Effective leadership skills are vital to the success of independent consultants due to the nature of their role within an organization. Consultants are outsiders to the organization and they almost always create change within an organization. Most people inherently resist change, particularly when it is initiated from the outside, due to fear, uncertainty, territorialism, or even wounded pride if the change is considered to be a critique on how they have performed their job. In the absence of leadership, a consultant can create a flawless solution to a business problem, yet be unsuccessful in implementing it because of client resistance.
Being a problem solver helps you build a reputation for being resourceful and helpful in tough situations, which are desirable qualities in any organization.
Leadership is about inspiring people to do what you want or need them to do. In order to be the most effective in fostering and implementing change, consultants need to demonstrate exceptional leadership skills to get consulting clients to work with them in making changes. Good leadership starts with self-development: understanding the perceptions, motivations, strengths, weaknesses, and leadership style within yourself. This forms a solid foundation upon which to build leadership skills.
Great leaders also invest time in interpersonal skills development. Interpersonal skills include relationship building, communication, and team development. In order to lead others, you need to be able to create connections with people and foster a sense of trust in the relationship. Communication is critical, particularly when dealing with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Since much of a consultant’s work involves consultants working with project teams, being able to assess group dynamics, foster collaboration, and resolve conflicts are also vital skills.
It’s not good enough simply to have leadership skills. Consultants need to effectively demonstrate these skills with every client interaction. Below are some examples of the many ways to show you’re a leader when working with clients.
1. Gain the trust of others.
Leadership without trust is next to impossible. Aspire to demonstrate ethical practices in all that you do. This means being truthful and holding yourself accountable for your actions, avoiding setting others up to take the blame for your mistakes or failures.
2. Be a problem solver.
Being a problem solver helps you build a reputation for being resourceful and helpful in tough situations, which are desirable qualities in any organization. It can also represent added value to your client. Instead of focusing solely on the specific reason for the consultation, don’t be afraid to suggest solutions to other problems you may encounter.
3. Act as a mentor.
Part of the reason why you were hired as a consultant is likely due to fact that you are an expert in your field and that your client lacks this expertise in-house. Don’t be afraid to share some of your knowledge with people within the organization. Good leaders have confidence in their own skills and abilities. They understand that developing others doesn’t diminish their own skills and can only enhance their reputation as a valuable leader.
4. Be a team player.
Most people respect someone who leads collaboratively instead of selfishly. Show that you not only recognize other people’s strengths and contributions, but that you can combine team members’ talents and skills to achieve a goal or complete a project. When another team member deserves credit for an idea or an action, make sure to let their superior know about it.
5. Be positive.
Positive energy draws others in for the simple reason that people like being around others who are upbeat and encouraging. Recognize the achievements and contributions of others, be the voice of encouragement when things are difficult, and adopt a can-do attitude to bring out the best in others.
Consultants don’t have to manage the work of others to demonstrate leadership skills. By acquiring the skills and adopting the attitudes listed above, consultants can be seen as leaders in almost any setting. Being a leader makes you a more effective consultant and gives your client confidence that you have the soft skills necessary to successfully drive change and implement solutions.
Pete Kontakos is a contributor that blogs about leadership training and online education. He also serves as an independent contractor and consultant dealing with internet marketing as well as search engine optimization.