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What Is A Professional?

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I often hear REALTORS talk about themselves as professionals.

Usually they do it with a Rodney Dangerfield, “I don’t get no respect” attitude. They sound defensive and angry. “Why doesn’t the world acknowledge me as a professional? And why don’t people understand that real estate is a profession, just like medicine or law?” Almost always, the focus of their anger is external. “Why doesn’t NAR do a better job of promoting us? Why don’t people realize my skills and training and dedication? Why doesn’t somebody (not me) fix this?”

What Is A Professional?But what is a profession? Webster defines a profession as: a vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science. They also define it as: any vocation or business. By the second definition all of you are hereby and forevermore designated as members of a profession. If only it was that simple.

And what is a professional? Webster’s says a professional is: someone engaged in one of the learned professions.

Those dictionary definitions of profession and professional do not connect to the real issue. The real issue; what most people want when they refer to themselves as professionals working in a profession, is status and respect.

When we shift the focus of the term professional from what we do to how we are perceived and treated, the definition and the entire concept of the designation “professional” changes.

In that context of status and respect, what exactly is a professional? I believe that a “professional” is someone who takes what they do, whatever that happens to be, and transforms it into an art form. They make the mundane look magnificent. They make seemingly impossible things look drop-dead easy. They cover all the details, all the time. They master the subtleties. They silently acknowledge that they have a gift for what they do and they give that gift to the people in their world respectfully and compassionately. They know that they have never “arrived.”

They are never content with their present body of knowledge. They live with a constant, silent fear of becoming obsolete and irrelevant. They address that fear by continuously learning and growing and changing. They remain their own harshest critics, always looking for ways to be and to do and to deliver something better. They are consciously aware of their Values and they always strive to live them.

Becoming and remaining a “professional” is not bestowed on someone by virtue of a degree or a certificate. “Look at me, I took these courses, I spent this impressive number of hours learning all this stuff and I have this piece of paper to prove it. That makes me a professional. Bow to that.” No. That’s not how it works.

In the course of my life, I have known professional mail carriers, trash collectors, gardeners, housekeepers and baby sitters. And I have known amateur doctors, dentists, attorneys, judges and accountants. I bet, if you take a moment to think about it, so have you.

Because being a true “professional” is a purely personal pursuit, I believe that there are no “professions.” What we conventionally call professions, such as medicine, law, or accounting, are businesses with an extra layer of self-governance. Some of the people who practice them are professionals; some are not.

Designating a field of endeavor as a “profession” (in the context of conveying status and respect) is, to me, two things:

  • It reflects society’s need to attach significance and importance to groups as a way of making individuals in those groups less accountable;
  • and it’s a device for artificially elevating the stature of individual members without demanding the requisite performance.

But you might argue: Wait. Professions have tests and standards and rules and by-laws and continuing education requirements and licensing and self-policing and other neat stuff that sets them apart from, say, auto mechanics.

That’s true in theory. But do you know how often an attorney has to dangerously screw up before he or she can be disbarred, or how many trials a judge must sleep through to lose his office or how many people a doctor has to maim or kill before he or she can lose his/her license? The professional standards set forth in the rules and regulations sound fine, but the performance bars for enforcement are set so low that a warm cadaver could easily maintain a license. We are a society that sometimes elects dead people to Congress. We treat our “professions” with equally tough oversight.

So being a true “professional” is an individual choice. Taking some courses, passing a State licensing test and joining NAR cannot make you a “professional.” You don’t get that designation by posting your credentials and declaring yourself a “professional” on your web site or business card. Clever tag lines in your ads don’t get you there. But all those tactics can fool people for a time.

The measure and stature of one’s professionalism is defined by behavior and Values – the ones you live by; the real ones. Anyone can set their performance bar at the height he/she chooses. You don’t need a society or a licensing body to tell you how to behave or what it means to be a professional.

It’s a matter of personal choice.

Shane Leady
Apella Business Solutions - Zolfo Springs, FL


This is a wonderful post!  I will refer back onto this post much!  Thank you for the item as education and a reminder.


