The single most important trait of a good consultant

I just finished reading a business fable called Getting Naked that my friend Tom Ainsley of Ainsley & Co. sent me. There were a number of strategic values preached in the book and I highly recommend it.

The values that the book focuses on:

  1. Always Consult instead of Sell
  2. Give away the business
  3. Tell the kind truth
  4. Enter the Danger
  5. Ask Dumb Questions
  6. Make Dumb Suggestions
  7. Celebrate your mistakes
  8. Take a bullet for the client
  9. Make everything about the client
  10. Honor the client’s work
  11. Do the dirty work
  12. Admit your weaknesses and limitation

Among those the book writes at length about how they are the keys to success by avoiding the overarching 3 fears of consulting; Fear of losing the business, Fear of being embarrassed, and Fear of Feeling inferior.

I’d argue there is one far more important value or trait in consulting but likely any position that is far more useful and will bring more success to you and your clients than any other trait. So often it is overlooked by many creative style people, and people who are great at what they do. They think their talents will overcome where their lack of this one trait.

One might be wondering what is this trait that you speak of? Is it a high calibre of skill in my chosen profession? Is it access to the right tools? Is it access to a quality network that will help me when I don’t know the answer?

It is far more simple than that, and it can be taught at a very young age and was imparted on me by my father. To be successful in consulting, I’d argue that 80% of your success will be based on punctuality. Punctuality is a sub-trait of being Reliable, and many times our customers are looking for a capable team member who can reliably solve their problems, but they need them to happen on their schedule.

I was working with a small startup a few years ago, and by small I mean they had a $9mm funding round that had just occurred and we were brought in to help them retool their development team and ramp them up on some new technology. I started to notice that the CEO and CTO both arrived around 8:30AM. I started arriving in the neighborhood of their office at 8AM and moseying up to their office before 8:30AM to wait for them to unlock the door. This was hugely beneficial to me as it allowed me to get to know both of them quite well, and even helped spur a friendship outside of work that I still value today. I do attribute a lot of the trust we garnered there with our value of arriving early and being ready to start the day.

I have seen the transgression of this value also in that we had some issues at a client where their team was regularly not available for meetings. Every day we had a 10AM meeting to coordinate the efforts of the day. Frequently their team was late to the meeting but at one point one of our team members started frequently being late. We all took the same train system to get to the same office, and somehow 90% of the team was regularly on time, early and ready to work, but there was always a 10% lagging behind. Our team suffered greatly from this lack of coordination and given one of our team members was a cause for some of this we lost some reputation points as we had no argument to make regarding the client team members who were frequently absent and or tardy.

I know it all sounds like a grade school rule, but we are all adults and it’s incredibly easy to be respectful of each others time. I have read that late people are incredible optimists, but lateness can actually cost teams to lose hard won contract opportunities, new business arrangements, and harm to their guarded reputation. Additionally the client may feel their time was not appreciated given they may have coordinated around your arrival and what may have been excitement around your involvement, may not be construed as rudeness. It’s incredible easy to resolve this, plan to be in the neighborhood of critical meetings one hour in advance, then window shop, get coffee, enjoy the beautiful day, or heaven help us just be EARLY!

Adding this one trait to your tool belt will inevitably mean you are waiting on others, but it will serve you well in the long run and people will eventually look past many of your other shortcomings because they will assume you are reliable.

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