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The Ultimate Guide To Consulting Skills For Advancement From Manager and Above
HomeStrategyThe Ultimate Guide To Consulting Skills For Advancement From Manager and Above
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.
Make Sure “You’ve Got the Goods” to Be a Successful Leader Before You “Advertise the Goods”
An anonymous poem…
A lion met a tiger
As they drank beside a pool
Said the tiger, “tell me why…
You’re roaring like a fool.”
“That’s not foolish;” said the lion,
with a twinkle in his eyes,
“They call me king of all the beasts
because I advertise!”
A rabbit heard them talking,
and ran home like a streak.
He thought he’d try the lion’s plan,
but his roar was just a squeak.
A fox, who happened on the scene,
had a fine lunch in the woods.
The Moral? When you advertise,
just be sure you’ve got the goods.
We all start our careers with great ambition. We often have the right degrees and the right skills. We believe we will be leaders who command attention and respect. Yet, we all recall that first meeting/workshop/interaction when our ideas were sidelined, or no one wanted to listen to us. We are effectively ignored. We become invisible. Our confidence falls, and we find it harder to muster the courage to speak up.
Sometimes colleagues or clients challenge us by asking progressively harder and harder questions, and we don’t know how to manage the barrage of questions. We don’t know how to communicate and lead when we lack subject matter knowledge. We often respond by trying to become an expert in one area, hoping never to be at a loss for words. This means we are never at a loss for words on one narrow subject, but we never build the skills to speak across all topics. We become specialists and lose out on general management and executive roles.
Eventually, we realize our careers are trapped. We may be stuck in this one role forever.
We respond by working harder and hoping to be smarter to gain respect. Yet, often nothing changes. We meander through our careers, often blaming managers, colleagues, and the company culture for our lack of progress. We sometimes belittle the capabilities of colleagues who may not be as smart but are promoted because they know how to communicate to lead. We often become bitter, and resentment builds.
It does not have to be this for you. You can change this.
You may want to build your professional and personal brand. You want to be better at holding the attention of the room. You want to raise the ceiling of what is possible for you. You want to feel comfortable in your own skin when speaking. You want to be respected, and you want to be influential.
But you need to make sure “you’ve got the goods” to be successful in “advertising the goods.”
You may have ideas that will get meaningful results. I know you do because we teach our clients not only the insights but how to develop insights. But if your “roar” is just a “squeak,” you will not command the attention and respect you deserve, and this will dramatically impact your legacy, your quality of life, the opportunities your family has, your level of influence, and your impact.
You Can’t Be an Influential Leader Without Being Authentic
“I want you to be everything that is you, deep at the center of your being.”
Authenticity is based on the principle of integrity. It’s about being aligned with what truly matters to us, whether the whole world is watching or if no one is watching.
Because authenticity is becoming more and more popularized, we are becoming more and more numbed to what it actually means and how important it is. It is just something that everyone says, very few people think about, and even fewer people do.
To me, being authentic means knowing what I care about at the core of my being and demanding of myself to act aligned with that authentic core.
We are, of course, talking about life’s work, something we covered in detail during our Why Not Have a Big Life challenge at the beginning of the year, and go to in-depth as part of The MasterPlan Acceleration Coaching Program.
Why do driven people struggle to be authentic?
It’s not because they do not buy into how important it is. It’s not because they don’t want to be authentic. It’s usually because they don’t have clarity on how to align their actions with what matters most to them. And it’s also because they often don’t know what matters most to them.
What I found helpful is to always keep in my mind’s eye the ultimate highest potential version of me (and that version expands over time, by the way) and focus on filling the gap each day.
Understanding I am not perfect but filling that gap as much as I can. Every single day. And that means doing things that I am uncomfortable with until I become comfortable. Like doing interviews, and podcasts, appearing as a guest at events, and reaching out to people I want to meet and work with.
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 team@firmsconsulting 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.
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