How to Avoid Scammers when Hiring Consultants

AdVance Leadership » How to Avoid Scammers when Hiring Consultants

Welcome to Friday 411, issue #041. In 4 minutes, with 1 insight and 1 action, you’ll feel better equipped to hire the right Leadership Consultants for your company.

1 Insight

Trusting outside contractors with your company can feel risky. Eight criteria will guide you to make the right choice with confidence.

Imagine how you would feel if you were casually reading an article about scam professions and yours made the list. When this happened to me (Dorothy), I googled “scam professions lists” to see if others agreed. Every list I found included leadership or management consulting or some variation of business coaching.

Garland and I have devoted our lives to developing leaders. We are passionately committed to improving people’s lives by reshaping the workplace. We stay energized by the results we see and relationships we build. Yet we operate within the awareness that a large contingency of the business world views leadership consulting as a scam.

Sadly, leadership consulting is viewed as a scam because of all the scammers who claim to be Leadership Consultants. There are people out there giving the rest of us a bad name.

On one of the lists, someone working as a Leadership Consultant called out his own profession as a scam. He claimed that the industry is made up of people who can’t do the real work themselves, so they regurgitate other people’s material to make a quick buck. Then they leave companies with impractical, plagiarized content that their clients don’t know what to do with.

We once had a client who had spent almost $100,000 on a one-day training. They brought in a speaker who charged $25,000. They flew in dozens of their leaders from all over the country and purchased hotel rooms, meals, and rental cars. They spent eight hours talking about having hard conversations with difficult people.

One year later, we started working with this client. We asked him what results they’d experienced from the six-figure training. They had no proof that anything had changed. They had wasted a lot of time and money on a consultant who left them with nothing. No wonder our profession has earned a reputation as a scam.

If you know how to avoid snake oil, Leadership Consultants are a vital addition to the strengthening of your company. The right Leadership Consultants will:

  • Offer outside perspective that opens your eyes to insights and solutions you could have never seen on your own.
  • Provide concentrated expertise for employees who have risen in leadership because they know their field but don’t know much about leadership.
  • Accelerate your company’s ability to solve problems, implement change, increase productivity, and experience enduring transformation.

Here are eight criteria for finding the right Leadership Consultants:

1. Substantiates education & experience

One of the reasons scammers can slip so easily into the consulting world is that it is an unregulated industry.

In order for someone to call themselves a medical doctor, they must work their way through years of schooling and hold a document that proves it. Furthermore, they are required to participate in continued education so that their knowledge and skills stay current. In contrast, anyone can market themselves as a consultant. But someone who just decided to call themselves a Leadership Consultant is not the one you want. Ask your candidates about three areas:

 1. Degrees and certifications 

After you’ve identified what degrees and/or certifications they hold, educate yourself about the validity of these. Gather information that demonstrates the legitimacy, value, and respectability of these proofs of education. Anyone can make up a certification process and charge lots of money for people to go through it. Not every consultant’s educational background will add value to your company.

2. Continued education

Ask your candidates how they stay current on leadership trends and research. The best ones may even be some of the leading influencers and thinkers shaping the leadership industry.

3. Prior experience

It is essential that your Leadership Consultants provide evidence that they, themselves, were once effective managers. You do not want to hire anyone who got into consulting because “those who can’t, teach.”


2. Exhibits proven results

After you’ve established that your candidates have a history of effective management prior to becoming Leadership Consultants, inquire about their track record as Leadership Consultants. Request referrals from other companies that speak to their experience with your potential contractors. If these companies provide evidence of results that you want, you have strong contenders.


3. Commits to relationships

Are your potential Leadership Consultants people who will get to know your people? Or do they have a “rock star” style of belting out lyrics and leaving the stage? Lasting transformation is much more likely through authentic relationships than the passing on of information alone.


4. Practices ridiculous practicality

The average Leadership Consultant can only tell you what to do. The exceptional Leadership Consultant can guide you how to do it. They will also honor your individual style, strengths, and abilities. Look for consultants who both inspire your team and equip them with everything needed to actually make the changes you want.


5. Produces own material

The consultant who added his own industry to the “Scam Professions” list claims that most are regurgitating others’ material. Use this knowledge to help guide you to the right Leadership Consultants.

In addition to staying current on leadership trends and research, do your candidates write their own material? This is important because you want evidence that they can think about leadership. Do you want the surgeon who has merely memorized the steps of a coronary artery bypass grafting? Or do you want one who can think on their feet and act swiftly when the patient spouts a mid-surgery bleed from a hidden source?

In the same way, do you want Leadership Consultants who have memorized other people’s content? Or do you want those who know leadership so well, that they can help your team think through unique challenges that may arise at any given moment?


6. Utilizes pathways, not programs

There is a difference between programs and pathways. A program is a one-time training that may inspire people in the moment but doesn’t lead to lasting change.

pathway includes practical leadership development and takes place over time (weeks, months, or even years), leading to lasting transformation throughout an organization. Pathways usually allow time for experiential learning opportunities beyond the classroom setting. Hands-on experiences are more effective than the receiving of information alone.


7. Demonstrates an alignment of values

One of the best ways to ensure that an outside contractor is a good fit for your organization is to ask them about their own business’s values. Make sure that their values don’t conflict with your company’s values.

One of our values at AdVance Leadership is Relationships and Results. We turned down a contract with one company when we discovered that they were so results-oriented that they destroyed the personal lives of their employees. A partnership with a misalignment of values would not have worked.


8. Listens & understands

The first step in tackling another’s challenges and helping develop solutions is listening. Unfortunately, many Leadership Consultants skip this step altogether. They jump straight into selling you a program or telling you what they can do for your company with their preset agenda. Look for consultants who take time to listen to your issues.

But, if all you want is someone who will listen, call a therapist. Good Leadership Consultants understand your problems and provide solutions through their pathways.

You may be questioning the absence of a potential criteria from the list. There is one common misconception we repeatedly hear when someone is in the market for Leadership Consultants. Many believe they need contractors with experience in their industry. This would be true if you’re a realtor and you’re looking for a consultant who can train your team how to adjust to housing market trends.

But that’s not a Leadership Consultant. A Leadership Consultant provides expertise in leadership. Leadership is all about managing people to get results. You know what is the same across any industry? Every industry is made up of people who need to get resultsGood Leadership Consultants will learn enough about your industry to help your managers become better leaders.

1 Action

Add this list of eight criteria to your toolbox. Next time you’re in the market for Leadership Consultants, pull it out to guide you through the process of finding the best for your organization.


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