The Leadership Style of a Consultant

Leading as a consultant requires changing and adapting your leadership style according to the needs of the organization

leadership style

There are all kinds of leaders with different management styles and expectations, but the leadership style of one might not work for others. An executive’s chances of success depend on multiple factors like their personality, past experiences, why they are brought in and the type of project they’re working on.

Because of the temporary and dynamic nature of their work, interim executives need to be flexible in their leadership style. They need to switch styles to manage client expectations as well as get the job done. This may require varying styles within the same company depending on the culture, the individual personalities and what needs to be accomplished.

Inconsistent situations

Interim executives or management consultants are often brought in specifically to help change or form a leadership process in the organization. Because they’re brought in to fill a role temporarily and at a time of change, there’s a lot of inconsistency. The interim executive’s primary purposes there is to bring consistency to the situation. This can often be a challenge since so many are resistant to change, and the executive needs to adjust accordingly.

“Sometimes it probably feels like Jekyll and Hyde, and you’ve got multiple personalities in a given day depending on what situation you’re in, which company you’re in, what that culture is, and who you’re working with throughout the organization,” said Kristen McAlister at Cerius Executives on the Business Today Podcast. “In most cases, the executives that we work with haven’t made it to the point in their careers by being that aggressive, overbearing type… some of that is just natural selection; they vet themselves out, or they’re vetted out at that point.”
There isn’t a black and white line between the various personalities and work styles. Sometimes it is a subtle difference. It is the subtle differences that can help rebuild or cause additional turmoil to a company.

Matching leadership style to a situation

When nothing is making sense anymore, there’s a great assessment tool to help you match leadership style to a situation. It doesn’t zero down on the culture and personality of the leader, but rather instead at their work style.
“If we can change, alter and adjust our personalities, but our work styles are a little more consistent in what type of work style we are most comfortable with,” said Kristen. “So looking at that, you go through an assessment of what work style works best for this company and the role that they’re looking to fill. And also, the work style of the executives that we work with.”

You can have two executives with the exact same skill set and knowledge, but it’s how they address the situation, how they work within it and what their approach is that can make one successful and the other fail. According to Kristen, “matching that leadership style with the situation is key.”

For example, if you are the CEO of a growing company and you are accustomed to doing most things yourself it is sometimes difficult to transition the work and trust others to do it thoroughly and well. The result is a period of micro-management. In turn, if we are placing a part-time executive in a CFO role to work with this CEO, we want one that works well with micro-managers and can be patient, understanding and communicate well through the transition. Not every executive works well in that environment. Understanding the work style of the executive and what is needed or expected by the client can be critical.

Strike the right balance

According to the University of San Diego, leadership can be categorized into three kinds of interpersonal behaviors: aggressive, non-assertive, and assertive. Aggressive leaders humiliate employees and get what they want at the expense of others. A non-assertive leader does not express their ideas and wants and often does not get what they want, resulting in pent-up anger and resentful feelings. While an assertive leader stands up for their ideas in a way that does not violate the rights of others, creating respect between leaders and their subordinates. The last kind strikes the right balance by often getting what they want and feeling good, valued and respected in the workplace.

One of the many abilities of a leader is to be aggressive when the situation demands it, or assertive if needed. They switch according to the needs of the situation. But executives that leave a permanent position in an organization for an interim one have to learn to play the field according to the client’s expectations. It’s a big change for them to no longer be in charge and be in line with what that CEO or board require.


Kristen McAlister

Kristen McAlister joined Pamela Wasley to purchase Cerius. She has spent most of her career helping companies establish and improve their infrastructure for high growth. She has grown companies and created optimal infrastructure from both an operational and client management perspective. Kristen has spent the last ten years teaching companies how to leverage executives for transitional situations such as high growth and turnarounds. She is a national speaker and is published on topics ranging from operations and productivity to talent management and the contingent workforce. Kristen is a mother, Ironman, and Marine wife. Click here to learn about Kristen McAlister and send her a question.

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  2. […] have different management/ leadership styles and expectations, but what works for some might not work for others. An executive’s chances for […]

  3. […] have different management/ leadership styles and expectations, but what works for some might not work for others. An executive’s chances for […]

  4. It’s amusing to learn that in companies there are times they hire these interim executives to help them make the leadership consistent for a better growth in a company. That’s wonderful since one should never stop growing and learning. Personally, I think these interims can be a win-win situation for companies since they are there to change your companies wrong ways to a better one. Thanks for the informative read about leadership style consultants and interims!

  5. Outstanding posts!This article has a great explanation I like how you connect the leadership in consulting!

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