What Makes People Professionals?

In sports, it's easy to tell the professionals from the amateurs. Professional athletes ply their trades for money.

Columns From: 8/1/2001 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Chris Koepfer

In sports, it's easy to tell the professionals from the amateurs. Professional athletes ply their trades for money. It's arguable they play for too much money, but that's a discussion for another time.

In business however, the line of demarcation between professional and non-professional is much less clear. Nobody works in industry for free. Some might argue that they work for next to free, but still a paycheck is forthcoming for everyone involved in business.

For some, the status of professional is decreed by training and education. Those who receive an M.D., J.D., M.B.A. or C.P.A. are generally considered professional by virtue of the post-graduate work done in their respective fields. They've acquired specific skills and knowledge that our society considers to be “professional.”

So can the rest of us more humbly educated workers aspire to the status of professional? Seems to me that indeed we can and do.

I look at some of the so-called professional athletes, pulling down major bucks, and watch them “dog-it” on the field. I read about skipped practices for some superstars and superstar wannabes. Is this professional behavior?

Is it professional for a doctor to over-prescribe medicine, ignore phone calls or keep customers waiting ridiculous amounts of time because of over booking? How about the lawyer who rips off clients or the accountant who embezzles the life savings of a trusting couple who figured they were dealing with a professional?

The point I'm trying to get to here is that professionalism is less about what you do and much more about how you do what you do. Don't misunderstand me: There are many very professional athletes, doctors, lawyers and accountants. But in my mind, the fact that one's field falls in the “predefined category” is insufficient for professionalism.

I believe professionalism is earned by behavior, not bestowed. It's earned by taking care of business in a manner that is commensurate with one's vocation. There are ethics and morals involved in professionalism. There's also a big dose of competence.

I'm blessed to work with a group of consummate professionals, none of whom is a paid athlete, doctor, lawyer or accountant. Our team here at Modern Machine Shop goes about the business of putting out this magazine with sense of purpose and a sense of humor. It's nice to work with professionals.

Don't you agree?

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