 10, 2020 at 6:24 am Reply

    While successfuly inspiring others is THE most rewarding part of my consulting efforts, I struggle to inspire certain individuals to change, even when they know a specific behavior change will help them in their work and in their lives. A very visible example of where it is hard for people to change, even when they know it is crucial for them is in their health…smoking or weight as a very visible example. It seems that people must already WANT and be emotionally PREPARED/COMMITTED to make a specific change in their work, or personal lives before an external impetus (like a consultant) provides them inspiration. How to help move them to that inflection point us a challenge. Working with CEOs and other execs adds another layer to this challenge.

    • David A. Fields
      June 10, 2020 at 8:39 am Reply

      Great observation, Paul. People often cling to the status quo as if it’s the only rock of stability in a torrent raging toward certain doom. There are always resisters. And, as you point out, even those who profess to want progress will frequently stop short of action.

      This is why many consultants have added change management skills and approaches to their toolkit.

      Thank you for highlighting the difficulty in implementing change–a fact that is readily apparent at the societal level right now.

    • Paul Cooper
      June 10, 2020 at 10:36 am Reply

      Hi Paul (and David) –
      In most cases, the energy people feel for change is equally balanced by the energy they feel for keeping things the same — leading to the frustrating sense of stuckness you describe. Instead of trying to inspire or impel change from the outside, a Gestalt consultant helps raise the client’s awareness, which in turn mobilizes the client’s own energy for change.

      • David A. Fields
        June 10, 2020 at 10:55 am Reply

        Raising awareness of the problem, highlighting consequences of inaction, painting a compelling picture of the future, breaking action into easily digestible steps, reducing friction of taking action, and other consulting practices all help overcome the resistance to change.

        That’s why we consultants are so valuable! I’m glad you sparked that thinking and added your voice, Paul.

  2. Raed Rajab
    June 10, 2020 at 12:33 pm Reply

    Hi David, I think building long-term trustworthy relationship is a skill that I found is important to many consultants during and post-COVID pandemic.

    • David A. Fields
      June 10, 2020 at 3:38 pm Reply

      Many would take your point a step farther, Raed, and contend that building long-term, high-trust relationships is the master skill in consulting. It certainly holds that exalted role for consulting firm leaders.

      You could definitely argue that your ability to drive change is directly related to how much the people whom you want to change trust you. And, if that’s the case, then all the work you’ve put in over the years learning how to engendering Trust is, as you said, a powerful skill for this moment in history.

      I’m glad you highlighted the role of Trust-building, Raed.

      • Geraldine Anathan
        June 10, 2020 at 5:43 pm Reply

        I’m struck by how much psychological knowledge & expertise now goes into consulting; I don’t believe this was the case a couple of decades ago. It seems there is a positive overlap between aspects of coaching, consulting, and, I resist saying it— therapy. I’m thrilled to see so many fields coming together to truly help others find a higher level of meaning, especially in these times. As always, I’m grateful for your thought-provoking posts.

        • David A. Fields
          June 10, 2020 at 6:06 pm

          Geraldine, you might receive push back from consulting historians… if there was such a thing as a consulting historian. When I started in consulting 23 years ago, there were plenty of consultants who were working in “soft-skills” areas and savvy consultants knew then that the business was based on Trust.

          Although consulting originally grew out of the technical arena, I’d like to think that our progenitors in the profession were keenly aware that it’s a people business, with all the messy people issues making change difficult.

          Either way, your point is well taken: the blending of soft skills with hard skills, and the mix of coaching, consulting and therapy skills is a positive for the industry and our clients. Thank you for raising the idea!

  3. Carole Napolitano
    June 10, 2020 at 3:27 pm Reply

    First, David, thank you for this column: I so value your focus on how we can leverage our particular capabilities to address the seemingly intractable challenges we are currently facing as a society. My tenth skill is ASK POWERFUL QUESTIONS — THAT SEED SHIFTS IN THINKING. Several years ago, I was introduced to a 4-Cs change model that moved from Complacency to Change. The first step in the model involved asking the kinds of questions that take people from Complacency to the second quadrant, Confusion, at which point individuals are motivated to Consider (not sure that was the 3rd C, but it will serve the purpose for now) new ideas, thoughts, perspectives . . . which typically results in some level of shift or Change.

    • David A. Fields
      June 10, 2020 at 3:32 pm Reply

      Provocative model, Carole. Among the many effective elements of that model is the recognition that change occurs in steps, and requires a level of discomfort. (In some cases it requires pain and even then people will resist.)

      Your 4Cs model is compelling (a 5th C!) and I’m sure other readers will enjoy it too. Thank you for sharing the model and also your superpower!

    • Len P
      June 11, 2020 at 9:57 am Reply

      That’s a really interesting model, Carole. Could you recommend where I may find out more about it?

      • David A. Fields
        June 11, 2020 at 10:07 am Reply

        Len, if you don’t hear from Carole, let me know and I’ll get some information on the model for you.

  4. Nils B
    June 12, 2020 at 4:33 am Reply

    Look at the Gartner Hype Cycle, and apply it to individual emotions during change. You need activation (get away from complacency), then optimism (yay, we are going somewhere), then (valley of) fear (oops, is this what it means? This is different from what I expected! Will this work?? etc…) and then enlightenment / new reality.
    When getting people to want to change, think awareness threshold (oh, there IS an issue there!!), action threshold (we should do something), stress threshold (oops, this is URGENT!), and panic threshold (careful, people react unpredictably here). You can manage the pressure at these levels for the people to ensure continued action. This model is from Ron Heifetz.

    • David A. Fields
      June 12, 2020 at 8:53 am Reply

      Nils, the fact that you can break out a couple of useful change models (and there are many, very solid change models out there) demonstrates additional consulting skills that are useful right now:

      • Deep learning and information collection – To affect change, it’s helpful to have a wide range of knowledge you can draw upon.
      • Ability to select and apply tools – Consultants are masters at busting out models, frameworks and approaches that facilitate progress.

      Thank you for demonstrating both of those skills, Nils!

  5. Francis Friedman
    June 15, 2020 at 10:16 am Reply

    Hi David, I find that in utilizing techniques where the individuals in a group help discover what has to change and they design the change…change is actually implemented. I also approach clients with a crawl, walk, run approach to change because my experience is there are factors outside of the workgroup that need time to absorb and positively react to the change. Too large and too quick a change and they push back and obstruct the changes. Crawl, walk, run enables successive changes to be built on previous successful changes and increased workgroup confidence of the new directions THEY are going in. It also adds confidence in the workgroup that the consultant knows what has to take place going forward.

    • David A. Fields
      June 15, 2020 at 11:00 am Reply

      Those are two, valuable approaches for every consultant, Francis. As you said, people will embrace changes that they design themselves more readily than anything thrust upon them. Also, scaling the mountain gradually, with acclimatization stops along the way is how the pros reach the highest peaks.

      I’m glad you decided to share both of those useful tips, Francis.

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