The Biggest Challenge Facing a Business Adviser

The biggest challenge I have had as an adviser to the owners and/or managers of businesses who are seeking help to improve the profitability and value of their enterprise is typically encapsulated in the saying “a fish stinks from the head down.”

Businesses that are performing at a high level achieve that result because of good strategy, favorable market conditions, and good management. There may be a bit of luck in the mix of reasons but luck is often mistaken for the result of the interaction between preparation and and opportunity.

In another blog post I have described 11 client selection criteria I recommend for advisory work. I think the most important criterion is the willingness of the advisory prospect to have an open mind when addressing the challenges the business faces and to accept that management is largely responsible for its current state. Humility, curiosity and a big dose on emotional intelligence are the three most important attributes of an effective leader.

Having said that, the challenge that’s impossible to overcome is working with the top decision-maker who wants you to somehow get everyone else in the organization to change to fit his (or sometimes her) view of the world but refuses to change himself. These people usually have a very high IQ but a very low EQ. Here’s the interesting thing, IQ does not seem to be something that can be changed much, if at all, but EQ can if the person is willing to acknowledge it is a barrier to developing his/her leadership potential.

An assignment where your find yourself in this position is almost guaranteed to fail. My advice is to walk away from the engagement or focus your early attention on leadership advisory not business advisory.

Tim Brown, IDEO Co-Chair and Leading for Creativity Instructor summarizes the point I’m trying to make when he says: “If you think as a leader you can and should have all the answers, then you’re both wrong and significantly constraining the capacity of the organization to be creative.” 

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