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License My Dog, But Not Me

License My Dog, But Not Me

aI’ve become convinced that the consulting profession is better off with no licensing or national recognition at all.

I understand this is heresy, but it turns out to be pretty smart business. One of the great advantages of consulting is the ease of entry. You don’t need a bushel of credentials, a pile of money, or even an office. You just need your smarts. And those smarts are all that sustained a great many currently top consultants when they began in the business.

Consultants bemoan the fact that attorneys and accountants are duly “authorized” by passing certain tests and being certified by the respective states in which they apply to practice. But those admittances to the bar or earning of a CPA designation include some fairly dismal practitioners from good programs and bad. Belonging to the state bar doesn’t mean that you’re providing clients with superb legal services. CPAs are sued for making rather major errors all the time. Coaches today are urged to be certified by one “university” or “boot camp” or “wizard” or another. My question, of course, is: Who certifies the certifiers? Most excellent consultants have also been coaching for their entire careers. Did we miss something, other than the tuition fee for being “certified”?

Empirically, there is no evidence that excellent consultants are at all harmed by operating in a system that affords anyone the opportunity to hang out a consulting shingle. (When I wrote “Million Dollar Consulting” in the early 90s I pointed out that a palm reader on the boardwalk in Atlantic City has to conform with more regulations than does a consultant operating in Atlantic City—or anyplace else.) The last thing we need is a bureaucracy throwing impediments in front of nascent careers and hurdles in the path of successful ones.

I remember offering my services once to an arts group in Providence seeking free consulting help for non-profits. I thought they’d be overjoyed. Instead, they insisted that I attend 10 weekly sessions on consulting. When I explained my background and track record, the bureaucrats (who couldn’t find their way out of a parking lot without help) told me that “you’re not a consultant until we say you are.” And thereby went my help down the road.

We don’t need that attitude in this profession. We need bright people, unencumbered by silly and arbitrary rules. (Some of the worst people in this profession, ironically, serve on boards of consulting chapters. All the good people are too busy consulting with their clients to serve on these boards, and the ones who do are often petty and selfish. Their belief seems to be that no one should be any more successful than the least successful person in the organization! Apologies to the exceptions.)

I salute any consultant who develops himself or herself by engaging in continual learning, and if that’s done with the help of an organization, conference, collaboration, or any other structure, fine. I think we all also know that any string of initials after our names in this business means zero to potential buyers. What they want to know is how smart you are, who is referring you, what intellectual capital you bring, and what your track record is.

Let’s stop trying to shoot ourselves in the foot by seeking licensing, certifications, approvals, DNA testing, or blood samples. Let’s exploit the wonderful opportunity of this profession by being the best we can, every one of us, by our own terms and by those of our clients.

I mean, do you really want to be admitted to the bar so that you can charge $250 an hour?

© Alan Weiss 2007 All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 1

  • stevewa

    August 8, 2007

    I can partially understand the desire for certification or licensing from a customers point of view, because without some form of licensing, etc., how can they evaluate whether a consultant is qualified? how did they do it in the old days, through word of mouth referrals and reference follow up? but licensing through a course doesn’t guarantee performance, nor does it guarantee that the consultant will be good and help the organization as you point out. so i see it from both sides and look forward to reading more about it.

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