Soapbox: Consultative Leadership

Consultative Leaders gather and expand their own knowledge base, and also are the leaders who guide and direct from wisdom and experience.

By Jim Hornickel, Director, Training & Development, Bold New Directions

There are as many schools of thought about leadership as there are leaders. But in the larger view, one can say there are two basic types: leading “at” and leading “with.” And these two opposite models or sets of comprising actions can be called “Command and Control” and “Consultative Leadership.”

Since Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Tom Peters, and others came on the scene beginning in the late ’70s, top-down, directorial, and autocratic leadership slowly has been edged out. But there are still far too many of these old-school “leaders” remaining on Wall Street, in corporations, and globally heading intolerant regimes. The evidence of their antiquated approach isapparent in the negative impact on untold millions of humans.

So let’s frame this view of leadership using the “WIIFM” (What’s In It For Me) and “WIIFT” (What’s In It For Them) factors.

What’s In It For Me?

WIIFM to lead “at” people? The power (and often compelling money) associated with the old command-and-control model is enticing to the false self, the ego. The ego can be a powerful force within humans, especially when they are unaware of how their ego operates. The ego’s primary job starts out as a noble one: It protects us. But what it mostly protects is emotional damage. If it perceives any kind of threat, it goes into its defensive maneuvers, and we call that the “Right/Wrong Game”: I’m right, and you’re wrong. We also call this “Blame and Defend.” The extreme examples are leaders at entities such as Goldman Sachs, Citi Corp, and Libya. The problem with this is two-fold. First, blame and defend is separating, and that squashes true leadership right in its path. Second, the more we allow of this activity, the more the ego wants of us. It can take over our lives and adversely affect the lives of others. Command-and-control leadership is a strong model for the ego to grasp to feed its needs.

WIIFM to lead “with” people? There is still lots of room for having “power” using alternate forms of leadership such as Consultative Leadership; power that also feeds our higher self, our true self. The power to influence and persuade can be accomplished with more positive intent and outcomes for the greater good. A small shift in thinking can show how massive fulfillment can satisfy both the ego and our true self. Fulfillment of both aspects brings stronger overall reward. And stronger reward is more motivating. Once you get used to being more deeply fulfilled, becoming a Consultative Leader from the WIIFM factor is a no-brainer.

So what does it mean to be a Consultative Leader? There are two main sides to this practice: incoming and outgoing. To be consultative invites the incoming. You are aware your team members have lots of experience and knowledge that, if you garner it, gives you lots more information to work with in making your critical decisions. You do not lead in a vacuum, and you simply cannot know everything.

A Consultative Leader also consults. That is, you have important information to give to your team members, and they will be more effective if they have your information to work with.

So again, your WIIFM has these two routes for satisfaction: being a practitioner of gathering and expanding your own knowledge base, and also being the leader who guides and directs from wisdom and experience.

Now let’s expand the reward factor by looking at WIIFT; “them” being your team members in business. Why would your employees want you to be a Consultative Leader? Most people want to be listened to, consulted with. Having input is powerful, and involved employees feel that power as morale strengthening. We know staff members with higher morale produce more because they are enjoying their work more. And, if managed correctly, higher productivity yields more profitability. That’s actually another WIIFM for you that is satisfied.

Getting Results

Since there is so much gain for both you and your team members with Consultative Leadership, it now makes sense to look at some skills you can strengthen for getting better Consultative Leader results.

Platinum Rule: Treating other people like they want to be treated. Everyone is individually different (including you) and to ensure the best relationships, it is best to get to know your team members in deeper ways. How do they process information? Are they more social or more task oriented? Do they have strong, self-confident personalities or are they more collaborative and easygoing? We recommend studying the common four-quadrant behavior style models and adding this to your tool kit. DiSC is one model that can be found easily by searching the Internet.

Values: Values are those inner qualities that everyone has, and these drive human motivation. We have found it is not that our values differ but rather that our priority of values differs. What is important to you may well be less important to your staff members and vice versa. So to deepen relationships, you need to discover (not assume or guess) what your people hold most dear and genuinely honor those as best you can within budgetary and other limits.

Responsiveness: In polls taken by institutions such as Harvard and Stanford Universities, a large proportion of employees who leave say it is because of “poor managers.” And one morale sapper is a manager-leader who does not complete the communication loop. Gathering information as a Consultative Leader is an important step, but if your team members do not hear what is being done with their information, they can still feel left out. You can’t always share everything you know as a manager-leader, but you can always find ways to share some information, even if only the big picture. Or you can let people know their input was valuable but just not applicable this time. The key is to stay in touch with them.

Manage by Walking Around: Since staying in touch is so important, you need to be visible on a regular basis. If you are a decentralized department, have regular video conference calls. The Adair Leadership Model says that we managers divide our time in three ways: our own tasks, time for the team, and time for individuals. As I have traveled around the world facilitating management and leadership programs, the greatest majority of manager-leaders say they spend 80 percent of their time on tasks. That only leaves 20 percent to be divided between team and individuals.

Delegate: Delegating frees you up to do more important things than spending time on tasks others can do. The more you delegate, the more time you have to attend to team and individuals. And the more you delegate the right things to the right team members, the richer their jobs can become. That is a win-win practice.

We’ve looked at why so-called leaders manage “at” people and how shifting to managing “with” as a Consultative Leader brings even more personal and professional satisfaction and success to you (WIIFM) and your employees (WIIFT). We’ve reviewed practices designed to enhance your relationships and effectiveness and suggested ways of gaining more information on your journey. Now it’s up to you to assess where you are on the spectrum of “at” or “with” leadership, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get there.

The power to influence and persuade can be accomplished with more positive intent and outcomes for the greater good. A small shift in thinking can show how massive fulfillment can satisfy both the ego and our true self. Fulfillment of both aspects brings stronger overall reward. And stronger reward is more motivating. Once you get used to being more deeply fulfilled, becoming a Consultative Leader from the What’s In It For Me factor is a no-brainer.

Manager-leader specialist Jim Hornickel is the director of Training & Development at Bold New Directions. Along with a B.A. in Management, Hornickel’s professional experience includes 25 years as a manager-leader in several industries; life, leadership, and relationship coaching; and authoring “Managing From The Inside Out (16 Insights for Building Positive Relationships With Staff)” ( and For more information, visit and

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.