Consulting Skills as a Competitive Advantage
Developing strong consulting skills such as the ability to communicate in a way that holds the attention of the room, the ability to solve complex problems in a structured and effective way, and the ability to build a peer-level relationship with the most senior executives of major companies. Developing strong consulting skills can be the competitive advantage that will allow you rise above the average and gain the momentum, respect, and opportunities you want.
Not everyone working for major consulting firms have strong consulting skills. Similarly, you can develop strong consulting skills without ever working for a major consulting firm.
In this post we are going to explore how to achieve career advancement from manager and above, and how to use consulting skills to help you achieve career growth.
What is Career Advancement?
Career advancement refers to the upward trajectory of someone’s career. Top professionals know the importance of professional and personal development. For anyone in the corporate world having a secure job to go to each week is important, but it is not enough. Humans crave progress.
If we do not grow, we degrade. We do not stay still. Our skills deteriorate.
So the opportunity for career advancement is one of the most essential elements for people to feel a sense of well-being and job satisfaction. Opportunities for career growth are a powerful employee motivator. That’s why it makes good business sense for companies to ensure their employees are clear on their career growth plans and career growth opportunities.
Differences Between Advancing as a Junior Employee vs. Manager and Above. How Developing Consulting Skills Can Help
When someone is a junior employee, career advancement is usually more straightforward. Do a great job for your superiors, make them look good, and develop a strong technical skill-set, and you will have growth in your career.
As you continue advancing in your career and moving to more senior levels, however, you will notice that your technical skills are becoming less and less critical to get the next promotion. What becomes essential are your soft skills.
- Can you convince and motivate people to do the work they do not want to do?
- Can you effectively lead people?
- Are you able to get people together that do not want to work together?
- What is your level of influence within your organization?
Developing strong consulting skills means developing strong soft skills. You can’t be a successful consultant without the ability to communicate well, without the ability to have a lot of executive presence during your meetings with clients, and without the ability to build a long-term relationship with your clients.
Qualities of an Exceptional Leader
There are many qualities that exceptional leaders need to possess. If you look back at the best boss you ever had, what qualities immediately come to mind? Generally, the qualities of exceptional leaders include the following:
Integrity – Great leaders have integrity. If they promised you something, they keep their word. If you told them something in confidence, they keep it confidential. They do not go and cut corners to get some quick revenue or earn a favor. An exceptional leader would also not do unethical and illegal things for clients to keep big clients happy. They understand they set an example, and they take their role very seriously.
Gratitude – You feel that your input is meaningful and sincerely appreciated. When you go above and beyond, it is noticed and acknowledged and ultimately rewarded.
Growth mindset – exceptional leaders have a growth mindset. They believe that you can improve if you put enough work into it. They give you opportunities to grow instead of locking you into a dead-end job. They create growth opportunities for their team because they believe that humans can grow and develop powerful skills.
Influence – Great leaders are able to connect with others. They can be a connecting tissue that brings together stakeholders who are not interested in speaking to each other. They have a high level of influence within the organization and with clients.
Empathy – Great leaders have empathy. They understand that their team members are only human and can make mistakes. As long as they see the mistake was made not out of malicious intent, they help their team members recover from mistakes. They empower instead of push down. They support instead of humiliating.
Self-Awareness – Great leaders also have a high level of self-awareness. You do not find them losing it and screaming at a client or their team members. They are calm, collected, professional, and focused a lot of the time. They are, of course, only human and, at times, may become anxious or angry, but because of their high level of self-awareness, they remain very professional at all times.
Excellent communication – As we have mentioned earlier, excellent communication is one of the key consulting skills that can help you transform your career. Exceptional leaders are great communicators. They are able to hold the attention of the room. They are able to connect with their audience, be it one person or 100 people. They speak from their heart and are able to move people to action.
Great at delegation – Great leaders understand that they can’t do everything on their own. They are great at delegation. They grow and develop strong teams under them. They do not hesitate to train people under them because they understand that it is best for the organization, the best for clients, and it is the only way that they can ever be promoted. They start succession planning early.
Tips for Career Advancement
Career advancement within the same organization may be the result of gaining work experience and potentially completing additional advanced training. There are some things to keep in mind as you are planning out your career advancement plan.
