Archive for February, 2024

For love or money? What is professionalism?

Monday, February 19th, 2024

Nick Dunlap made golfing history in January 2024 when he won The American Express PGA Tour.  He is the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event in 33 years.  The prize money for the event is £1.5m.  However, because he is an amateur golfer (Dunlap is a university student), he doesn’t get to win any of the money.

In a 2019 episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld takes his friend and guest, fellow comedian Mario Joyner to the barber.  Jerry insists that Mario’s beard needs trimming.  Leaving aside the strain that this might put on any relationship (if your friend’s hirsute style troubles you would you book them into a hairdresser, and if you did would they still be your friend?), the sincerity of Seinfeld’s horror at Joyner’s unfettered beard is clearly authentic.

Post barber, situation resolved (though the difference seems marginal), Seinfeld points out that he thinks it is much better, and that there are some things that need to be carried out by professionals.  And this takes the pair into a familiar (to regular viewers of the show), rant about how comedy is only the business of professionals, and amateurs telling jokes fills them with horror.

But doing something because you love it, the original definition of amateur (from the latin amare – to love), requires a passion for the subject that could transcend simply doing something for money, clearly evidenced in Dunlap’s golfing victory. 

Most bloggers will be doing it for the love of getting their point of view out there.  I don’t get paid for this blog – it doesn’t mean that I don’t consider myself a professional blogger, and care about every word, every semi colon, and the cadence of each sentence. 

The scientist and heiress Miriam Rothschild spent years compiling a four volume catalogue of fleas, published in the 1950s.  She had come under accusations in a field almost exclusively populated by men, of being a dilettante.  She instead used the term amateur with pride.  According to Natalie Livingstone, the author of Women of Rothschild, it was Miriam’s “expert amateurism that allowed her to follow her broad interests, work across subdisciplines, imbue her work with her love of literature and philosophy, and avoid the increasing specialism she observed taking place”.  Miriam was a huge success in her field, she served as the first woman trustee at the Natural History Museum and was awarded an honorary doctorate of science by Oxford University and was a visiting professor at the Royal Free Hospital.  Read between the lines and her amateur status allowed her to break the glass wall of men dominated institutions, and the freedom to explore her own judgement for the benefit of science.

What does being a professional mean?  In the world of sport, being a professional means getting paid for what you do.  Is that the only criteria?  Or is there a level of professionalism that requires more than just a salary?  My first job was selling shoes in Dolcis in Brent Cross.  I don’t think the lavish salary (for a 14 year old, (with double time for bank holidays and a bonus for selling Scotchguard)), made me a professional. 

My colleague Rob Meldrum, head of creative futures at EMX, spoke recently to his team about a collective ambition to make “the best work of our lives”. 

This ambition, together with the expertise and persistence, are what characterises professionalism.  And it is what I’d want from a barber / hairdresser.  What any client would want I think.  And what keeps me loving my job.

A good boss is a servant leader

Tuesday, February 6th, 2024

Happy 2024.

As the old year turns into the new year there are often added pressures.

Where it is acceptable to move a meeting from June to July or from October to November, moving a meeting from one year to another seems much more epic, and rude, so maybe the last weeks of the year have been especially fraught with added pressure to squeeze catch ups in?

For organisations with calendar reporting there is all the busyness of finalizing year-end figures, and crystalising business plans for the next 12 months.

Then there are awards, the new season is also starting with Campaign Media Deadlines in January.

Is your boss putting pressure on you to get stuff done at an even higher rate of agility than usual?

Bosses increasingly see the benefits of being in the office together and want to see you there.  So, getting you physically in the office is an overriding agenda too, which can be an added pressure to a difficult work life balance for some.

Bosses shouldn’t be adding pressure of course.  That isn’t the role.  A great leader will be working as hard as possible to alleviate pressure and find hacks to make your work simpler and less hassle.

Our popular culture doesn’t reflect this does it.  It’s locked into a 20th century, even Victorian, notion of the boss as tyrant, making unreasonable demands and not caring about anything more than the results. 

From the wonderful Sylvie in Emily in Paris to the iconic Katharine Parker played by Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl, to 9 to 5, The Office and Horrible Bosses and all stations in between there are a myriad of caricatures of rubbish managers.

And where are the good bosses on screen? Few and far between.

In our best-selling book (with Kathryn Jacob), The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, one of our anonymous interviewees told us about the need to ask your boss for help, not to assume that they just expected you to Just Do It.

She told us that she had taken a big promotion but felt really out of her depth. In fact, she confided that after her first few weeks she was completely miserable, not sleeping properly and she felt like she was

letting her new boss down badly.  She had found out that she wasn’t superwoman.  Well, nor are any of us.  What she needed to do was ask her boss for help.  Because her boss wanted her to succeed.  Of course, he did, he’d promoted her, and her failing was only going to cause him more problems. 

This is true of everyone.  Always remember that your boss needs you.  But they might not know, unless they are mind readers, what you need from them.

In an ideal world your boss would prioritise your welfare.  In Agile ways of working (of which I am a huge believer) the notion of the Servant Leader is pre-eminent.  The role of the team leader is simple, to control workflow to make sure it is realistically manageable, and to remove barriers from your path.  And the daily standup and transparent KanBan ensure that the leader can do this.

Not everyone works in this way of course.  Your barriers or difficulties might not be clear to your manager, and remember they have their own problems, and pressure.

So, take time to communicate what you need from your boss.  Manage your manager and try to manage your team better than Sigourney.