Consultants are in a unique leadership position. They serve within an organization, yet have no direct influence over the organization other than what is granted by the client. So, what leadership style should a consultant use?
Transactional leadership is a common leadership style used, which has a focus on the exchanges between leaders and those they oversee (Northouse, 2012). This is a natural choice, primarily because it is often modeled by teachers, politicians, or employers (Northouse, 2012). In the end, though, transactional leadership proves to be ineffective for the client/consultant relationship. A consultant is invited into a situation by the client with authority in the organization, and the client maintains the authority to dismiss the consultant, leaving the consultant as a peer to the client in the best case scenario, or as a contracted employee in the worst case scenario. Either way, the consultant does not have the necessary leverage to properly exercise transactional leadership over the client (Kuhnert & Lewis, 1987).
Another primary flaw with transactional leadership is that is does not individualize the needs of the subordinates or focus on their personal development (Northouse, 2012). As a consultant, it is vital to customize solutions for the clients served. The goal of a consultant is to implement change, and empower clients to manage themselves differently (Block, 2011). This sort of impact is more reflective of transformational leadership, where a connection is created that raises the level of motivation and morality in others (Northouse, 2012). Such a leader is attentive to the needs and motives of followers and attempts to guide them in reaching their greatest potential (Northouse, 2012). As consultants, this should be the desire for the clients: to guide their steps toward the realization of their greatest potential.
Block, P. (2011). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used (3rd ed). San Francisco: Pfeiffer.
Kuhnert, K. W., & Lewis, P. (1987). Transactional and Transformational Leadership: A Constructive/Developmental Analysis. Academy of Management Review, 12(4), 648–657. http://doi.org/10.5465/AMR.1987.4306717
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.