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Leadership Lessons from consultants in business series - Part two: Communication and collaboration

Consultancy provides a vast array of skills from experience advising various companies and is fast proving to be a valuable background to have for leadership positions within other sectors.

With more consultants choosing to make the switch into the corporate world and moving up the ladder to top jobs, we took a look at leadership lessons from some top CEOs who have consulting backgrounds.

Read the first part of the series ‘The basics’ here

  • Careful when saying home truths – Consultants are paid for speaking up at every available opportunity about every single issue imaginable and to give straight talk to leadership teams. Though this is a useful skill for leader big business by being able to see ways to optimise processes, as a member of a board, you must take into careful account the seasoned executives who know the complicated relationships, history and politics at play within the organisation which may need a more nuanced approach.
  • Reward the young leaders of tomorrow – Showing you appreciate those below you who are aiming to take on more leadership responsibilities is vital. They will be the leaders of tomorrow and should be rewarded for hard work and delivering results, not taken for granted. 
  • Become a mentor  - To help staff lower on the career ladder, mentoring can be an extremely useful system which can also benefit the leader too. Staff are often sorely neglected because of lack of time and attention devoted to their supervision and development. In most executive leadership literature, 40% of a CEOs time should be spent on developing their employees. But of course, this is not usually the case. Former McKinsey consultant and now CEO of BG Group, Helge Lund, recommends that leaders seek to get their mentees to continuously develop and hone their skills through stretch assignments.
  • Listen and Learn not dictate – The most successful leaders are those who are prepared to listen and learn from everyone in their team, no matter what position they hold. Teamwork is a case of saying 'I haven't got an answer to this, but between us we'll figure it out' – leaders who think that they have all the answers will quickly become undone. Not only this, but organisations that promote listening and learning create a 'winning culture' that allows for a continuous learning cycle of more teaching, learning and therefore the creation of new ideas and knowledge.
  • Over communication is always better than under communication – Some processes may be too complicated for employees to understand from just a meeting or two. An idea for the business might be clear in your head but has to be understandable to everyone. Nigel Wilson, CEO of Legal and General and former McKinsey consultant, advises that 'Information is power and it’s more powerful the wider it is socialised.' Remain close to individual teams (which is becoming ever more easier with the use of project management apps) as well as making sure people know what they should be trying to achieve long term to engage in operational and strategic problem solving. Creating an atmosphere of trust and openness is a critical aspect of leadership so that all questions can be asked and answered without fear, particularly in big organizations where information can easily get lost at different points of a communication stream amongst a large team of people.

So communication and collaboration is a key to success, especially for those in leadership positions; don’t discount those who are more junior and work as a team are a few take-outs from the advice given by top CEOs.

Look out for the next part of our ‘Leadership Lessons’ series, and read the first part here