Ok, let's get a controversial one out there and please feel free to shoot me down! I'm prepared to be challenged on this one as I am on all my blogs. And remember, this is my personal opinion rather than that of my employer!
There are lots and lots of consultants and trainers out there in our sector who have set themselves up as experts. My question is, have they ever achieved personal mastery in the subject in which they claim expertise, or have they simply learnt it through researching the subject? Or maybe a bit of both? And does this matter?
Some will argue that if they are a great presenter, an inspirational speaker, an effective facilitator, have plenty of case studies and anecdotes, bring out the best in their students, does it really matter if they have never done it or been very good at it? I think there are some real exceptions to the rule, and it is certainly possible to study mastery and describe that to others, and perhaps that is what some do.
There's an old saying along the lines of 'those who can't do it teach it.' Well I have always thought that this was a load of rubbish, and I would like to think that in the majority of cases, in a sector full of highly intelligent people, you would get found out very quickly. In my opinion the best trainers and consultants are the ones who are 'doing the do' as well as 'talking the talk'!
For me it's a bit like asking people for money. How can you authentically do this if you are not already giving to the cause yourself? Yet lots of people do, especially professional fundraisers but also trustees. I always make sure I give to a cause before I ask for money on their behalf.
Similarly I can't see how you can train someone on something you have never done your self, or have not got a great deal of experience in. For me it's all about credibility. What happens if one of your students asks 'Can you tell me how you have personally ....' What do you do if you don't have that experience? Lie? Therefore I personally would not be happy to teach something I have never done.
So what would I do if I wanted to hire a trainer or consultant for my organisation? I would want to see their CV to ensure that they had the experience they claim to have had. If they say they are an expert in major donor fundraising, how much have they personally raised? If they say they are an expert in direct marketing, what type of campaigns have they managed and delivered and what size. If they say they are an expert in leadership, what leadership roles have they held? In addition I would ask for a free demonstration session to make sure I was happy with the standard of their training. Any trainer worth their salt would do this as it would pretty much guarantee new business if they are as good as they say they are. It's also good to see them in action first; just because someone is a subject matter expert, that does not make them a great trainer! This is certainly how we hire our trainers at the Institute of Fundraising.
I think there are some exceptions to the rule. These are the teaching of qualifications, where I think the most important thing is knowledge of the subject. Of courses it helps if this knowledge is combined with practical experience and skills. The other area is coaching, where it is the skills of the coach rather than their subject matter expertise that counts.
So what do you think? Let me know!