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Strategy Consulting: Managers vs Leaders

Managers in consulting come in all shapes and sizes.  They naturally have different styles and the junior consultants who are best at adjusting to them often have the most success.

Of course, when you get to the very top of a consultancy or any other organisation, managers tend to be good.  Partners are partners because they are good at management and in particular, because they are good at people.

Here we have had a look at some of the bad types of manager.  It is rare for anyone person to reflect all of the qualities of any single character, but we reckon you’ll know someone pretty similar.

1) The Micro Manager

The micro manager loves detail.  All his presentations are finely tuned and tick all the company template boxes.  His data sets never need a second test.  However, he’s just not cut out for managing others.  Because his own work his so technically robust, he finds it hard to trust anyone and probably thinks he could do better.  He peers over your shoulder 24/7 and can barely allow anyone to crack on without his constant supervision.  Between the multiple meetings he has arranged throughout the day to check on your progress, he will pop his head round the corner to ask how things are going.   Great at the technical stuff, less good at the people stuff.

2) The Turncoat

This manager is probably your buddy. He backs you and gives you a fair amount of freedom to do your work however you want to.  You enjoy working for him and produce some of your best analyses.  That is, until you get to the big meeting.  When he comes under fire from the client, he hangs you out to dry.  He will palm questions off to you that he should really be answering himself and even disagree with you in the middle of your presentation.  In an attempt to woo the client he will take their side, agreeing that your work sucks.  Of course, there was nothing he could do about it, regardless of the hours you spent together exploring and dismissing alternatives in the weeks before this meeting. 

3) The Competitor

The competitor is seriously insecure.  It took him too long to rise up the ranks to become your manager and he’s worried about people going past him.  He has probably worked at one company for his whole life, but he’s still worried about what everyone is thinking.  As a result, he is constantly comparing himself to the people he is meant to be mentoring.  Doesn’t want you to get credit for things that you wouldn’t have got credit for anyway.  Frustrating to work for, even worse to work with.

4) Hands Off Manager

Good fun.  May not always get good results, but definitely good fun.  He will do a bit of briefing at the start of the week and then let everyone get on with their own thing.  Well-liked within the firm but too interested in being everyone’s mate to quite make it.  His trust in his team can work wonders at times and at others, cause disasters.  Some can be incredibly good at making decisions on intuition.  Others would much rather delegate on the big issues.

Of course, the very best managers have a touch of all these archetypes.  They have the detail of the micro-manager, the intensity of the competitor and the trust of the hands off manager.   In moderation, obviously.  One of the greatest qualities of a good manager is knowing when to switch on these different sides of their personality; they are each appropriate to different scenarios, and more importantly, to different individuals.

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  • Will Bennett

    Will Bennett is a Cambridge graduate. He worked as a Consultant and Senior Consultant at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in London. Will is the Founder of The Cambridge Consultant.