Setting Direction Together: What Effective Consultants Know

What comes to mind when you think about consultants?


It’s a word I used in my last post, and I realize the image we have of consultants isn’t always a positive one. We often think of them sitting across the table, giving us condescending advice or asking us judgmental questions. Who wants to set a direction with those guys?! Our human nature is to work with each other to set a course of action.

I bring all this up, though, because I think you and I should want to be consultants—effective ones, that is. Whether as a parent, manager, practitioner, or seller, we should aspire to effectively consult, in the true definition of the word, which is to confer together before taking a course of action.

For the next three posts, I’ll be focusing on the attributes of an effective consultant.

Four businesspeople at boardroom table

Three Guidelines for Setting Direction 

Recently I worked with a group of shareholders to reconcile their differences about the future of their organization. Afterwards, one of them said to me, “We were all amazed that we achieved alignment and support for a shared direction.”

We did it by following these three guidelines that are critical for anyone consulting with others on where to go:

  1. Consensus does not require agreement. Consensus brings together diverse perspectives into the best possible decision. Most decisions require tradeoffs and sacrifice, particularly to the ego. The question is, while you may not agree, can you authentically support this decision?
  2. Concepts remain, words change. Everyone does their best to articulate plans with words, but we need to realize that not all words are created equal. For example, one of our company values was originally worded “Selfless Love.” The concept was understood, but “love” carried baggage for some and “selfless” could be misconstrued. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, that value is now referred to as “Me-to-We.”
  3. Deliver a congruent message. While words matter, research has demonstrated that the way we look and sound carry far greater risk in miscommunication. Leadership is so much more about our actions than our words. As Bruce Springsteen said, “Sustaining an audience is hard. It demands consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action over a long period of time.”

You, my friend, are a consultant. Where do you need to shift from giving to co-creating direction?



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  • Bryce Kramm
    June 19, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    A picture is worth a thousand words. The image of “The Bobs” was a great representation of what comes to mind when I think of consultants. Not to mention, Office Space is one of my favorite movies!
    In my case, shifting from giving to co-creating direction began with a business name and title. Synergy lends itself well to embracing ‘me to we’ in order to multiply the opportunities for innovation and sustainable growth. Becoming a Change Agent encompasses action steps I need to take to develop alignment, support, and a shared course of action to help a new era of leaders work, live, and play better.
    Thanks for sharing and this opportunity to grow, Matt.