You know, sometimes your value as a consultant lies not only in your deliverables, but in your “hidden roles” – skills that may be invisible to the client and the team, but which require years to refine. These hidden roles are never written into your contract. Mastery of these roles moves your service from good to excellent to indispensable.
Listening, acknowledging, and maintaining your integrity in conflicting situations all lead to establishing yourself as a true “trusted advisor” – and none of this is simple.
A consultant enters a company as an expert and as an outsider. As an outsider entering an existing culture, you will be quickly (if not immediately) judged one of two ways: as the spy for management, or as the trusted advisor to the team (and as a conduit to management). Respected or suspected by the teams you are hired to help, you can use your expertise and your position as an outsider to your advantage.
Sometimes the politics of the culture, or a single personality, is set against you before you arrive. I remember once being abandoned repeatedly in every country in Europe by an International Manager of a Fortune 500 client, who had decided, before he met me, that I was sent to spy on him and cost him his job (or take over his job – neither of which was the case). Each country manager was so offended by his behavior, and by my acceptance of his position, that they defended me in all the subtle, behavioral ways that welcomed me to their inside circle.
Another time I used these skills to resolve a long-standing conflict between two Vice Presidents, which was stalling the momentum of an early stage software company. These hidden roles were executed so transparently that those involved do not know any skill has been involved at all. What made me laugh was being told I hadn’t needed to arrive at all!