Start from maintaining very good health. Health is the most important asset you have. Without it, you do not have anything. So always pay attention to your health. As driven professionals, we often do not take sufficient care of our health early in our career, only to pay for it a way too big of a price later on. It is essential to pay attention to protecting your health from the start or as soon as you can.
Build your skillset. Many business professionals stop developing their skills beyond what they learn on the job. Years go by, and they start to wonder what happened. Why has their career stalled? We live in a very competitive world, especially if you look at countries like the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. While in some developing countries, you can get away with being average and still have a great career because there is such a massive lack of skills, in developed countries, you compete with the best people from all over the world. If you do not invest in your skills beyond what average performers do, then you will likely have average results.
Work on your confidence. If you do not come across as someone who believes in their abilities, other people will also not believe you have what it takes to be a leader. So it is crucial to work on your confidence. When it comes to confidence, what you need to remember is what matters is your belief in your ability to figure things out. It is as simple as that. As long as you believe that you will find the way to make things work, that you will figure things out, that is what is required to have a sufficient level of confidence. So, as you can see, it is quite simple and manageable.
Work on your communication skills. Another essential and powerful way to build confidence is by working on your communication and executive presence skills. We have a powerful program for our clients on developing executive presence and communication skills and a number of resources, including a video below.
The Benefits of a Career Advancement
Organizations shouldn’t minimize the importance of supporting their employees’ career advancement. When companies do not pay attention to career growth opportunities for their employees, they undermine morale and productivity and end up with a high turnover. This is how companies or specific divisions within companies end up having to deal with a problem of a revolving door, where most employees leave as soon as they can, taking all the knowledge and experience with them, sometimes taking it to competitors.
Here are some benefits of career advancement and career progression:
- It results in lower turnover
- It results in higher job satisfaction
- It reduces stress and missed work days due to illness
- It boosts productivity
- It increases engagement within the team
- It creates a positive work environment versus a toxic work environment
- It gives employees a sense of well-being and a sense of purpose
Improving Career Growth
Gaining experience and receiving additional training help you advance up the corporate ladder within the same industry. The career advancement process is divided into two phases, career growth planning, and career management. Career growth planning requires you to map out your career. You, of course, can’t map out your career with 100% certainty, but it allows you to understand where you are going and what is required to achieve your goals.
When we work with our clients, we help them develop what we call The MasterPlan. We have a coaching program called The MasterPlan Acceleration Coaching program, as well as an online light version of the program on StrategyTraining.com, available to Insiders and Legacy members. And we also have The MasterPlan book. All those resources help our clients access a proven process to help them develop their career growth plan. You can download a template from The MasterPlan Acceleration Coaching program here.
Even if you do not use any of the resources above (the book, the coaching program, or the StrategyTraining.com advanced strategy and problem-solving training programs), you can still use the downloadable template to help you guide your thinking as you develop your career growth plan. This template was used by many clients who were able to transform their life. During our coaching programs, you also get to witness other clients complete this template and get coaching on various sections, which will give you ideas you may not have considered.
Now, as you are thinking about your career growth plan, consider what type of career growth is most important to you. The reason I ask you to think about this is because it is one of the saddest things to see when clients spend decades in a certain career, they put tremendous work into it, only to realize that they were pursuing the wrong career. So an essential element of thinking through your career growth plan is understanding what your life’s work is.
Gaining more clarity on what is your life’s work is one of the critical areas I help clients with. Because without it does it even make sense to work on your career growth plan? What is the point of investing above-average efforts into a plan that will not lead you to live a fulfilling life?
You might as well then enjoy your hobbies and have an average career, and be happy. I know so many people who lost their health, their spouses, and their children because they invested everything they had into a career that wasn’t even aligned with their life’s work or their competitive and comparative advantage, which is another area we speak a lot about as part of the MasterPlan program.
Keys to Successful Career Advancement
Now, what are some of the keys to successful career advancement?
Make a positive impression – Here, you need to learn how to make a positive impression when dealing with your peers and superiors. You need to be likable.
Are you the kind of guy or lady they would enjoy having a beer with on Friday night?
Think of a person you know who makes you feel good about yourself because they never say anything negative. We live in a culture where many things that people find funny are at the expense of someone. Think of someone who is not “two-faced,” not belittling.
