By Susan Hitchcock
Founder & Host Emerita of Women in Leadership
There are people who are fascinating to talk to, and Dr. Constance Dierickx is certainly one of them. Of course her credentials and accomplishments are impressive – a clinical psychologist; company president; trusted business advisor and executive coach; author and keynote speaker; HBR and Forbes contributor; and – an unabashed advocate for women’s leadership and advancement.
But what’s particularly unique is the moniker Constance has earned from her CEO and board member clients. To them she’s “The Decision Doctor”®. In addition, she’s also known as a consultant’s consultant. How all this came about is – yes – a fascinating story.
Early life influences
Constance was born in Evanston, IL, outside of Chicago, but most of her memories are from Cocoa Beach, FL, where she grew up. Moving there with her family when she was in the first grade was not her happiest memory. However, her grandfather had retired there and wanted the family with him as he pursued new business opportunities in the area. “He was definitely an entrepreneur and started both a bank and an insurance company,” Constance said. “I learned a lot from him, things like resourcefulness and self-reliance. These have stayed with me throughout my life.”
Pretty quickly, Constance adapted to her new Southern environment and the surrounding amenities, e.g., a highly educated population, a surfing community, close proximity to Cape Canaveral, even personal interaction with astronauts like John Glenn! The school system there was also exceptional and allowed Constance to study subjects like psychology, philosophy, logic and marine biology.
“I graduated from high school with 38 students I’d known since first grade. It was an environment of close connections and high expectations.” Those expectations would set the course for her future as well.
One other memory and significant influence from Constance’s early life was Girl Scouts. “I remember one specific camping trip to Clayton, GA and hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Apparently our parents weren’t too worried about us and we were allowed to experience all kinds of challenges – and we obviously survived. All of our Girl Scout experiences taught us valuable life lessons – about leadership, teamwork and resilience.”
New beginnings, turning points and future focus
Sound decision-making was not how Constance chose Western Carolina University, but rather it was a certain boy. While that relationship didn’t last, neither did her journey towards her bachelor’s degree. “Sometimes when I speak, I like to introduce myself as a ‘college dropout’ because I want people to understand that we can learn to make better decisions that change our trajectory. I left college, married, and over the next 16 years, I had two children, got divorced, remarried and landed a job as a stockbroker, a job I actually hated. Even though I hated the job, my experience led me to understand what my life’s work should be.”
The year 1988 was a major turning point. Constance quit her job, enrolled at UNC Asheville and restarted her undergraduate journey – and it was an environment she loved. “By then,” she said, “I knew what I wanted to do, I was on a mission. I was aware that from a very early age, I noticed people, my family even called me the resident analyst. I was always interested in what people did and why they did it. When I was a stockbroker, I knew that people often made bad decisions with their money, both rationally and emotionally, and I was determined to understand more about that.”
By this point, Constance had developed a laser focus: to understand human decision-making. She began reading books on decision science and psychology, and later discovered the work of both Daniel Kahneman, a researcher in psychiatry and psychology, and Amos Tversky, an Israeli cognitive and mathematical psychologist. “I had been walking a very parallel path to the research in behavioral economics, but I had a lot to learn.”
Now Constance had to decide whether to study business or psychology. “If I studied business, I’d learn a lot about people’s ideas about how people make decisions, but if I studied psychology, I’d come to understand more about a lot of things that affect decision-making things that psychologists knew a lot about.” After receiving her BA in psychology, the next turning point came with a move to Atlanta where she started graduate school at Georgia State University, pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology.
“At GSU I sort of hung out around the business school and sat in on some classes. My professors knew I had a business background – and because I also had the wardrobe from my days as a broker, they would take me on their consulting engagements with major companies around the city. But back in grad school, to my clinical psychology classmates, I was a bit of an oddity. I also had a different perspective on the therapeutic contract around the money issue. Some people who study psychology and do clinical or counseling work are squeamish about talking about fees, but I wasn’t. So I really stood out.”
Later in her consulting career, Constance began to coach other consultants on this very subject. “It’s not just about the money, it’s about your value,” she would say, “you have to see yourself as a peer to the buyer. ”
Constance completed her PhD program in less than eight years – on time – as did the eight members of her class who made it through the first year. Her career really began with a global consulting firm in Amsterdam where she soon found herself working on a huge merger. “I didn’t know what I was doing in M&A but I knew how to do executive assessments. I just absorbed all I could on the business side from the CEO of the newly merged company (Bart Bechck). The combined company’s stock price doubled in 2 years post deal, a stunning achievement. I learned so much from his leadership and how he made decisions, how he chose his team, organized his people, and very intentionally defined the culture.”
As an example, Constance explained that when he was hiring, he would say, “I’m not asking you which candidate is better now, I’m asking you which one can do the job next year and the year after.”
That lesson has never left Constance. “I’m proud of the results we achieved there and equally proud that I was able to serve in a professional role while maintaining the mindset of a student. I learned a lot.”
Tapping into her experience with leaders, she wrote High-Stakes Leadership: Leading with Courage, Judgment and Fortitude and the following year, Constance co-authored The Merger Mindset: How to Get It Right in the High-Stakes World of Mergers, Acquisitions & Divestitures. In March, 2022, she’ll complete her latest book: Both/And: The Power of Conscious Decisions.
Describing her favorite consulting engagements, she said, “I enjoy working on things where there’s multiple layers of context, for example CEO transitions. That kind of work always involves the board. It turns out that boards are made up of usually smart, experienced, successful people that are also human beings. When there’s disagreement on something involving the board, the current and possible future CEO, I enjoy working in that situation. Transition work is very much in my wheelhouse, as is crisis – avoiding it, handling it, and provoking needed changes that some might perceive as crisis.”
Throughout her professional life, one thing clearly stands out. Constance loves to see people she works with, her clients and others, grow as leaders and as human beings. “It’s why I do what I do.”
It’s also clear that she’s become something of a “consultant’s consultant.” She wrote a resume for one woman who didn’t even recognize herself when she read what Constance had written. Constance understood the consultant’s real value, what she brought to the table, and helped her present herself without modesty or false humility. This is very valuable advice for any consultant!
In 2021, in recognition of her professional status, Constance received a major award presented by the Society for the Advancement of Consulting. She is the 2021 Consultant of the Year! Initially Constance wasn’t too sure about this award but then, she said, “I realized the nomination came from my peers and clients. I was humbled to find out what others had to say about how I’d helped them. It also has given me a broader platform to help other consultants.”
Giving back & other passions
Many of her non-profit volunteer efforts focus on women. Constance served as president of OnBoard, Georgias’s premier organization that raises awareness about and advocates for more women on public boards and in the C-suite. She also served on the national board of ION Women. Currently she’s an active member of the following boards: Partnership Against Domestic Violence and the Advisory Board of Executive Women of Goizueta. In 2020 Constance became a trustee at Mary Baldwin University (which is now co-ed) where she chairs the Governance and Trusteeship Committee.
Always a learner, Constance participated in an online master class in graphic design from David Carson, who she went to school with in Cocoa Beach. Currently she’s enrolled in an online course with Mirasee to learn from Danny Iny, an expert in developing profitable online businesses.
“I also did a speech not long ago which was translated into Burmese. The title was How to Maintain Team Cohesion in a Crisis.” That sounds like a very relevant topic to spread around the world!
Constance has plenty of exciting things on her plate for 2022 and beyond – a new book, new client engagements and the opportunity to take her consulting and decision-making expertise online, to go global. All of these suggest that the future is very bright for this SHEro who always finds new ways to grow and help others do the same.
Interview & Profile by: Susan Hitchcock, Founder of The Age of SHEroes