Balls, chutzpah, moxie, guts, pluck, tenacity. These are all qualities that describe the successful management style of the 1980s. Whether times are good or bad, it’s always important to have energetic go-getters managing the corporate throttle.
The early part of the ’90s introduced the team builder, the facilitator, the collective thinker. The skills that will be valued in the late ’90s and into the next century are those of the professional amateur. At first thought, this term sounds like an oxymoron. To some, the two ideas expressed are at opposite ends of the spectrum. We suggest, however, that the qualities that define the professional and the amateur are not oppositional, but separated only by a subtle nuance of understanding.
The qualities of a professional seem so obvious as to be universal, spanning boarders, continents, cultures, race and gender. Obvious to some maybe, but still worth restating.
The first thought is that a professional is one who gets paid for what he or she does or knows. She is that person who goes about performing a talent in a diligent and practical manner. Additionally, many professionals have a code of performance that corresponds to how other professionals in the same discipline apply their abilities. In fact, many professional disciplines have educational requirements along with years of consistent application of their skills before certain government boards allow them to be licensed, linking their names to an association of like professionals. For the most part, these external requirements are for the protection of the public, or to distinguish from those without degrees.
The word itself – professional – implies credibility, superior performance, expertise, as well as getting paid better than those who are not professionals. The implication is that an amateur is none of these things.
So, must an amateur be the opposite of a professional? Not necessarily. While an amateur may not have a degree or credentials from a governing body or board of review, he could still have the expertise to perform the tasks required at a level equal to that of a professional.
Some college, even some high school, athletes have the physical skills and natural attributes to perform their sport at a professional level. Their gifts may be honed with additional practice and experience, but many are capable of competition their first day on the field.
Outside of athletics we’ve all heard stories, maybe even know people, whose natural gifts and abilities have rocketed them past peers with more formal education and years of experience. But for the most part, these definitions and descriptions of amateurs and professionals are as out of date in the contemporary business vernacular as the typing pool.
The only real and substantial thing to remember about these two positions is that they are more about attitude than anything else. An amateur is more about the details of how something is done than degrees or affiliations. It is about work ethic, discipline, dedication, commitment, responsibility, loyalty and honor. These concepts not only define professional performance, they are also the values that congeal a corporation’s character into its culture.
People with these qualities on your staff have always been sought after and valued as corporate assets. Just as some of the new composite metals are stronger and more flexible than steel with a quarter of the weight, the professional amateur is a new breed of corporate executive who will bring new strengths to his or her business.
The key to this new position again is not training but attitude. The amateur brings “why not” to an environment of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
What is it that has created a space for this new position of professional amateur? Change. This is the kind of change that is inevitable, normal, consistent and continuous. With this new kind of change, success is not the destination but a stop along the way. This kind of change demands attention to detail and the constant and continuous re-examination of every aspect of corporate performance and product fulfillment.
The “amateur” in professional culture is someone who is open to criticism, experimentation, tinkering, adjustment, even failure. This kind of person is willing to ask the dumb questions. Like an amateur athlete, while she wants to win, her first objective is to get better, improve and learn.
Add to this passion and a quest for excellence, the attributes of discipline and thoughtfulness with a long-term goal in mind, and you have the next generation of corporate executive. This person not only leads others by example but infects them with her attitude. The result can be a collective feeling that becomes a signature element of your corporate culture, and as such can be nurtured and developed within your entire organization.
So, the next time a key position in your company opens up, look for the values and qualities in those applicants that define the professional amateur. You may foster a collection of talented people who understand what it takes to be continually striving for success as a fact of nature.