Intelligence vs. Wisdom as a Consultant

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A common mistake made by new consultants is mistaking their intellect for wisdom.

The two are not the same thing.

The other common mistake is to assume that to be successful as CEO or operating executive, you just have to get the strategy right and the execution or implementation is comparatively easier.

I use to believe this to be true, but having bloodied my knuckles in running divisions of public companies and now my own company -- let me assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.

Execution is very, very hard. Do not forget that.

What you do as a consultant is advise on making the key strategic decision. The hard part is getting the decision implemented.

Many consultants see the opposite as true, and in many ways look down upon execution -- and in doing so rightfully earn the scorn of corporate leaders that make jokes about consultants.

When you prepare a slide presentation and try to convince five clients that you're right, that may seem hard.

But imagine that you are the client who the next day has to convince 10,000 employees of the same decision... and not only convince them of the decision, but to actually change their hourly behaviors to reflect the new strategy, and to do so 365 days in a row.

Now that is hard.

So the first thing to do is realize this distinction exists and to have your attitude towards clients reflect this difficulty in execution.

A wise thing to ask is to say, "I think X makes sense from a purely strategic standpoint, but Ms. Client, from an execution standpoint, do you see any major issues?"

It is one thing to recommend a strategy that is technically correct (but practically speaking impossible for the client to execute due to organization, culture, structural barriers), it is another to recommend a strategic decisionthat is still right, but not perfectly so, but is 10 times easier to implement.

This is known as a real-world compromise.

Many consultants do not like real world compromise.

They see their value as being determined by the quality of their slide presentation.

I prefer to define the success of a client engagement based on what the client actually did based on your recommendation.

Each firm will differ in their perspective on this point.

Each consultant will differ in their perspective on this point too.

There is an age and experience bias when it comes to determining which position a consultant will typically take.

Newer consultants (high on intellect, a little lower on wisdom) want to recommend the theoretically correct solution.

They treat the presentation like a dissertation... write the best one you can and defend it... (who cares if anyone actually uses it after we defend it).

The better partners, especially the managing directors, who have been around long enough to see theoretically correct, but not practical, recommendations get ignored sometimes take a different point of view.

I have found they are more likely to point out the practical limitations of an otherwise theoretically correct recommendation.

I encourage you to consider the practical side of every recommendation.

And if you lack the expertise to make such an assessment, it would be "wise" of you to ask your clients for their input on the practical implications of the potential recommendation.

They will appreciate you more for it (even if your team members and even sometimes your manager may not -- as sometimes they too lack operational experience).

This is just one of many themes I emphasize with new consultants.

For more guidance on how to do well as a new consultant, I refer you to my "How to Succeed in Management Consulting" (HSMC) program.

The HSMC program is not currently available to the public, but may be re-introduced briefly in the near future.

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