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The Two Sides of Professionalism

If you were following the pallet industry news back in 2014, you would know that it was one wild ride. Wood costs and availability fluctuated dramatically. To offset the rising cost of pine, a manufacturer would switch to hardwood. But as the housing market rebounded from the Great Recession, hardwood prices soard. Innovative solutions were needed.

Innovation is not so easy when the product is part of a complex supply chain made up of loggers, sawmills, remanufacturing operations, pallet manufacturers, sales, and brokers. Customers don’t see this and don’t think about it, so the volatile prices would make them feel like they were being exploited.

However, Mitchell Kamps and team responded like professionals. Their goal became to “continuously educate on the current conditions of the wood market and provide them with a range of options to choose from, while still maintaining the same standard of service.” Kamps Pallets developed hybrid designs using both pine and hardwood and hustled on all sorts of details to keep customers happy.

Kamps Pallets now has 26 locations nationally, having just acquired Green Trip Recycling in Atlanta, Georgia this month. What started in 1973 with a young Bernie Kamps purchasing broken pallets from landfills and then repairing and reselling them is now a national provider of pallet rentals, custom designed pallets, pallet recycling, and crates and boxes to meet the shipping needs of all sorts of companies.

And it is a great example of what I call the two sides of professionalism.

You might recognize the theme in your own career. Your work as a professional has two sides–the messy struggle of what it takes to pull everything together behind the scenes and the polished presentation side.

I often wonder, if some of my old clients could see the frantic struggle behind some of my fancy presentations, what would they think? They might be sorely disappointed to realize that I rode an emotional roller coaster of excitement and despair, scrambled to research things until the last minute, and struggled to pull together a cohesive analysis and plan.

Or, they might marvel at the dedication and determination to get the job done no matter what it took. They might appreciate all the effort required to get them the best possible plan that I was capable of delivering, and the humility needed to make sure that it was sound, sensible, and innovative.

But one thing is for sure–if I had rushed in haggard and unkempt complaining of my behind the scenes struggles, all would be lost. Because appearance matters. That is what instills confidence and earns trust.

Those are the two sides of professionalism.

When we lose sight of how these two sides work together, it causes undue stress. We feel bad about the messy part because we think that we are supposed to be organized and methodical all the time. We equate professionalism with the polish and the confidence and the expertise but we forget what it takes to actually pull that off is messy.

Instead, we have to look deeper. Because professionalism is not the outward actions that may appear either messy or polished. Professionalism is the idea of ownership of our responsibilities. That’s what connects the two sides.

Being professional means that you are committed to doing your best work, no matter what. It doesn’t mean that you have all the answers, it doesn’t mean that you always have to be in charge, and it doesn’t mean that you focus on achievement. It means that you are willing to be humble, vulnerable, and to continually strive to improve.

Professionalism is an attitude.

And that attitude makes all the difference. Amateurs are looking to eek out a win. Professionals are honing their process for the long term.

Amateurs fear adversity and challenges because it means they could make mistakes or be subject to criticism. Professionals see those challenges as a necessary part of growth and meet them head on.

Amateurs worry about doing it the way that everyone else does it. “Best practices” are a safety net. Professionals search for the best way, even if it might be different from the norm–they actively question widely held assumptions.

Amateurs view coaching or feedback as a personal attack. Professionals actively seek thoughtful criticism to improve themselves and their work.

Professionalism means playing the long game. Today is important, but it is a building block to the future. And if you struggle with something today that helps you handle something better in the future, it’s worth it.

The best results come when we embrace the two sides of professionalism–when we do the dirty work and then clean ourselves up to put it forward clearly and with confidence.