Nobody likes a know-it-all consultant

by Vault Consulting Editors | March 03, 2010

  • My Vault

Last week, I wrote about Dominic Barton, McKinsey's managing director, and his rise to the top. Of the salient qualities that helped him nab that role is his ability to recognize his shortcomings, and his ability to accept (and learn from) failure.

These qualities struck me again as I read this review of management consultant Patrick Lencioni's new book: Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding the Three Fears that Sabatoge Client Loyalty. A primary complaint that companies have with consultants is that they see these sharp, often young, external "experts"—who often have no specialized expertise in their specific industry—waltz into their office and attempt to make substantive changes, assuming that they can do no wrong. Lencioni tries to combat this frustration in his book, urging consultants to be honest with clients and admit their fallibility ("getting naked," so to speak). He points out three fears that generally make consultants avoid this direct, upfront approach: fear of losing business, fear of embarrassment and fear of inferiority.

Lencioni argues that getting naked, figuratively speaking (I won't even touch the literal interpretation), will show clients that the consultant is working in their best interest, which will ultimately boost client trust and retention. He also claims that this approach will help winning clients over in the sales process: "It allows firms to be more open, more generous and less desperate in the sales process, and creates great differentiation from more traditional sales approaches."

But as Jerry Seinfeld famously pointed out, there is such a thing as bad naked ("I can't. I can't look anymore. I-I-I've seen too much!"). Does this also apply to the naked consultant approach? Says Lencioni, "I don't know if you can be too naked, but you can be emotionally unintelligent. Some people just have a low social IQ. Being vulnerable doesn't mean you go in to your client every day and talk about your sick cat or you're constantly being falsely self-deprecating. They're not looking for that. They're looking for honesty within the context of your job."

Filed Under: Consulting

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