Series: The ABC’s of Professionalism
“Professionalism” is one of those words that’s rather hard to define. Consequently, people have different viewpoints on what characteristics constitute professionalism. Let’s explore.
“Believe passionately in what you do, and never knowingly compromise your standards and values. Act like a true professional, aiming for true excellence, and the money will follow.”
– David Maister (1947- ), business management consultant. The Advice Business: Essential Tools and Models for Management Consulting, Chapter 23.
“…a professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.”
– Alistair Cooke (1945- ), British-born American journalist, broadcaster. Six Men, 1995, p. 136.
At first glance, these quotations might appear somewhat at odds with each other and yet, I think they both define different moments of professionalism. It is not contradictory to have an enduring passion about one’s career and not feel like engaging in that passion at a particular moment.
So, what is professionalism or perhaps, what is it NOT? By my thinking, professionalism has nothing to do with the profession — it’s all about the person …
“Professionalism: It’s NOT the job you DO, It’s HOW you DO the job.”
“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy…neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”
– John W. Gardner (1912-2002), president of the Carnegie Corporation.
… it’s not about the payment …
“You have to perform at a consistently higher level than others. That’s the mark of a true professional. Professionalism has nothing to do with getting paid for your services.”
– Attributed to: Joe Paterno (1926- ), Penn State University football coach. Strategic Outsourcing, by Maurice F. Greaver, 1999.
… and it’s not about conforming to arbitrary standards.
“Professionalism is not about adherence to the policies of a bureaucracy. Professionalism is about having the integrity, honesty, and sincere regard for the personhood of the customer, in the context of always doing what is best for the business. Those two things do not need to be in conflict.”
– Eric Lippert, software expert, author. 25 Jun 2008 at:
< blogs.msdn.com/ericlippert/archive/2008/06/23/customer-service-is-not-rocket-science-part-two.aspx >
Professionalism consists of certain attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors sometimes known collectively as “virtue” or “good character.” Attitudes and behaviors have two things in common. First, both are produced by our beliefs. Second, we have the power to choose our attitudes and behaviors.
“We choose what attitudes we have right now. And it’s a continuing choice.”
– John C. Maxwell (1947- ), American author, speaker, minister. The Maxwell Daily Reader, 2008, p. 58.
As mere humans, we are hindered from peering into the minds and hearts of others to gage their professionalism. Fair or not, character judgments are made from outward signs such as what people say and do (i.e. behaviors). Only God can look inside to know a person’s attitudes.
“…Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
– Bible, 1 Samuel 16:7
“Behavior is a mirror in which every one displays his own image.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), German author, philosopher. Novels and Tales by Goethe, 1868, p. 153.
“We judge others by their behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions.”
– Attributed to: Ian Percy, motivational speaker.
“Our names are labels, plainly printed on the bottled essence of our past behaviour.”
– Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946), American essayist, critic. All Trivia: Trivia, More Trivia,
Afterthoughts, Last Words, 1934, p. 162.
Knowing we cannot see inside a person’s heart, it is important to remain humble and guarded when judging the character of others with partial information. For ourselves, it is important to understand that judging behavior is the very thing that others will do about us. In fact, there are those who wait in ambush and will pounce unmercifully at the first sign of moral indiscretion.
As we develop understanding of our own professional development needs we must not become fixated on the outward behaviors at the expense of the inner attitudes and beliefs. Consider the most fundamental relationship among beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors: beliefs are the causes of our attitudes, which in turn cause our behaviors.
“… human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”
– William James (1842-1910), American psychologist, philosopher.
This fundamental cause and effect principle of humanity states that improvements in our values are required to produce improvements in behaviors. Unfortunately, there is the temptation to go straight to the behavior, bypassing the beliefs and attitudes.
“If you want to change attitudes, start with a change in behavior. In other words, begin to act the part, as well as you can, of the person you would rather be, the person you most want to become. Gradually, the old, fearful person will fade away.”
– Attributed to: William Glasser (1925- ), American psychiatrist.
While it is accurate to recognize that the roles can be reversed as Glasser proposed, the effect is temporary at best. Real, change that sticks, good or bad, comes from new attitudes. To be more precise, real change happens only when beliefs change.
Becoming a professional is an attitude adjustment process that begins by understanding what it means to be a professional, creating a personal vision of professionalism, and aligning one’s values in accordance with that image. Another way to say this is “change on the outside begins on the inside.” If you were to understand professionalism, then claim it as your set of personal values, where would you start to begin your professional tune-up? A good place is with the attitude called “respect” and a person must start by respecting himself.
“Self-respect – that cornerstone of all virtue.”
– John Herschel (1792-1871), English mathematician, astronomer, chemist.
“The way to procure insults is to submit to them. A man meets with no more respect than he exacts.”
– William Hazlitt (1778-1830), English writer.
Professionalism also insists on respect toward others, explained best by “The Golden Rule.”
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
– Bible, Galatians 5:14
“Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.”
– Bible, Luke 6:31
Building professionalism also requires courage, the attitude that conquers fear.
“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, … it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
– Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), British Prime Minister. Maxims and Reflections, 2005, p. 169.
Fear is an emotion manufactured in the imagination. The best proof of this is found by observing the differences in what people are afraid of. If fear was instinctive, genetic, or the product of rational thought, shouldn’t we all fear pretty much the same things?
“Some people are afraid of heights. I’m afraid of widths.”
– Steven Wright (1955- ), American comedian, actor, writer.
Fear can be tamed and it can be conquered. History is full of examples of ordinary people who became heroes merely by confronting their fears. How does one take action while in fear’s shadow?
“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”
– Dorothy Bernard (1890-1955), American actress of silent movie era.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”
– Attributed to: Ambrose Redmoon (1933-1996), Hippie, writer.
“Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.”
– Susan Jeffers, Inspirational writer, speaker. < http://www.susanjeffers.com >
It’s time for those who care about professionalism to stop being amazed at timidity, lack of respect, and other unprofessional attitudes in today’s culture. It’s time to do something about it, one person at a time. Who should be the first person on your list? You! If the adage is true, “actions speak louder than words,” doing nothing more than becoming a living example of professionalism may be all that is needed. If enough people make that choice and commitment, our world will be changed for the better. Life is short — it’s time to get busy.
“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.”
– Attributed to: Zig Ziglar (1926- ), American author, salesman, and motivational speaker.
“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,”
– Bible, Colossians 3:23
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact attitude has on life. Attitude to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for the day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.
– Attributed to: Charles R. Swindoll (1934- ), evangelical Christian pastor, author, educator, radio preacher.
< storiesfortrainers.com/attitudepoem.aspx >
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