Everyone wants to work with a professional. Professionals make the best business partners, vendors, and colleagues.
But as easy as it is to call yourself a “Professional” on your LinkedIn profile or website, it’s not nearly as easy to become one.
I'd like to share the story of some people who by their example showed me what a professional does and how a professional cares.
What A 9-1-1 Call Taught Me About Being A Professional
When my youngest daughter, Gracie, was two, we had a terrible experience that was redeemed by a powerful encounter with greatness.
One day, my middle daughter Gracie, a vibrant little girl, ran a high fever. My wife, Hayley, was quick to act, taking all the necessary precautions that a great mom does. One of those actions included driving her to a medical clinic. The doctor was unsure of what was wrong and recommended the usual Advil and rest to ride out the fever. Fifteen minutes later, Gracie’s fever started to spike. She became blue in the face. Her eyes rolled back and the two-year-old fainted in my wife’s arms.
Hayley called 9-1-1. With trembling and fear in her voice, she told the operator the situation. Within minutes the paramedics arrived, put Gracie in a stretcher, and drove her to the emergency room.
After getting the call that no dad ever wants to receive, I dropped everything and rushed to the hospital. I arrived at the scene and saw the paramedics consoling my wife and monitoring Gracie who was conscious. I am forever grateful for the calming and expert care the paramedics offered, panicked parents included.
As a parent, there is nothing more important to me in the world than my kids' health.
These professionals were not only at the top of their game at the scene but they stuck around, providing extra care to all of us for whom this was a shocking first.
To find out what happened to Gracie, you’ll have to stick around to the end.
First, I'd like to talk about another kind of hero that taught me about being a professional.
To The Heroes Who Fought COVID On The Front Lines
Remember the overwhelming outpouring of support for frontline medical workers we showed at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis?
The banging of pots and pans all around the neighborhood was a well-deserved commendation for those who risked their lives to care for those who needed the highest levels of care during the pandemic. Even though it came right when we were trying to put our kids to sleep, it was a teachable moment that it was right to pause and honor those who were giving so much to keep us safe and healthy.
These heroes went to work each day, exhausted from the days, weeks, and months prior. They fought their fears of getting the virus. They worked through waves of exhaustion, burnout, and mental health challenges. They pushed back tears of the devastation from the virus and continued to serve, serve, serve.
They provided the face of what it meant to care during COVID.
What These Professionals Taught Us About Service
One of the legacies of the COVID-19 crisis is the memory of how the medical community modeled to us what professionals do. I will never forget my experience seeing healthcare professionals perform their duties with excellence.
For those of us who are not in healthcare, we can learn a few lessons from their example.
Your work is likely different than those who fight for our health. In some ways, however, it's not different at all. At the end of every job, every project, and every gig is a person you’re helping. They may not be fainting before coming to you, but they are still in some kind of distress. That’s what led them to reach out to your company.
“It’s just a video I’m creating for them,” you might say.
What if that video isn’t just a video? What if that’s the video that is going to help their business connect with new customers by boosting engagement on their website and finally getting engagement on social media? They hired you because they had a major issue: They weren’t connecting with the head and heart of their customers. They know that having a powerful video that tells a compelling story will help them reach new people. They need to reach new people because their business is currently failing. When their business is failing, their finances are a mess. They may have to let go of employees (who they also consider like family) whose livelihood depends on that business. To avoid layoffs, the business owner is having to work more. They’re spending less time connecting with their family. Now the marriage is struggling because the owner is a bear to be around at home due to stress and anxiety.
What could end the downward cycle? Could the perfect video help? You bet it could. You already know the potential of your work. You know what you can do for others. This project you’re working on, if it’s done well, could change everything for this business, these families, and the life of this owner.
Do you still think you’re just creating a video for some random client? Not unlike those of us who depend on the care of our healthcare workers, your clients need you to be a professional and bring your best to every job.
What if you’re not making anything for your customers? What if you feel like just a cog in some wheel? If you feel like a dispensable part of an enormous system, consider how valuable the half a million Amazon employees are to us.
