Consulting’s 10 Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement
Consulting’s Rules of Engagement

Are consultants better, smarter and more driven than client employees?

Based on some of my previous writings you might have gotten the impression that I believe that.  But that would be a gross over-generalization.  In reality, I’ve met some of the most dedicated, passionate and competent employees at client sites.

I’ve always thought they would make excellent consultants. But they found a calling and made a career choice that they hopefully enjoy.

I don’t want to come off as another one of those arrogant consultants who thinks they’re better than anyone who isn’t a consultant.

But I have noticed that, although clients have plenty of highly engaged employees, not every client employee shares the same passion.  In consulting, high engagement is the standard cost of entry.  Consulting firms expect their consultants to be at the top of their game every day.

So how does a consultant stay engaged going from client to client, sometimes across different industries? Here are ten secrets that I’ve found helpful.

The rules of engagement

  1. Learn the client’s business.  I don’t mean just the area of business that relates to your project. Become familiar with their other lines of business and all of the products and services they offer.  Learn as much as you can about their industry.  Find out who their competitors are and how each is positioned in that industry. This will help make you more aware of how your project fits into their overall strategy and will most likely make you more interested in the project.
  2. Connect the dots.  Gain an understanding of how one aspect of the business affects the others.  If they have several lines of business, there is more than likely some interrelation.  The better you understand how each area relates to the other, the easier it will be to make the abstract more understandable.  When you know what they’re talking about across business lines, you’re more likely to stay engaged.
  3. Be an active participant.  When attending meetings, join in the conversation.  Avoid speaking just to be heard.  If you start stating facts just to exhibit how much you know, you’ll quickly lose credibility.  But participating in the conversation rather than being a bystander is an excellent way of staying engaged.
  4. Learn the org chart.  Identify who the formal and informal decision makers are within the organization.  The organization chart should show you formally who makes decisions.  Meeting people and learning who has influence without the big titles helps to know how decisions are really made within the organization.  The more detail you know about how it all works together makes it more interesting, improving your focus.
  5. Find ways to make the mundane more interesting.  I’ve been in meetings with the monotony of Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Bueller? Bueller? – If you have never seen this movie, I highly recommend it.)  I’ve had to fight the urge to either fall asleep or kill someone.  I learned to challenge myself to make a list of things I learn from these meetings.  It forces me to listen more closely and see how long of a list I can create.
  6. Get plenty of sleep.  If you’re tired at work all day, you’re more likely to space out and shut down. Getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night will keep you sharp.  It’s also important to keep a similar sleep schedule on weekends.  Some people try to ‘catch up’ on sleep during the weekend by sleeping in.    But like a short, dumpy person wearing capris, you’re only making the situation worse.  Sleeping late on Sunday makes it harder to get to sleep on time Sunday night.  You end up starting the week tired and unengaged.
  7. Exercise daily. You may think it will tire you out, but getting even 20 minutes of exercise in the morning can invigorate you for the rest of the day.  The short-term and long-term effects are huge.
  8. Limit alcohol consumption.  A couple of drinks here and there is fine if you like to imbibe.  But overdoing it, even on the weekends eventually takes its toll on your ability to concentrate at work.
  9. Look forward to work.  I once got into a rut at a time when I didn’t like my job.  I had a tough client and little support from my firm.  I ended up leaving that firm but retained the habit of waking up dreading each day at my new job.  After a while, I realized that I enjoyed the day a lot more than I anticipated.  I would have been happier if I would have just kept a more positive attitude.
  10. Drink lots of water.  Dehydration sneaks up on you.  You get tired and droopy.  Caffeine and sugary drinks will give you a temporary and artificial high, but will bring you back down quickly.  I love my coffee, but I make sure to compensate for its dehydrating effect by drinking even more water.


To be a successful consultant, you have to be passionate about what you do.  This doesn’t always come naturally.  There are things you must do and things you must avoid to stay engaged and fuel your passion.

See my related post: Wake Up, Be Alert

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms. 

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