Nov 02, 2007 02:03 AM
Gary Woltal
Keller Williams Realty - Flower Mound, TX
Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth
Bill, One thought I've heard on being a professional is they do what they say they will do and if they don't have the answer they'll find out and get back with you. Wouldn't we all like the people in all service businesses to treat us that way?
Nov 02, 2007 02:09 AM
Jeff Turner
RealSatisfied - Santa Clarita, CA
Bill... this is one tasty piece of writing, my friend. Yes, I've known professional waiters and waitresses and amateur lawyers and doctors. The titles mean nothing when defining what professionalism is all about. "Anyone can set their performance bar at the height he/she chooses." Right on!
Nov 02, 2007 02:20 AM
Amber Bourland
Ozarks' Independent Realty - West Plains, MO
Good points! Makes me want to continue striving to do more, be better, and make it look easy to onlookers!
Nov 02, 2007 02:47 AM
Jeff Turner
RealSatisfied - Santa Clarita, CA
I love this.
Nov 02, 2007 09:54 AM
Bryant Tutas
Tutas Towne Realty, Inc and Garden Views Realty, LLC - Winter Garden, FL
Selling Florida one home at a time
Hey Bill, I just found this and.......it's bedtime. I'll be back in the morning to fully digest and leave my thoughts. 
Nov 02, 2007 12:10 PM
Bill Leider
Real Estate Shows - Manhattan Beach, CA
Shane...Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your remarks.
Nov 02, 2007 01:20 PM
Bill Leider
Real Estate Shows - Manhattan Beach, CA
Gary...Good point. Doing what you say you will do is a big part of having integrity. And I don't know any professionals who don't have integrity. Do you? Thanks for commenting.
Nov 03, 2007 02:20 AM
Bill Leider
Real Estate Shows - Manhattan Beach, CA
Amber...Thanks for responding. I'm glad you liked it.
Nov 03, 2007 07:17 AM
Bryant Tutas
Tutas Towne Realty, Inc and Garden Views Realty, LLC - Winter Garden, FL
Selling Florida one home at a time

Bill, When I first read this post, it brought to mind, an article I had read in my AARP magazine this month. Yes, I know, I am now a proud member of AARP. Anyway, it was talking about the differences between our jobs(which is the lowest rung on the ladder) and something we do to earn money, whether we like it or not. The next rung was our career, again something we do to earn money and something we may enjoy and be very good at but may not necessarily have passion for. The highest step on the ladder is our vocation. This is where our passions lie and where we are the most comfortable and the most productive. It is also the place where what we do is no longer work but joy. For me, that's where I feel I am in my real estate "profession".

I am a professional because I have passion for what I do. I thrive on learning everything I can about my vocation and being the best that I can be, not so much for others, but for my own personal fulfillment and joy. This passion, for my vocation, is what makes me a professional at what I do. It has nothing to do with my profession and it's standards. If there were no professional standards for real estate, I would still, because of my own desire and passion for the business, be a professional. And because of this personal  desire to be the best that I can be at my vocation(because it gives me joy), my "job" though challenging, is very easy for me. Does that make sense? 

So not only is it a matter of personal choice, more importantly, it is matter of finding your "calling" or passion. What do you have that will hopefully make the world a better place? If you can find that, your vocation, the rest is just recognizing it and pursuing it.  

Nov 03, 2007 12:32 PM
Bill Leider
Real Estate Shows - Manhattan Beach, CA

Bryant...Thanks for responding.

I think your point about passion is fundamentally important to being professional. And it poses an interesting question about being a professional. Does passion for your "vocation" alone make you a "professional?" It certainly helps, I think. But being a professional is also about execution, performance and meeting/exceeding the expectations of the people you serve. I have known people (besides REALTORS) who were themselves passionate and loved what they did, but that love didn't always translate into performance. 

And I've known people who were consummate professionals in their performance but who were not passionate about what they did. Those people typically burned out over time and often had health issues related to stress, high blood pressure, etc. So loving what you do and having a passion for it are essential for a long and happy career, but love alone doesn't do it all. Because love and execution are not quite one in the same.

Again, thanks for your insightful response. 


Nov 04, 2007 11:57 PM
Bill Leider
Real Estate Shows - Manhattan Beach, CA

Jeff...Thanks for commenting.

You and I have both known people who represented themselves as professionals and whose performance bars were set so low that an ant could leap over it. 

Nov 05, 2007 12:36 AM