I changed 9 schools as a kid….here’s how it helped me become a better Management Consultant

Photo by Max Fischer, on Pexels

Before you start feeling sorry for me and expect a sob story — I’m an Army brat. THAT’s the reason I’ve changed 9 schools and lived in more than 20 cities to date.

This lifestyle has given me several personality quirks, one of them being that I want to change apartments every 2 years! Or at the very least, redecorate every few months….which leaves my “lived in the same city till I was 25” husband quite baffled most of the time.

While this trait has not impacted my success as a management consultant, the ones I list below, have definitely helped me showcase the soft skills that are so important in climbing up the Consulting ladder:

1. Dealing with change and ambiguity:

As an army kid, it was pretty much the norm to change schools every 2 years when my dad got posted to a new location. A bit uncommon, though not unheard of, was changing schools in a few months because your dad got posted to a high-security area or ‘field’ area when countries started fighting.

As a Consultant, you are expected to start a new project every few months. And each day at the same project can be very different, with changing priorities, deadlines, and client requests. Read more about a typical day in Consulting here

2. Building rapport:

Did I mention changing 9 schools as a kid? That translates to building 9 different sets of friends. Leave out the smaller grades and that translates to building at least 5 different sets of friends over approximately 10 years. That means entering a zero comfort zone with NO friends every 2 years and starting from scratch. And then a lot of emails to stay in touch!

Did I mention you’re on a new Consulting project every 2–3 months? You are expected to meet a new set of client stakeholders every few months, build rapport, deliver a stellar project, and nurture that relationship to stay a trusted advisor to the client.

3. Problem solving:

The one thing that growing up with so much change and uncertainty taught me, was that I could apply 2 principles to almost everything:

- I can figure this out, OR

- This too shall pass

When you think about it, those are pretty much the 2 options in life for any situation. The same is the case for Management Consulting as a profession. If you’re at a ‘non-smooth-sailing’ project (which happens 90% of the time), you will either:

- figure out a solution that makes everyone happy and hence, you become a Rockstar, OR

- you’ll just do your best and complete the project

4. Willing to adapt:

I once studied in a school, where a Physics teacher marked me a zero on a correct answer because I had drawn the diagram with dotted lines vs. dashes! To quote Angry Birds II…”Are you fweaking kiddin me?!”

In Consulting, you’ll work with scores of clients, with different work styles and personalities. I’m not saying you need to agree with everyone, but there is an art to identifying your client’s work personality and knowing when to adapt to their style, vs. when to offer them advice that is contrary to their view but for the overall benefit of the project.

5. Ramping up fast:

Spending my childhood across so many places meant that occasionally, I landed up in a new school mid-term. So I had usually missed the first 2 months of school and the mid-term exams were around the corner. I had to borrow notes, put in extra hours, and beg the teacher for extra coaching time to catch up with the class.

In a new Consulting project, you are expected to get up to speed within the first week, after which the ‘new consultant’ tag wears off. Consultants usually ramp up fast via kick-off workshops, 1-on-1 meetings, and deep-dive work-sessions in the first week to quickly piece together all the inputs and understand the problem in-depth.

6. Appreciation of different cultures:

Growing up in the Army family or “unit” meant interacting with families from different parts of the country, sharing recipes, celebrating festivals together, and lots of parties.

Working across 2 Big4 Consulting firms taught me the importance of celebrating diversity in people, their skills, and bringing them together to deliver the best value for our clients. My proudest teamwork moment in Consulting was when, 2 weeks into working with a brand new team of colleagues, the client commented that they assumed we had been working for years together!

An Army life is not for the faint of heart ….. and neither is Consulting as a career. Both will challenge you, both will change you, but when you come out on the other side of that experience, you will know you can figure out anything.

Before You Go…

For free resources that give practical, tangible steps to develop the 8 Key Consulting skills and real-life examples from my 10-year Big4 Management Consulting career check out www.byondgood.com



Big4 consultant, Mentor, Coach, Founder of www.byondgood.com https://www.linkedin.com/in/punya-sandhu-a560082/

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