“Consultant” isn’t (always) a Four-Letter Word

I was talking with someone at a conference recently and I described myself as a teacher-entrepreneur and organizational scientist. “I’m working on launching an online course to teach tech leaders about people processes,” I said.

“Oh, so you’re a management consultant,” was his conclusion.

I’ve been outed.

Yes, at a very broad level, that’s what I do. But for a variety of reasons, I never introduce myself as a consultant. Even when I (sometimes inadvertently) use language that smells of consulting, I get responses that basically say, “That sounds kinda sales pitchy to me.”

Even Alan Weiss, best-selling author of Million Dollar Consulting, suggests that consultants call themselves “experts.” In Million Dollar Launch he says, “Don’t call yourself a coach, a consultant, a speaker, or a trainer…Call yourself an expert…you don’t want to arbitrarily box yourself into what may be unattractive packaging for some.”

I agree that the “consultant package” is unattractive to some people and I would go even further to say that, to some people, consultant = unethical, self-absorbed slimeball.

I understand where this perception comes from but it’s a shame. Some of those “slimeballs” are close colleagues and most of them do it because they help affect positive changes that make our workplaces more effective, less stressful, more engaging, etc. etc. Check out #iopsych on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean.

But perception trumps intentions. The perception is that management consultants are the guys dressed in suits that come to “improve efficiency” and lay people off. Yes, this likely happens. But it’s a narrow view of reality.

Management consultants are not all men, we don’t all wear suits, and our days include: meetings with high-profile (prospective) clients (maybe I’ll wear a pantsuit for those); sitting in front our computers (possibly in pajamas); and brainstorming our next marketing campaign (preferably accessorized with a glass of wine).

I can’t promise that every management consultant has good intentions. Some may be slimeballs. But don’t be so quick to judge.


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