Book Review: The Power of Professionalism. Are you a Professional?

Are you a Professional?

How would you define a Professional?

Bill Wiersma conducted research asking a number of executives in various industries (including members of the Dave Matthews Band) whether they considered themselves professionals and what was their definition of a professional.  Yet many who who surveyed did feel that those occupations that required a special degree or qualification, such as a doctor, lawyer, or accountant were professionals.  His startling findings were that most people he surveyed did not view themselves as professionals, let alone understand the mind-set required to be one.   It matters because the higher the degree of professionalism in a firm, the higher likelihood of achieving goals and driving better results.  And that viewing oneself as a professional is a precursor to being one as the aspirational identity is affirming, and it elevates her view of herself and therefore influences her actions.

His research went on to find that 7 mind-sets were prevalent among the most trusted professionals:

  • Professionals have a bias for results.  (Most important mind-set because all other mind-sets emanate from it.  Pro’s feel tremendous responsibility to deliver sustained and meaningful results.  High quality of work is obvious, thus they are seen as trustworthy.  They overcome adversity and obstacles..  They remain accountable.  Despite competence gaps, good judgment compensates sufficiently. Pro’s have right amount of confidence to enable them to deliver desired results again and again.  They develop a track record of success and a reputation for getting the job done, no matter what it takes.
  • Professionals realize (and act like) they are part of something bigger than themselves. (Underdevelopment of this mind-set contributes to more dysfunction that any other.  Pro’s shift thinking away from me to we.   They create value for society rather than extract it.  They understand that true success is measured beyond their own personal interests, are good collaborators, and are committed to the goals of their organization.
  • Professionals realize that things get better when they get better.  (Pro’s are natural learners.  Persistence is greatest attribute in enabling things to get better.  It trumps talent, education and personality.    Pro’s are willing to explore what’s possible (hope) and share their point of view (best thinking).  This mind-set transcends the traditional idea of personal growth – it’s about being better.
  • Professionals have standards that transcend organizational ones.  (Pro’s stand out by remaining true to their highest standards.  They stand for a purpose beyond just making money.  Character and all that goes with it are what matters most in this mindset (and this includes values such as wisdom, trust and integrity.)
  • Professionals know that personal integrity is all they have.  Ethical standards are the floor not the ceiling.  Pro’s use their knowledge, power and influence to advance their needs of clients and their organization, and not a personal agenda.  Pro’s live up to their explicit and implicit commitments – leaders who don’t pay a steep credibility price.  Honesty is the fundamental underpinning of integrity.  Betray’s of someone’s trust is egregious way to impugn your integrity.  The speed of your decisions in upholding your values is a key indicator of this mindset.
  • Professionals aspire to be master their emotions, not enslaved by them.  Passion for work, values, ideas and people is good.  How we respond to the tough situations and our interpretation of experience and events is the crux of this mind-set. Not letting your emotions get the best of you – especially in tough situations – is a sign of a real pro.  The degree to which you respect others who are not your favorite people often reflects the degree of your development of this mind-set.  Professionals manage their ego to ensure it is an asset and not a liability.  This mind-set is the most difficult to master and exemplifies the challenge to master life’s lessons.
  • Professionals aspire to reveal value in others. (Where other mind-sets inspire trust, this one builds trust).  This mind-set brings out the best in others, seeing their potential.  Challenging them and elevating them beyond what they thought they were capable of.  Celebrating the success of others, and valuing the contributions that other professionals bring to the table is critical in this mind-set. Professionals understand that no one of us is as smart as all of us.

His most important conclusion was that for most successful professionals, personal growth preceded professional success.  Other key research findings included: (1) Technical skills, while important, play a far lesser role than one might think, (2) Defining moments reveal our true level of commitment and professionalism, (3) Professionalism, despite its inherent price, is worth it in the eyes of most, (4) Professionalism when embraced as part of a company’s culture, has positive and far researching implications.

He explains that professionals are “an increasingly rare breed, often taking the proverbial road less traveled. They are not only smart; they are wise.  Their ability to exercise good judgment stands above the rest.  They willingly invest discretionary effort…they keep their wits under tough conditions and focus on winning contests in the marketplace, not popularity contests.  They refuse to respond in kind when they’re wronged.  Their work is not necessarily about what they do, but rather how they do it.  It takes discipline, energy, and gumption not to succumb to the easy way out.  Regardless of what a professional’s responsibilities entail, it’s never about him or her. Simply put, they are the first player you would pick for your team.”

Here’s my assessment of the book:

  • This may be the most comprehensive and well-researched book that I have read on the subject.  This entire book should be mandated reading as part of undergraduate and graduate business school curriculum.
  • I would recommend more seasoned leaders focus on: (a) all of Part I (Why professionalism matters), (b)  Chapter 11 of Part II (Mind-Set 6 – Master of Your Emotions) and (c) all of Part III (Upgrading the Culture).  I found the bulk of Part II/The 7 Mind-sets to be a bit of slog with the exception of Mastering of Emotions section which was exceptional and on its own, worth the price of the book.  In addition, I found Chapter 14 in Part III to be powerful as it included an assessment template outlining attributes and characteristics of an A, B, C grade organization.
  • In the author’s own words, this is not a “how-to” book.  This book focuses on the “what”, the “who” and the “why” of professionalism.  So, you’ll be disappointed if you are looking for action steps.
  • The book is well written and very readable.  It is not a page turner and needs to be digested in bite sized chunks.  I appreciated that the book was grounded in reality – in the real world – and written by an author and contributors who have seen it and done it the right way.
  • If I had any criticisms of the book, I found that the author used far too many drawn-out stories and examples to support his case and I found myself skipping over many.  However, this is a minor point given the author’s important contribution to the subject.  My Amazon Rating: 4.5.


Part I: Why Professionalism Matters

Part II: The Seven Mind-Sets of Trusted Professionals: (1) A bias for results, (2) They realize and act as they’re part of something bigger than themselves, (3) They know Things get better when They get better, (4) Personal Standards which transcend organizational ones, (5) Personal integrity is all they have, (6) Aspire to be masters of their emotions, not enslaved by them, (7) Aspire to reveal value in others.

Part III: Upgrade the Culture

Find the Book at Amazon: The Power of Professionalism: The Seven Mind-Sets that Drive Performance and Build Trust by Bill Wiersma

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