Why Many CEOs Don’t Use Executive Consulting, Despite Wishing They Could

11 November 2015

Success in business is based on strong leadership; a fact that plays heavily on the minds of many executives the world over.  Many business leaders believe that all of their actions should convey absolute confidence, and that seeking outside guidance or assistance shows weakness.  This, unfortunately, is a counterproductive mode of thought in that it places limitations on business leaders.

Recent enquiries into whether business executives seek external betterment, in the form of executive consulting, showed that roughly two-thirds of them do not.  However, almost all of the executives involved in a Stanford survey indicated that they wished they could make use of executive consulting.

Why CEOs Don’t Use Executive Consulting

The situation is somewhat perplexing; the Stanford survey indicates that the vast majority of business leaders are open to executive consulting, and yet roughly 66 percent do not make use of it.  Why, in a large group of strategic business minds, is this happening?  The answer lies in one of two fundamental possibilities:

  1. Perceived Stigma

Possibly the biggest deterrent for many business leaders is that they perceive executive consulting in a negative light. They believe that any request for help will be seen by the company as corporate weakness, and someone who has climbed the corporate ladder to the helm of a company cannot afford to be regarded as weak in any way.

Furthermore, many CEOs and business leaders believe that consulting is merely remedial, and thus the usage of an executive consultant would amount to the admittance that there are leadership problems which need addressing.  Here again, if an executive has worked towards a leadership position, that executive will not easily accept the idea that he or she has any leadership flaws.

Both of these factors and others that contribute to executive consulting having a negative connotation in the minds of executives should be discarded.  Let us use as an example of an industry that depends heavily on consulting for the achievement of excellence; sports.  Athletic talent is certainly a benefit when it comes to success in sports, but the nurturing of that talent by a knowledgeable consultant is often the factor that allows athletes and teams to realise their complete potential.

So many sports teams and individual athletes credit their success entirely to their consulting, which paints them in a very positive light.  So, when top athletes believe so strongly in consulting as a key factor in the achievement of excellence, why do certain business leaders shy away from the idea?  Seeking executive consulting should not be seen as weakness, and even weakness itself should not create fear.

  1. Inconsistent Quality Levels

A second deterrent might be the fact that the standards surrounding executive consulting are somewhat inconsistent.  CEOs who experience bad consulting will refrain from referring to their colleagues, which perpetuates the stigma.

However, in business, as with many areas in life, there are companies which represent the upper echelon of service excellence, and those that are less concerned with the quality of their products or services.  CEOs and business leaders wishing to receive a constructive consulting experience should thus research and seek the companies renowned for their consulting proficiency.

The Impact of Executives’ Hesitance Regarding Executive consulting

The aforementioned factors contribute to the statistics regarding business leaders’ hesitance when it comes to seeking executive consulting .  But, if those factors could be magically removed, would the majority of CEOs then turn to executive consulting.  Based on current thought, the answer would be a resounding ‘Yes’.

Aside from the fact that almost 100 percent of CEOs involved in the survey admitted that they were open to executive consulting, it would appear that CEOs crave many of the outcomes offered by expert consulting.  Among these are:

Removal of the Stigma

This is something that might not happen overnight, but current trends indicate that any negative connotations are well on their way to being neutralised.  Of the CEOs who currently receive executive consulting, nearly 80 percent sought it out under their own steam.  This is certainly important in executive consulting is perceived as a tool to aid performance, as opposed to a remedial tool.

Discretion Regarding Progress

As any stigma associated with executive consulting is well on its way to being removed, the need for secrecy is no longer as desired as it once was.  In fact, roughly 40 percent of CEOs receiving executive consulting have their results reported to their respective boards.  Such reporting can certainly improve relations between the board and the CEO, but the majority of CEOs are happy with the fact that their ‘progress remains confidential.

Conflict Resolution

Studies indicated that effective conflict resolution skills are of most concern to CEOs undergoing executive training.  This doesn’t necessarily pertain to employees who don’t get on with each other.  Many parts of a CEO’s job are centered on conflict – in fact, many of a company’s difficult decisions land on the CEO’s desk.  Dealing with issues such as stakeholders’ conflicting agendas is an area in which many CEOs are appreciative of their executive consulting.

Succession Planning

Certain CEOs admitted that they require help in the field of proper delegation and internal talent development.  This is certainly an important aspect of business leadership and one of which boards are particularly appreciative.  Yet many CEOs who are uncertain of this aspect of business leadership are hesitant to admit their uncertainty for fear of showing weakness.

Intangible Skill Development

Conflict management, effective delegation, mentoring, succession planning and team building; these are qualities that many CEOs use executive consulting in order to strengthen.  However, prolific consultants can strengthen the intangible skills like motivation, persuasion, and empathy, and do so in such a way that these skills complement and supplement the ‘harder’ skill-set.

The incorrect perception among CEOs that undertaking executive consulting will lead to them being perceived as weak or uncertain is coupled with the unfortunate fact that some consultants are lacking proficiency.  However, with this perception changing, and CEOs willingly seeking executive consulting, the proficiency level is sure to rise and force underperforming consultant from the market.  In the meantime, CEOs can greatly increase their own skill-set, and their standing in the eyes of board members, by finding and enlisting the services of leading players in the executive consulting field.


This article was contributed by Shirish Agarwal from Flow20, who offer web design, SEO and other digital marketing solutions.

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