Coming back to the question from the young consultant, she asked me “what would you say is the single most important ability for you as an advisor?” I thought for a while before responding: “the ability to keep my mouth shut”. She looked at me like I just fell out of the sky, so some further explanation was needed.
In my experience, especially when advising management, they have fewer people to confide in. It is a common phrase that “the closer to the top you get, the lonelier it gets”. And it is true in a lot of aspects, these people have a lot of responsibility and power to influence the everyday working life of people working in the organization, so most of them are very careful about speaking their mind too early for fear of being either misinterpreted or causing rumors that could potentially be damaging.
I’m going to use Tom as an example. Tom is CIO of a large company, and Tom is not his real name, by the way.
We were reviewing a vision and potential strategies to support it, and what each strategy would mean for internal business processes (ways of working) etc. I soon realized that Tom was in desperate need of a sounding board, and sometimes, not even that. Just the opportunity to formulate his thoughts calmly into the spoken word was enough to unlock several strategies and business opportunities.
My task would then be to simply probe and interrogate those strategies from different angles, and offer possible consequences to both ways of working and viable implementations.
If I had not kept my mouth shut to give Tom time to arrange his thoughts, his creative thinking process would have been interrupted, and the sessions nowhere near as valuable.
I’ve seen this pattern repeat itself with several clients.
Another essential rule is to never, ever relate anything from any such conversation as the one described above outside of the room, unless explicitly told to. They are to always be treated as confidential to foster an environment for candidness and openness. The reason being that if not adhering to that rule, rumors tend to start flying about new directions, they get tweaked along the way and before you know it, the organization is in turmoil.
Outcome: You will have failed as an advisor, your client will never trust you again, you will not work with that company anymore and the grapevine will ensure that you get less opportunities to work with other companies as well.
So, yeah, I would definitely say that an advisors most important ability is knowing when to keep your mouth shut.