Consultants and the “outsourcing of leadership”

Take a look around your workplace. Are there consultants buzzing around, addressing practically every major pending concern or decision your organization faces? If the answer is “yes,” then it’s likely that your employer is engaging in what a friend of mine brilliantly calls the “outsourcing of leadership.”

Targeted assistance vs. abdicating leadership

High quality organizations aren’t afraid to reach out for help when the need arises. This may include retaining a consultant with special expertise to address a specific situation or challenge.

Low quality organizations, however, seem to retain consultants for just about everything. Senior managers who lack the knowledge to guide their organizations or the courage to own tough decisions often hire consultants to do the work for them. When difficult actions are necessary, these managers are quick to hide behind a consultant’s recommendations.

The outsourcing of leadership suggests that the skill sets and personal characteristics of senior managers are deficient, but rare is the consultant who will be in a position to say that. Instead, the consultant may be more like an advisor to a ship’s captain who can’t decide how to allocate seats in the lifeboats after ramming the boat into the iceberg.

Is coaching an option?

In cases where top managers are willing to invest time, energy, and accountability into changing their ways for the better, executive coaching may be a viable option.

In his book Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core (2008), coach and therapist Bruce Schneider presents a case study of how he coached a company president who realized that he had to change in order to bring out the best in his employees. Schneider details how this executive transformed himself, and in the process reversed the fortunes of his fading company, while managing to retain most of his workers and inspiring them to change their attitudes as well.

From the top

The choices start at the top. Smart, bold choices may result in positive change. Hiring layers of consultants to do the heavy lifting may have an opposite result, or at best maintain a dysfunctional status quo.

2 responses

  1. Why should leadership change? It’s much easier to hire a consultant with a Kumbaya-approach. Then everybody feels good (except the target, of course).

  2. In my situation, an outside consultant was brought in (at my request) to facilitate a discussion with me and the mob of co-workers who claimed I was “harsh, abrupt, terse, and unkind” when I was working 80 hours on seven consecutive night shifts on alternate weeks (permitted because the collective agreement allowed 12 hour shifts and bi-weekly averaging). He said that the way I was being treated was “immature and immoral”, and that I was “owed an appropriate response”. I don’t know if he made any recommendations outlining what that might be.

    I waited longer than I thought was reasonable for an appropriate response, and resigned when nothing significant changed for the better.The leadership in my unit felt they had done all that was necessary simply by having arranged the discussion. The dysfunctional status quo was maintained, and I somehow don’t think that my departure improved the situation for anyone other than myself!

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