What It Takes to be a Professional: The Things You Can Control.
By Chris Longstreet, CHA, President & CEO, Society for Hospitality Management
Thursday, 6th April 2006
Two years ago, we started the Society for Hospitality Management with the goal of improving and elevating the professionalism of the hospitality industry.  Today, through our programs and resources, we continue working with professionals at all levels to improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities.  People working in this industry are professionals and are vital contributors to the success of the communities and organizations served. This is a 2006 revision of our first article we posted… enjoy!

Several years ago, I sat out in the grass of a minor league baseball game. There, while eating hot dogs with my kids and the grass down the left field line, I watched the opposing team, the SouthBend SilverHawks, conduct their pre-game warm up drills. I watched them lay on the grass and stretch, throw the ball in specific motion, and run sprints of approximately 25 yards. They were getting warmed up and ready for another game. 

I admire the professionals at this level. Each one works hard to improve their skills eager to make it to the ultimate level – the big leagues. They each have a goal and are working hard to achieve it. As I sat watching the team, one player caught my eye. He seemed to do more, give more, and work a little harder than others on the field. He didn't stop at the end of the sprints.  He always did one more of the warm up drills than the rest of the players he was with. I was impressed with his effort and his apparent desire to be the best and achieve his dream of making it to the big leagues. I wondered then: what made him different? What did he have inside him that maybe, just maybe, the others did not?

Today, Matt Kata has made it to the highest level and as a professional baseball player. Matt is on the active roster of the Philadelphia Phillies. In a May 2003 article in Bill Mitchell's Minor League Ramblings, Matt Kata outlined his baseball philosophy with three rather simple success factors. "Attitude, concentration, and effort," states Kata, "those are the easy things to control. I know that the numbers will be a reflection of that." Attitude, concentration, and effort - these things are keys to being a professional and the things you can control

"The way I approach the game (is to) play hard and hustle," said Kata, about the intangibles he brings to the field. "Doing the little things, being in the right place at the right time, always hustling, knowing where to throw the ball, moving the runner over … that's the strong part of my game."  These are the intangibles that have made Matt Kata a professional.

Attitude is Everything

"Attitude, concentration, and effort, those are the easy things to control," states Matt Kata, formerly of the Arizona Dimondbacks, and now a member of the Philadelphia Phillies

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "People don't seem to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character." What Emerson is saying is that if we think this is a miserable world to live in, then we live in a miserable world...and probably make it miserable for others to live in too.

Our attitudes are reflected in everything we do, including relationships with our customers and guests. If we see guests as a necessary evil and that they are there just "bothering" us, their responses to us will be entirely different than if we see them as investors in our company and people who will ultimately create the success of our organization. We can never be truly professional unless we develop a sincere respect for - and healthy attitude toward - our customers and guests.

Keith Harrell, in his book Attitude Is Everything, makes it clear that with our attitude we have a choice. "The critical difference between those who believe that they will succeed and those who have no belief in themselves is their understanding of attitude. There are those who know they can control their attitudes and those who allow their attitudes to control them. The people who do best in life are those who realize they have the power to choose their attitudes, just as they have the power to choose their clothing, their cars, or their dinner companions."

The American Heritage Dictionary defines attitude as a state of mind or feeling with regard to some matter. So what is our attitude towards our profession? the organization you lead or serve? the customers you serve? the employees you work with or lead? Our attitudes have an impact on our actions. Our attitudes have an impact on those we work with. Our attitudes have an impact on our guests and the people we serve.

Concentration and Knowledge

I was recently on a tour of an Outback Restaurant with a class I teach at Grand Valley State University. Jim Dunleavy, the managing partner of the restaurant said, "Multi-tasking isn't for me. If I have to do three things at one time, which one is getting my full attention and which one am I doing well?" What a great insight!

Concentration means knowing what to do at the right time. To achieve a high level of concentration, a professional has to be knowledgeable in what they do. Whether it's teaching a class, running a restaurant, operating a hotel, planning and coordinating an event, or playing baseball, a professional needs to know what it takes to get the job done. Concentration is knowing the little things that make a difference, being in the right place at the right time, and knowing what to do and when to do it. Professionals make concentration a strong part of their game.

There is no question that concentration takes practice. Baseball players become better when they practice so that their decision making and actions are in sync with each other. Our minds are designed to carry out several tasks at once, if needed, and it is common for our attention to be going many directions all at the same time. Learning to take control of our attention is a critical skill in developing the self-control needed to be a professional.

Effort and Passion

"Play hard and hustle," says Kata. What words define effort better? "Doing the little things, being in the right place at the right time, always hustling!" Effort means getting their before someone else does, beating the competition, rolling up your sleeves and grinding it our when times are tough, making the right plays when needed, and not being afraid to get dirty. Each analogy applies to the role of a baseball player as much as it does to professionals in the hospitality industry. To be a professional, we must love playing hard and hustling.

Effort and passion go hand in hand. Richard Chang in his book, The Passion Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide to Discovering, Developing and Living Your Passion, defines passion as personal intensity, or the underlying force that fuels our strongest emotions.  "When you experience passion," claims Chang, "you lose track of time and become absorbed in the task at hand. It uplifts you and inspires you. It heightens your performance and enables you to achieve things you may never have dreamed possible." For a professional, passion makes the difference.

Developing as a Professional

Professionalism is a state of mind. Professionalism is how you conduct yourself and act on a daily basis. It is not what you do - it is how you do it.  Pride is the sense of satisfaction you have from knowing that you are important, worthwhile, in control of your destiny, and aware of and acting on your potential. Taking pride in yourself and what you do is the foundation from which professionalism grows.

Professionals can be found at every level of an organization. Whether at the corporate or property level, professionalism is what we bring to the job. Servers are professionals. Room attendants are professionals.

To develop as a professional, consider the following activities: 

1.  Learn as much as you can about your job and the industry. To be a professional requires knowledge of your job and knowing when to use that information. Take a college course, attend seminars and workshops when available and appropriate, or simply read books on the industry. You don't need college credit to gain knowledge about the hospitality industry. 

2. Join an association that encourages professional development in your area of the industry. There are many associations – find the one that fits you and helps you grow both personally and professionally. Research these organizations on-line and see which one fits your needs and career ambitions best. Be a part of a community that is helping you grow and develop as a professional. The association can be local, national, or international. The important thing is to join an organization that provides you value and assists you in achieving your professional goals.

3. Find a mentor in this industry and learn from them. Mentoring is an informal relationship with another industry professional that aids in career growth and development. Learning occurs informally through discussion and experiences. The relationship provides tremendous insight personally and professionally and provides learning which rarely occurs in a formal setting.

Make a commitment to be a professional and to grow in this industry. We all are professionals in what we do and can enhance this industry by working on the things we can control:  our attitude, our concentration, and our effort.

Chris Longstreet is President & CEO of the Society for Hospitality Management.  He also serves as a visiting instructor for the Hospitality & Tourism Management Program at Grand Valley State University.  For more information, visit the SHM website at www.hospitalitysociety.org or contact Chris at clongstreet@hospitalitysociety.org.

For a free subscription to the SHM Training Bulletin, visit www.hospitalitysociety.org or email info@hospitalitysociety.org.

© Society for Hospitality Management, January 2006
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