How do you feel when you are with those people?
You actually look forward to seeing them.
You may even marry a person like this.
If you are lucky, you know one person that makes you feel amazing. And the rest are on a sliding scale. Think about how you respond to someone who makes you feel good. You are drawn to them, you smile, you are happy, and you feel you can do anything around that person.
You want to be that person, you want to be a person to whom everyone is drawn to.
Seek opportunities where others are not looking – You also need to learn to seek opportunities where others are not looking. For example, there may be a rare skill that you have, such as knowing a specific language, which may make you uniquely positioned to work on a particular project. Other people may not be trying to get on that project because they don’t have any advantages related to that project.
Become a great communicator – Learn to communicate effectively. Again we are coming back to the importance of enhancing your executive presence and communication skills, as key consulting skills that can help you set yourself apart. Specifically, learn to communicate like a partner from a major consulting firm or a senior executive from a large company.
Here is a video on communication that may be very helpful for you. This video is focused on how to learn to speak as a management consultant. If you have ever spoken to management consultants, you know that consultants speak in a certain way. They tend to speak in a very logical and structured way. They tend to pause at the right places. Consultants speak in a very logical, structured, and professional manner. And this ability to hold a logical and structured conversation is an ability that is a great asset when it comes to career advancement.
You want to make sure you can communicate. If you can’t communicate well but have excellent technical skills, you will likely struggle to get promoted. Consultants are very good at using stories. They are also very good at telling what they read in a newspaper.
It’s, of course, not about being able to recite what someone read in a newspaper. It is about if you can tell the key message in the article, the assumptions underpinning that article, and your thoughts on those assumptions, and your views on what will happen.
Consultants speak in that way. They don’t just recite what they read. They give you their opinions because they are trained to give you their opinions.
Develop a strong business acumen – You also need to determine a strong business acumen, which we refer to as business judgment. Strong business acumen is, of course, one of the key consulting skills that are required for you to be an outstanding leader and to get promoted. Without strong business acumen, you will not be able to make good decisions. We cover how to build business judgment in detail in our programs. Business judgment becomes more critical as you are moving up to higher and higher levels within your organization.
Become a skillful critical thinker versus a critic – Critical thinking ability is vital for career advancement and one of the most important consulting skills. And one of the essential requirements to be a great critical thinker is business judgment. Everyone already has business judgment. You will do much better when it comes to problem-solving if you learn to apply your judgment instead of ignoring your life experiences when solving problems. You have the ability to interpret things that is unique in the world.
Now there is a big difference between a critical thinker and a critic. They are not the same.
The critical thinker is doing two things. They are learning as much as they can from what is in front of them, and they are trying to analyze it. There is a difference between analyzing something and finding flaws in it. You can analyze something completely wrong and find useful information within it.
Think of case studies of why things succeeded. If something we analyzed, and it failed, you can learn even more from it. If you follow Partnership. Memoir, an extensive program we have where one of our coaches discusses how he became a partner in his 20s. During the first three years of his career, he had a lot of failures, he got promoted once. During the next three years, he got promoted four times. Not because he was good at analyzing the successes but because he was open to analyzing the failures.
When you go into any discussion, if your default mode is to find the flaws with whatever the person is saying, then you are not a critical thinker, you are a critic. A critical thinker is not just there to find flaws. A critical thinker is there to understand, to be open to learning, to explore things.
We have a show called The Bill Matassoni Show. Bill was a prominent senior partner at McKinsey and BCG. He was the partner that, along with his colleagues, but he was the architect of this, who led McKinsey’s strategy in the 80s to reposition itself and leap ahead of BCG and Bain.
Now, how do you know Bill is a critical thinker? Because he doesn’t dismiss people.
We’ve done multiple video shoots with Bill for our StrategyTraining.com library of training, and we watched him talk to contractors on site and really have friendly discussions with them. He wanted to learn what they had to say. Think about it, many senior people look at videographers on set and think, “Well, you are not Steven Spielberg, I have nothing to learn from you,” and ignore them. The critical thinker is trying to understand. The critic is trying to find flaws.
