Saturday, April 14, 2007


(News-Herald, April 12)Wherever you go, you’ll meet amateurs and you’ll meet professionals.

You can’t distinguish between the two by whether or not they’re paid. Particularly in an area like ours, you’ll meet professionals who volunteer without compensation and amateurs who draw regular paychecks.

There are qualities that mark professionals whether they’re paid or not.

Do what you say you will, when you say will.

It’s a clear and simple principle, but some folks just don’t get it. When you promise to do something—do it. And if you say it will be done in a month, don’t take six.

Yes, sometimes it’s hard to know how tough a job will be before you start it. In that case, don’t make a promise you don’t know you can keep. And yes, sometimes surprises foul up a time line. In those instances, a professional picks up the phone, apologizes, and explains.

Give the clients something they value.

It’s easier to see this with businesses. Nobody sets up shop and then tells customers, “Give me your money because I’d like to have it.”

When it’s amateur hour in the marketplace, some people do come close to that request. People start a business and think of all the reasons that they’d like to have people give them money. And then they fail. Leonardo’s is successful because they provide a dining experience that people are happy to pay for.

The same principle applies with volunteers, but there are amateurs who don’t get it. Time is the currency of the volunteer world. Yet people who would never just grab money out of your hand will still tell you that you should be happy to donate hours of your life to them.

Let’s be clear. Even people who donate expect a return-- at a minimum, the knowledge that their donation will do something they can feel good about.

This one is a pet peeve of mine because amateurs often approach young people with this amateur attitude. They think of lots of reasons that they’d like to have teens donate time to their cause, but not one reason that the teens might actually want to do it.

Know what you’re talking about.

When it’s amateur hour, good intentions are all you need. It’s not that professionals know everything. But what they don’t know, they try to find out. They talk to people who do know. They consult the experts. Nobody chooses a brain surgeon saying, “Well, he’s never studied it, but he’s really interested in it.”

Don’t make yourself at home.

You aren’t. You’re at work. Your personal hobbies, your personal conversations, your desire to be done in time to catch your favorite tv show—it’s all amateur hour.

When you’re calling someone into a “meeting’ just to find out if they’re mad at you, it’s amateur hour. When your treatment of a fellow workers or your judgment of their competence depends on whether you think they’re your friend or not, it’s amateur hour.

When you indulge in any behavior that would be most appropriate in the privacy of your own home, it’s amateur hour.

It’s not about you.

It’s about the job, whatever the job is. When you make your workplace choices based on what you feel like doing instead of what the job demands, it’s amateur hour. When people have to know what mood you’re in in order to know what kind of work they can expect from you, it’s amateur hour. When you decide not to do part of your job because, well, it’s inconvenient and hard, that’s amateur.

There’s nothing amateur about asking folks to do things differently because it will produce a better product. But when your goal is just to make life easier for yourself, it’s amateur hour.

There are organizations in these parts languishing and fading because their leaders aren’t worried about doing the organization’s job—only about how to keep coasting and taking care of their personal concerns.

It may not be possible to be professional every single day. But whether you’re practicing law, fixing a water heater, volunteering for a non-profit group, or building a dog house—be passionate about the job, be committed to the job, but do the job. And beware of amateurs.

1 comment:

John M. Karian said...

Many points that are well taken . . . the professional has learned thru experience the limits of his/her skill sets and competencies. In many instances, the experiences are perceived as "bad" In reality, the professional learns the most at these challenging times.

Also, the professional learned early on that the adage "if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" is true. He/she has developed alternative approaches to various dilemmas.

From my Flickr