One of my favorite characters in Star Wars is Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi. What I like best about him is his role (especially in the original Star Wars) was to make the main character, Luke Skywalker great. Obi-Wan was the guide, the confidence builder, the mentor and ultimately the protector. His sole focus was to make Luke Skywalker victorious and defeat the bad guys. At the climax of the film during the Rebel attack on the Death Star, Obi-Wan speaks to Luke through the Force to help him destroy the Imperial station for Luke’s victory.
Having been a consultant for a number of organizations and working regularly with consultants, Obi-Wan Kenobi is a great example of an ideal consultant. There are limitations to the analogy but just go with me.
Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, how to be an ideal consultant?
Be fresh eyes—as an outsider, you can see the forest, trees, and the scary “monster” hiding in the woods. Obi-Wan knew about “a great disturbance in the Force” and what to do next. Use your experience to see the threats, the successes and weak areas the team on the ground may not grasp. Bring perspective to situations the insiders are unable to see. Be concise, clear and understandable.
Be the trusted guide—you are the trusted guide, not the main character of the story but you still can fulfill your own mission. Make the leadership look good by how you coach and instruct them in the direction they need to go. Whether it is a major gift campaign, a social media strategy, business restructuring, creating a strategic plan or organizing a new infrastructure, your goal is to make your client look good. You may be recommending new leadership but at the end of the day, you are not the hero of the story. The guide exists to make sure the main character gets to where he/she needs to go. Once the main character is on their way to success, the guide like Obi-Wan usually disappears and his/her mission is complete.
Be the vision–Be a confidence builder and instill a belief system in your client and their team. Sometimes they will have no idea what they are capable of doing or becoming. That is where you cast a vision of where and what they can do. Luke Skywalker did not even know he was a Jedi until Obi-Wan encouraged him who he could become.
Be a cost saver—Show why you are needed. Obi-Wan had to convince Luke Skywalker his value. Consultant fees are rarely cheap but must always have the mindset of ROI. Show every step of the way how you have saved the organization money and how your services are improving what the org is doing now and in the future. Think like a manager and always know what their metrics are and what the bottom line is. If you do not, your services will not be needed regardless of how smart you are.
Be the shield–Sometimes the consultant has to become the bad guy and provide cover to his client before a board or stakeholders. Be the one to give the bad news, let people go or share the hard truths so the current team can save face. In Star Wars, Obi-Wan has an epic lightsaber duel with Darth Vader. The purpose of Obi-Wan’s duel is to distract Darth Vader so the main characters (Luke, Leia, Hans Solo and Chewbacca) can escape to fight the battle and become victorious.
Be a time saver—you are focused on saving time for an overloaded team. The team may be fully capable of doing what you provide but do not have the time. You are there to save time and provide margin for the organization.
Be a problem solver—you are there to solve problems, create margin, provide clarity, input fresh answers and create solutions for the organization. It was Obi Wan who redirects the Imperial troops and secures a way of escape to fly away via Han Solo and Chewbacca’s Millennium Falcon. Work out the details for your client. Bring organization, systems and new infrastructure to the solutions you have proposed. Anybody can brainstorm but a winning consultant sets systems and solutions in place.
Be direct but build credibility—Your job often is not to make friends but to speak truth. If you lack credibility (either earned or loaned to you) no one will be willing to “take the medicine” you have prescribed. Walk into the situation and be wiling to be the “bad guy” but trusted enough that people are willing to take your advice.
Be confident but humble—Too often consultants are condescending to highlight the fact they are needed. They come into a situation to let everyone know the current team are fools and they have all the solutions. The outside consultants would be wise to listen to the people on the ground. The existing team usually knows more than you think about their indigenous community even though they may be headed in the wrong direction.
I am grateful for the Obi-Wan consultants I have worked with and know they are vital to our success. They are wise and are a key part of our winning team.