Developing a leadership culture in the consultancy industry
Global forces of political and technological change are impacting on all industry
sectors. For management consultancies this means changing at an even faster rate
to stay one step ahead and provide the necessary strategic, planning and
implementation support to clients. Firms in the industry are now challenged to
develop critical leadership skills to ensure their profitability and competitiveness.
These developments are not only necessary to win new business, they are also
essential to compete for, and retain, the leading talent to deliver to clients.
Central to effective leadership development is the need for consultancy firms to
understand the evolutionary curve of leadership through the classical career path
in the industry.
In this article we display the classical consultant career path, highlight the critical
skills and competencies at each career stage and provide insights into effective
leadership development. The career path is made transparent in the form of an
easy to recall visualisation of a double s-curve.
When we examine a "typical" career path in the consultancy industry from Analyst
to Partner it becomes evident that there are significant major transitions on the
way. For successful firms in the industry who would like to strengthen their
competitive position it is crucial to manage these transitions carefully and provide
appropriate and effective support in the form of specially tailored training and
At the beginning of a career within consultancy it is most critical to learn the basic
consultancy craft, demonstrate strong analytical capabilities and start to make
accurate data driven recommendations. People who master this phase of their
career have typically high analytical capabilities and are numerically strong. They
will initially progress well. However, it is all too easy to get "trapped" in the
analytics and "fall in love" with the numerical and analytical challenges.
In order to gain advancement to the next level it becomes important to make
recommendations and answer the critical "So what?" question. A different skill set
needs to come to the fore. On this level communication skills and an empathetic
customer orientation become important and determine "success."
To master these challenges, consultants will have to remember what they learned
in the first stage in their career but let go of the details. They will need to be able
to delegate as time constraints will not allow them to conduct all the in-depth
analysis themselves and, in addition and the same time, they will need to master
the development of client recommendations and customer contacts. This requires a
different perspective. The ability to develop the bigger picture becomes a real
In the midst of the career path there is yet another even more challenging
transition. In order to be effective as a managing consultant those that want to
progress their career have to master the attraction, development and inspiration of
a talented team that adds value to the client base.
For those who previously built their career on technical skills and quantitative
analysis the shift to an emphasis on people, both inside and outside of their
organisation, can be a major hurdle. The emphasis on soft skills becomes even
more marked at Partner level. The stars in the industry combine vision with
delighting clients and other stakeholders of their firm. Those in the industry know
that even the best known firms have only a small number of people who are able to
combine all the assets.
The figure illustrates the difficult leap emerging leaders must make as they are
challenged to manage a successful transition in the middle of their consultancy
Rising to a leadership position in the industry means leaving behind what may once
have attracted an individual to the industry in the first place. However, in recent
years developments have demonstrated that it is most crucial for successful firms
to have leaders who rise up to the challenge.
Leading firms will invest in developing leadership capabilities. In fact, in the
current environment of lost trust, heightened scrutiny, increased competition, and
less tolerance for wrongdoing consultancy firms may no longer have a free choice
but will be forced to take proactive steps towards developing critical leadership
Sabine Dembkowski PhD email@example.com
is based in Cologne, Germany. She is Director of The Coaching Centre. She trained
as a top-executive coach with leading institutions in the US (LoreInternational), UK
(School of Coaching) and Germany. Before becoming an international executive
coach she worked as a top management consultant for A.T.Kearney and Monitor
Company in London. Today she supports leaders across Europe in organisations such
as for example Roland Berger, Citibank, Deutsche Telekom, Procter & Gamble,
Metro Group AG and Merck. Sabine is one of the foundation members of the EMCC
Fiona Eldridge is Director of The Coaching and Communication Centre, a Master
Practitioner and a Certified Trainer of Neuro Linguistic Programming. She is a
member of EMCC and is a member of their committee working on competencies
and standards. Fiona has extensive senior board level experience in both the public
and private sectors in the UK and is currently non executive chairman of a large
recruitment company and non executive director of NHS Professionals. Fiona has
appeared on television and radio and is a frequent contributor to newspapers and