Vince Lombardi, the famous football coach of the Green Bay packers, said, "Winning is not everything, it is the only thing." The generation of Americans that followed Mr. Lombardi became obsessed with winning. The previously well-respected adage of "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game," soon began to disappear from the walls of our Boys and Girls Clubs. As "baby boomers" became the leaders of the business world, they began to focus on "ten-hour days," "output & production," and "the bottom line."
Once we began to turn away from family, church, and community and move towards work, profits, and pleasure, our moral, ethical and professional values began to erode.
Just as the "win at all costs" attitude became prevalent in the business community, it consumed the legal community. Business competitors would often cut short their negotiations with the now famous phrase, "see you in court!" And thereafter would follow costly litigation between parties who would pay whatever it might take to win. In high stakes business litigation, when parties and attorneys are intent on winning and not seeking justice, incivility is the result. And, as we know, incivility breeds incivility.
In September 1998, the North Carolina Supreme Court created the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism. The purpose of this commission is to enhance professionalism among North Carolina attorneys. Professionalism is not the same as ethical conduct. Ethical conduct is the minimum standard required
of a profession, while professionalism is a higher standard that is expected
. Many would say that professionalism is simply defined by the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have the do unto you." E. Fitzgerald Parnell, III of the commission defines professionalism as, "The rekindling and nurturing of those imbedded values that brought each of us to the bar."
A profession is unique in that it is self-regulating. But the elements of professionalism apply to all businesses and professions:
- Civility - It seems that the American lifestyle in the 20th Century and in the new millennium is not predisposed toward politeness and civility. People rush to compete for scarce resources, generate ads which trash their competition, and often struggle just to survive in their daily lives. Rudeness, insults, and sarcasm have become too commonplace in our world. Civility, on the other hand, embodies the notion that there is a type of social behavior that is acceptable within the business community. Courtesy, kindness, and respect are fundamental to our notions of civility, and should be paramount in our dealing with each other. Civility prevails over incivility more often than not.
- Honesty and Integrity - Your reputation in the business community evolves day to day. If your word is your bond and people know that they can trust you, your chances for success are greatly increased. One half truth or one fudged figure will mar your reputation forever. What a comfort to hear a customer say, "I'm doing business with Mr. Jones, because he is honest, and I know I can trust him."
- Excellent Service - Service is the lifeblood of every industry. The manner in which you serve your customers will usually determine the success of your business. Even though service should be measured by the competency with which it is performed, a more important gauge of service may be the attitude of the people rendering the service. Encourage your employees to treat each customer as if he/she is the most important customer you have. A smile and a positive attitude will generate more business than you can handle.
- Community Service - "You should never take more than you give."
"Some say eat or be eaten
Some say live and let live
But all are agreed as they join the stampede
You should never take more than you give."
---Tim Rice's lyrics for
Elton John's music from The Lion King
If your business is going to be successful, your community needs to be strong. Your community will not be strong, if you do not give your time and talents in making it a better place. You may not remember some of your more successful business deals, but you will remember times that you have given to others, such as: coaching kids in sports, conducting a choir at your church, working at Habitat for Humanity, and volunteering at the blood drive or at the hospital.
The elements and principals of professionalism can have a profound impact on your quality of life. We read and hear much today about alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide. Most medical and psychological experts will describe these conditions as diseases, but I believe that they may be precipitated by unprofessional conduct. The stress of too much time at work, the anxiety caused by a dishonest act, the guilt caused by a prejudicial or harassing comment can all trigger the onset of any of the above listed maladies. Seminars and articles on professionalism can improve the quality of life of your employees and ultimately make your business more successful.
Just as the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism is committed to enhancing professionalism among North Carolina lawyers, each businessman or woman who reads this article should commit to making his/her business more professional. Remember the old adage of the "Man in the Mirror," it is a good one and can help you. Each morning when you look in the mirror, make a promise to yourself that you are going to treat every person you come in contact with that day as if they are the most important person in the world. And if you should be confronted with uncivil or unprofessional conduct, you will not respond in the same manner, but you will take the "high road." If you will take the "high road" of professionalism others will follow, and they will attest to the fact that "Professionalism Can Be Found In Your Business!"