The Cult of the Professional

Categories Leadership

It seems a lot of people are spending significant time and energy in an effort to be considered a professional at something. Why is that? I suppose at a very basic level, it is so people will listen to them and ultimately, engage in some form of behavior (think purchase a product or visit a location). Let’s face it, endorsements are endorsements because someone I perceive to be a professional tells me that this one product is better than this other product. There are professional speakers, professional coaches, professional athletes, professional bloggers, professional pastors, professionals at being professionals, etc. You get the idea. We lean on these professionals for advice and guidance in everything from which diet to try to what toothbrush to use (9 out of 10 dentists and all that). Unfortunately, I fear that we are reaching a point where our evaluation of any new thought or idea has its validity determined entirely by whether or not someone with a high enough degree or a certain number of years of experience gives us permission to think or do. That, in my summation, is the cult of the professional.

I’m not against people who spend a lot of time honing a particular craft or learning a subject matter, by the way. On the contrary, I appreciate very much the amount of investment it takes to become proficient at virtually any task. We need professionals. But we also need to realize that they’re not the only ones with good ideas. This is where we enter that murky area between respecting those who have “put in the time” and being willing to listen to dissenting opinions from people who may not have “earned it” in our professionally motivated opinion.

Interestingly enough, as I was researching for this post, I found that the etymology of the word professional actually comes from the Latin word profiteri which means to “declare publicly” and carries with it the idea of someone who professes to be skilled. And therein lies the rub. Do I listen to the person who has the platform (deservedly or otherwise) or do I listen to the person I trust? Do I listen to the person with the degree or the person who I know has valuable experience?

I realize this is an imprecise argument, and perhaps I am doing little to bring clarity to this discussion. Ultimately, my point is that good ideas should be evaluated on the merit of the idea and not necessarily the degree of the person presenting it. This is where good leaders are able to thrive. They are good listeners. They learn from people, both professionals and otherwise. They understand the value of a multitude of counselors. They don’t assume they know more than everyone in the room because they have a better pedigree. They do not succumb to the cult of the professional. What about you?


“All professions are conspiracies against the laity.”
– George Bernard Shaw

Brandon is the founder of A Life to Lead. He is also the husband of Beth, father to Ethan and Kate, and the coordinator of the D6 Conference.

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