The word “profession,” I believe, comes from the Latin professus, which means “proclaimed publicly.” Uh, oh!
Who and what constitutes public proclamation? In law, it seems to me it’s passing the bar exam. (Being graduated from a law school is simply a precursor, and one wonders why it’s necessary if someone might pass the bar exam without attending law school. Isn’t the bar the “public proclamation”? Why require an arbitrary precursor?)
In medicine, there are academic, experiential, and residency requirements, as well as various board approvals and continuing criteria to be met. In accounting, the CPA is a clearly designated course of study and mastery, as is the CLU (Chartered Life Underwriter) in insurance. To separate these from some bogus honorifics used to confuse consumers and clients (“chartered elderly financial planner”), the granting institutions are recognized and accredited by the government.
Thus, architects must be registered and certified by the state in which they practice (just as lawyers must meet separate state bar requirements), but having “AIA” after their names, (American Institute of Architects) simply indicates they have paid their dues and are a member, not that they have higher legitimacy or special accreditation. A professional engineer (PE) has similarly passed muster in the states in which he or she practices.
Thus, some things “proclaimed publicly” are sanctioned by impartial, objective, and governing bodies, and some things result from the paying of dues, or attending a private, idiosyncratic event (chartered life coach), or simply attaching some initials to one’s name. (I’ve passed muster as a Certified Management Consultant, a Certified Speaking Professional, and a CPAE Hall of Fame® member of the National Speakers Association. Those are 10 initials right there, which will get me on the subway if I also pay two dollars. I recognize that these are internal sources of recognition within the professions, not public proclamations, at lest in my view.)
Thus, the good and bad news about consulting is that there is virtually no barrier to entry. You don’t have to pass muster with the liquor commission, the gaming board, the chamber of commerce, the food and beverage people, the sanitary commission, or the school board. You just have to hang out a figurative shingle and “proclaim” yourself.
Fair enough, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I don’t want to be “approved” or regulated by people who wouldn’t know the first thing about my work, results, and methodology, but rather are only concerned with their own bureaucracy. (I’ve always wondered about those coaching universities and boot camps and such: Who certifies the certifiers?)
But that means that our responsibility is to represent the “profession” well, in that we should:
• Act ethically and always in the best interests of the client.
• Police our own profession by being honest about frauds and nonsensical methodology.
• Create intellectual property which improves the profession and its approaches.
• Work to help others attain these standards through sharing, coaching, and pro bono work.
• Ensure that our accolades come from clients and results, and not self-adulation and self-aggrandizement.
The best public proclamation comes from the delight and repeat business of our clients. That’s the only accreditation that will stand the test of time.
© Alan Weiss 2008. All rights reserved.