Jeff Bezos shared the impact of Amazon while he was taking a victory lap in his final letter to his shareholders. His April 2021 address revealed how Amazon is changing lives. He broke it down as follows:
Customers complete 28% of purchases on Amazon in three minutes or less, and half of all purchases are finished in less than 15 minutes. Compare that to the typical shopping trip to a physical store – driving, parking, searching store aisles, waiting in the checkout line, finding your car, and driving home. Research suggests the typical physical store trip takes about an hour. If you assume that a typical Amazon purchase takes 15 minutes and that it saves you a couple of trips to a physical store a week, that’s more than 75 hours a year saved.
We all know that time is our most precious resource. Amazon argues that they as a company can save us over three days in extra time when we utilize their services. A company saving me that kind of time is incredibly valuable. With that gift, I can now spend more time with my family, doing recreational activities, or working to add more value to my clients.
If you work anywhere along the Amazon supply chain; in the warehouse or as a driver, you might not see yourself as a professional transformer of lives. But you are. You have a part to play in serving others. As an Amazon Prime member, I would not enjoy the freedom of time without your help. When you show up to work and fill our orders with speed and precision, you are taking our time-strapped lives and giving us a little more freedom.
So please don’t say that your job isn’t as important or second-rate to any other professional out there working hard today. We have just as much responsibility to show up and serve as our frontline healthcare workers do.
Here are the two lessons I’ve learned about professionalism from our healthcare professionals:
1. Every customer deserves our best.
As I reflected on our experience with paramedics and the days that followed at the hospital, I’ve always been impressed by how those paramedics treated us. They were true professionals. I’ve seen enough bad experiences from people not doing their jobs that I know things could have been so much worse.
What if the call came at the end of a long shift, and they were all “peopled out” that day? What if, knowing they were paid hourly, they took the long route to attend to the call, just to pad their timesheets a bit?
I can't fathom what would've happened if their dispatcher went off and they thought, "You know, we've been saving lives all day; we can afford to lose at least one today…"
I am certain these paramedics would never do that. Our first responders fight all day to save lives – every single one of them. Every call. They believe every life is important. No matter how they feel, they still know it’s their job.
Do we value our customers with the same care, efficiency, and urgency that our front-line health care workers show us each day? It seems far-fetched to expect that, but why would any other job require anything less?
Without the right mindset, we easily slip into giving less than our best to each project. Because we are all moving so fast, “Done” has become the new “Excellent”. The “Just Ship It” mentality can get stuff off your desk but what are you sending to your customer?
The person receiving that deliverable is someone’s daughter, friend, or grandparent. Would you feel ok sending that work to your own family member or friend?
No matter what industry we are in, caring for people as they deserve should be central to our job. We care for people by doing our best work for them. When we do our best, we can take pride in every job. When we take pride in our work, regardless of who we are working for, we show that we are professionals, capable of giving our best to each project we put our hands on.
2. Professionals show up to work, roll up their sleeves, and they serve.
Imagine if the paramedics were slow getting to our call. They could have listed all kinds of excuses as to why it happened.
I’m not naive enough to think that these men and women didn’t have their own share of frustrations. Every job and every organization has its fair share of issues. I just never heard about any of them while they were attending to us. The paramedics could have complained about the ills of the healthcare system. They could have moped about their dated trucks that they thought could use an upgrade. But they didn’t. We would have had no clue if they were disenfranchised by the healthcare system or what they thought about their shift manager.
Why is that? Because they were entirely focused on serving us.
Every client matters. They come to you vulnerable and looking for a solution. It’s your responsibility to help them. Even if your last three clients went amazingly well, number four knows nothing about it. Your clients and customers hire you because they think you can solve their minor crisis. Even if it's a referral customer, they don't know how well you will serve them until you show up and do it.
Thankfully, after a few days in the hospital and getting every check in the book. The doctors assume she had a nasty reaction to a virus. Whatever it was, she shook it off. Gracie made a full recovery. Today she is back to being a healthy, happy little girl. I will never forget the day we had to rush her to the emergency. Every day I am thankful that she is with us. I will always be grateful for those who nursed her to back to health. I’m convinced that after this experience, the work I bring to my clients is better. When I’m tired, grumpy or want to give a second-rate service to a client, I think of how horrific it could have been if our healthcare professionals treated us like that.
Their inspiration snaps me out of my funk. I’m back to showing up fully for my clients.
I don’t know many people who wouldn’t want to be called a “professional.” It’s a badge of honor but one that has to be earned. Professionalism is a skill we have to develop by doing our job with excellence each day.
Thankfully, we have plenty of outstanding examples all around us to keep us going.