The Western education system grooms critics because our basis of belief is that if we first find something to be erroneous or flawed, we got to discard it. So our first step is to be critical. Once it passes the critical checklist, we then say, “Okay, let’s learn from it.”
Here’s the thing. The act of being critical blinds you to learning things from essentially a flawed case study.
No one likes a critic. Critics are called jerks. If someone goes into a conversation and they are critical and find flaws in their argument, people are going to hate that person. Worse, if they are someone who finds flaws in another’s argument and who cannot control their facial expressions, we’ve all been in discussions with people where not only are they critical because they think they are being smart, but they have a smirk and condescending look on their face.
If you would like to develop strong consulting skills and other skills that can help you get promoted and gain massive momentum in your career, email [email protected] describing your objectives and goals, and we will be happy to help you design a training roadmap so you can make the next 12 months count.
How to Set Transformative Career Goals/Life Goals
Around this time of the year we tend to consider our life goals/career goals, and how to make sure they are meaningful.
First, let me ask you a question. Do you have this constant feeling that there is more to life? That something is missing? Something big is missing. If yes, then this article is for you. If not, then you are likely already on the right path and can benefit more from other articles/content on our platforms.
But If you do feel like something is missing, this is actually a common feeling. If you look around at everyone you know, you will notice that people lead 3 types of lives. You can call them many names. For the sake of this article lets call them miserable, mundane and meaningful.
Some people lead miserable lives of quiet or not so quiet desperation. They are dreading most of their days. Unfortunately, I’ve been there more than once in my life. And I am VERY sorry if you are leading this type of life now. I still remember with every fiber of my being how painful it was.
Other people lead mundane but somewhat content lives, where they are fine with their life but they don’t really enjoy it most of the time and they have a constant feeling that something is missing and/or they are on the wrong path. I’ve been there too. This place is much less painful but still not a place you want to be in.
And yet other people lead meaningful, joyful and exciting lives where they feel they are in the right place at the right time heading in the right direction doing the right work with the right people.
So ask yourself this: how does your life stack up?
Why people adjust their life goals/career goals?
I have thought a lot about why people adjust their life goals/career goals and dramatically change their life to move away from a miserable or mundane life towards a meaningful life. And the sad truth that I came to realize is that life usually hits people in the head with a brick and they get really close to losing it all, which forces them to make dramatic changes. I have never, NEVER, seen or even heard of anybody who just suddenly decided to transform their life without something external influencing them to make a major change.
Have you ever met someone who just woke up one day, redesigned their life goals/career goals, took consistent significant action towards achieving those goals and eventually transformed their life in a major way?
I have not.
And if this is true, if people will only change if life hits them in the head with a brick, we have a big problem.
First, when life hits us in the head with a brick, we may or may not get a true second chance. It may be too late to change or the path is unclear.
Second, many people never get life hitting them in the head with a brick strong enough so that they pay attention but not so strong that they can’t recover from it. They just continue to lead a miserable or mundane existence into the sunset of their lives. I see members of my family following this path. Clients as well.
And third, even if life hits someone in the head with a brick, there is no guarantee they will make changes. I have seen this too many times too. I am sure you did too.
So the danger I see for you is that if you are on the wrong path, if you do feel miserable or unhappy or barely content, you may end up following this path until it is too late. Life may never hit you in the head strong enough for you to notice or it may hit you in the head when it is too late to change.
And the opportunity I see for you is to be one of those rare people who will reexamine the life goals/career goals and take action. Take meaningful action. You can be someone who changes without external circumstances pushing you, without running the risk of losing it all or missing out on the life and career you could have, your family could have, because you never had an event to force your hand to make significant changes. And because you felt your life is long enough that you could make those changes SOME DAY.
Why you should take action NOW
If you don’t know my story, I shared it in detail in my bio.
I had two-second chances in my life. Both were health related. One occurred when I was 16 and one a few years ago, at the age of 32.
Both times I knew change was necessary before I became incredibly ill. Although, the first time around I was too young and silly to recognize all the lessons and make necessary adjustments that led to a quiet unhappy few years after the event.
The second time, maybe because I was older, I realized that it was life hitting me in the head, with a brick, saying, “hey, excuse me, what the hell are you doing? You have important things to do. Stop wasting time.”
