When clients are consultant shopping, one of their biggest concerns is whether the person they hire will actually address their identified business problem. This is not always as straightforward as it it seems because sometimes clients err in their own diagnosis ex. sometimes what is perceived to be a systems problems is really a "people problem". However,while the cause may be different, the result is still the same and that's what the consultant is hired to change. In it's simplest terms, the consultant has to answer a specific question or a specific set of questions.
One of the ways in which consultants run into difficulty is when they answer a totally different and unrelated question because it's what interests them. Clearly, that's not what they were hired to do [even though it may yield other improvements]. I was reminded of this when reading a weekly column by Jack & Suzie Welch in BusinessWeek recently (www.businessweek.com). Someone wrote in explaining that he was a successful "big account sales guy" but was looking for a way to stay current, excited about the work, & to avoid being seen as the *old guy*. Their answer was for him to become a mentor.
Now I am a big fan of mentors and mentoring but I do question whether that really best answers this man's question. To my mind, while mentors aren't necessarily "old guys", typically at least they are the extremely seasoned hands. If that's the perception the questioner is trying to avoid, well than Jack & Suzie haven't helped him. It would seem that what they've done is use his question to launch a discussion on another important subject, one that interests them-mentoring.
While no one has asked me to run GE yet [& aren't I ever the optimist!?], I'm going to take a stab at really trying to answer this question because I think it comes up a lot. Actually I think there a few ways to address his concern. One way that comes to mind, is to give professional talks, seminars, & to write for professional journals....and blog.....of course! Sharing one's expertise in this way creates the perception that you are on the cutting edge and an "expert." Plus it's a great way to drum up new business. Someone doing both of these things will a. always be learning [in addition to teaching], b. can potentially become a "rainmaker", & c. will make him/herself too necessary to be perceived as just "the old man/woman." In addition, they can still build a vital relationship as a mentor. Additionally, contributing to a strong "farm system" is an important ingredient in smart succession planning.