Q: What’s the premise behind The Power of Professionalism?
A: The book’s message is that professionalism matters—often more than any other factor—in creating a competitive advantage for individuals and, collectively, for the organizations of which they are part.
Q: Why this book, and why now?
A: It’s a book that attempts to rise above the noise, reminding people of the mind-sets that made America great, and provides people and their organizations a substantive approach of enhancing their success.
Many have an innate sense that things in the country are a little ‘off, that we’ve strayed from the ‘tried-and-true’ principles that have served us so well. Trust has never been lower or cynicism higher. This book not only holds up a mirror to the errors of our ways but provides a path (and hope) in correcting them.
There’s been a lot written recently about ‘why’ trust is so important but far less on ‘how’ to cultivate it. Professional ideals, by default, build trust. And if you believe, as I do, that trust is the foundation for both individual and organizational success, then the timing for a renaissance in professional ideals couldn’t be more important.
Q: But don’t most organizations consider themselves ‘professional’ ?
A. Most do. But when you look deeper, you find an incomplete understanding of what it really means to be a professional—let alone how that translates to the greater organization. David Maister, the preeminent consultant to the professional services sector, observed, “I rarely meet individual professionals who believe their firm, as an institution, is built on such [professional] principles.”
The trouble is the central role of professionalism has not been fully appreciated or understood well by leaders—whether in or out of the professional services sector. Of course there’s a great irony here, when one considers the current emphasis on professional development.
With competition being so fierce, organizations are increasingly unable to hide their blemishes. The big problems facing today’s organizations are only addressed in a sustainable way when honest-to-goodness professionals roll up their sleeves and tackle them. This requires candor, genuine collaboration, and trust. Just as important are the exciting new (but complex) opportunities presenting themselves to these same organizations. The Power of Professionalism helps shore-up one’s understanding of what it means to be a trusted professional and focuses that potential on an organization’s biggest problems and opportunities.
Q. How is this book different than, say, David Maister’s writing on the ‘true professional’ ?
A. It’s significantly different in a number of important ways. David was an amazing writer as well as a remarkable consultant. In many ways, I stand on his shoulders. Where David’s work centered on the professional services world, my emphasis is on the role of professionalism in organizations in general. I’m attempting to add to the work that David and others did, not detract from it.
My work will broaden the way people think of other professionals and how professionals view themselves. In the book we make the case that professionals are worthy individuals, not worthy professions. Said another way, age doesn’t make you an adult anymore than an occupation makes you a professional. I believe that what defines professionals isn’t what they do but how they do it. Technical competency gets you in the game, but it’s the minimum requirement when weighing whether someone is a professional or not.
Professionalism is characterized by the capabilities, choices, and behaviors that reveal an individual to be a professional. In other words, being a professional is an equal opportunity aspiration—each of us controls the outcome. That’s the point really...it’s about being something (a professional). It’s about having the mind-set of a trusted professional. It’s not about merely about emulating certain desirable behaviors, while avoiding others. We’re trying to raise people’s sights by focusing on the being, less so on the doing.
In the end, it’s personal. It’s an inner commitment. It’s about standing for something. When one ‘shows up’ as a professional, behaviors typically take care of themselves.
Q. So it’s the mind-sets that drive behaviors, right?
A. Yes. You might think of a mind-set as ‘an attitude with purpose’. A trusted professional’s behavior is natural—it’s not dependent on having to emulate a certain set of pre-determined behaviors found in the so-called ‘success literature’; the types of behaviors that often find their way into best practices, competency models, and the like.
Q. Tell us about the mind-sets.
A. Given that professionalism can transcend vocations, one’s education, or one’s title, we wanted to better understand the commonality of thought that trusted professionals shared. Simply put, we wanted to understand their mind-sets—how they see the world. We found seven—they’re outlined in Part Two of the book.
Q. Of the seven mind-sets, which of the seven resonate most for you?
A. Mind-Set Two—Professionals Realize (and Act Like) They’re Part of Something Bigger Than Themselves. Typically Mind-Set Two is an Achilles heel for most organizations.
Q. What are you hoping people will take away from this book?
A. The problems you and I hear about, the ones that are personally exacerbating and organizationally debilitating, are largely remedied when people show up as professionals would. So I’m hoping we help create a new generation of even ‘better professionals‘.
We’ll know that we’re achieving more of that when people start viewing themselves as a professional who happens to be a vice president, who has earned an MBA, or who holds a prestigious license—not the other way around.
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Bob Morris ReviewsThe Power of Professionlism
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