The second time around I seemed to be more aware that I was on the wrong path even before the event happened. I knew I was not pursuing my life’s mission. At the time I accepted this way of living as a temporary problem. I thought I could stretch it for a few more years to save more money, to gain more skills and to become more financially stable. From a financial perspective, my career was going great. I was making way more money than most of my peers, yet I knew that was not my life’s work. And I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was wasting valuable time.
And even though I made an adjustment to be closer to my life’s work, I took on a new role just a few months before I got sick which was much more meaningful work (for me), life still made it very clear to me that the change I made was too little, too slow.
I was lucky to get a second chance in life, twice. And I am grateful life forced my hand to make the change that I knew was necessary but could not do fast enough by myself.
So if you think you are leading a miserable or mundane life, you should make a change without waiting for that life-changing event to force you into this.
Adjusting your life goals/career goals
Now let’s talk about adjusting your life goals/career goals.
The first thing I want to say, as you examine your life goals, as you think about who you want to be and how you want to live your life, don’t be realistic.
How many times in your life will you take significant action to change your life? Very few, if at all. It is a huge effort.
If you will set yourself on the wrong, or mediocre, path now, you may never again summon enough time, desire, strength, and commitment to change your life.
You may only get one real shot. You may not have the energy, desire, to do it again.
So my first advice is don’t be realistic. You deserve to give the best fighting chance to transform your career and life, in a meaningful way.
And, for you to have enough fuel to push towards change as hard as it takes, for as long as it takes, the change you are working towards must be something you really, REALLY want. It must be something that will keep you going when things will get tough.
Because they will get tough.
You need powerful fire burning inside you, something deep and meaningful. As you are designing your life goals/career goals, your vision for your life, settle for nothing less than going after your REAL dream. The thing you will regret on your death bed not doing. Do something that counts. Counts for YOU. Even if it seems silly to other people. Don’t settle on a vision that is uninspiring. You will just waste your time if you do. And you will likely give up midway.
You need to set your vision so that it demands all the best in you. You will have to work really hard, for a long time, to reach it. Your life goals must be so shiny, so exciting that you will look forward to the morning to work on it and make it happen. Something that will be so important that you will work on it on weekends and over holidays. It must be something that you would do for free.
In fact, it must be something you would pay someone so you could do it.
Questions to ask yourself when figuring out your life goals/career goals
Next, I think it will be helpful to share with you some questions you can ask yourself as you are setting your goals. I found these questions very helpful.
The first one is, what is your greatest dream? Be bold here. What is that thing you will regret on your death bed you did not do. Only you know it. Noone can tell you what it is.
Do you want to write?
Do you want to act?
Do you want to start your own business? If so, what kind of business, and why?
Do you want to write songs and perform them to millions of people?
Do you want to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company?
If you don’t know the answer, answer as if you knew what to say. Your best guess. Don’t go forward until you get to the answer.
Then ask yourself why. Ask yourself why 5 times to get to the core reason why you want to do something.
What is that one thing that will demand the absolute best of you? What is that one thing you would do if you had more money than you ever will need? What is one thing you would pay someone so THAT you could do it?
As you are well aware, we don’t know how long we have on this planet. It can all end tomorrow morning or in an hour, or in 40 years. What are you afraid of?
Don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid. View it as a game. Steve Job’s quote comes to mind.
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
You don’t know if you have 10 years left, 20 years left, a year or a day. What is there to be afraid of? Our days are numbered. We are not here forever. So let’s leave a mark. Let’s be brave.
Final thoughts on setting career goals/life goals
In fact, we developed our training programs to help you realize your potential and take action to design and build a life and career you can be proud of without waiting for life to smack you on the head. Our intention is not only to equip you with the necessary skills, insights, and strategies to succeed in your career / business and life, but to be a wake up call, a pivot point in your life to nudge you to the right path. The kind I wish I had before I almost lost everything. Our intention is to guide you to make a change that you deep down already know is necessary.
Because after all, if not now – when? And if not us – who?
I will wrap this up here. Please take a hard look at your life goals/career goals. Take a hard look at your life. Do you feel joy as you go through your days? If you don’t, take action now, while you still have time on this earth.
You owe it to yourself.
You owe it to your family.
You owe it to the world.
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