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True Professionalism: The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career (Anglais) Broché – 18 mai 2000

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Chapter 1


I frequently ask professionals what they consider to be the difference between a good secretary and a great secretary. The answers flow freely. Great secretaries, I am told:

* Take pride in their work, and show a personal commitment to quality

* Reach out for responsibility

* Anticipate, and don't wait to be told what to do -- they show initiative

* Do whatever it takes to get the job done

* Get involved and don't just stick to their assigned role

* Are always looking for ways to make things easier for those they serve

* Are eager to learn as much as they can about the business of those they serve

* Really listen to the needs of those they serve

* Learn to understand and think like those they serve so they can represent them when they are not there

* Are team players

* Can be trusted with confidences

* Are honest, trustworthy, and loyal

* Are open to constructive critiques on how to improve

All of this list can be summarized in one phrase: Great secretaries care.

Two obvious points need to be made about this list. First and foremost, it is applicable to all of us, not just to secretaries. With virtually no modifications, this list could serve to delineate the defining characteristics of what differentiates a great consultant from a good one, a great lawyer from a good one, and so on. Indeed, this list is a reasonable definition of what it means to be a professional.

Second, this list has nothing to do with technical skills. Few secretaries are deemed to be "great" because of their ability to type 95 words a minute or file documents in nanoseconds. Similarly, very few professionals become known by their clients as "great" purely as a result of technical abilities. The opposite of the word professional is not unprofessional, but rather technician.

Technicians may be highly skilled, but they aren't professionals until they reliably and consistently demonstrate the characteristics listed above. Professionalism is predominantly an attitude, not a set of competencies. A real professional is a technician who cares. (You may recall the old slogan "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.")

How many of us so-called professionals are prepared to be held accountable for behaving according to the standards set by this list? Yet we often ask people who earn a fraction of what professionals earn to meet these standards. This raises an interesting question: Why would secretaries be willing to strive for such standards? Why would anyone who isn't sharing the profits want to demonstrate this level of commitment?

To find out, I asked Julie O'Leary, who began in 1985 as my secretary and who is now my business manager. Julie meets and exceeds every one of the standards listed above. This is what she had to say:

Professional is not a label you give yourself -- it's a description you hope others will apply to you. You do the best you can as a matter of self-respect. Having self-respect is the key to earning respect and trust from others. If you want to be trusted and respected you have to earn it. These behaviors lead to job fulfillment. The question should really be, "Why wouldn't someone want to do this?" If someone takes a job, or starts a career worrying about what's in it for them, looking to do just enough to get by, or being purely self-serving in their performance -- they will go nowhere. Even if they manage to excel through the ranks as good technicians -- they will not be happy in what they are doing. The work will be boring, aggravating, tiresome, and a drag.

It should be clear from this why I consider Julie O'Leary to be more of a professional than many of the lawyers, consultants, accountants, engineers, and actuaries that I meet. (I sometimes worry that her professional standards exceed my own.) If you've ever been a purchaser of a professional service, or an employer, you'll probably agree that finding people with technical skill is usually easy, but finding people who behave consistently in the ways described above is hard. It is rare to find individuals (and even harder to find whole firms) filled with the energy, drive, and enthusiasm, as well as the personal commitment to excellence, that Julie has shown. Why is this?

Traditional Views of Professionalism

Part of the problem, I believe, lies in what people believe professionalism to be. As we have seen, real professionalism has little, if anything, to do with which business you are in, what role within that business you perform, or how many degrees you have. Rather, it implies a pride in work, a commitment to quality, a dedication to the interests of the client, and a sincere desire to help.

However, traditional definitions of professionalism are filled with references to status, educational attainments, "noble" callings, and things like the right of practitioners to autonomy -- the privilege of practicing free of direction. All of these definitions are self-interested. (As George Bernard Shaw suggested, "All professions are conspiracies against the laity.")

Perhaps one reason for the scarcity of real professionalism may be that the recruiting process in professional firms is flawed. Real professionalism is about attitudes, and perhaps even about character. Yet few firms screen very effectively for this in their hiring, either at entry level or when bringing in more-experienced, lateral-entry hires. Most hiring processes are about educational qualifications and technical skills.

As Julie once pointed out: "Firms should hire for attitude, and train for skill. Skills you can teach -- attitudes and character are inherent. They can be suppressed or encouraged to develop, but they have to be there to begin with."

Another of my favorite discussion questions is to ask people "Why do you do what you do?" Obviously things like money, meaning, and intellectual challenge are important, but the one I always listen for is "I like helping people." If that one is missing, I know I am speaking with a professional in trouble.

Too many professionals don't do what they do because they want to help their clients; they're in it only for the money or the personal prestige. In my view, such professionals may become good, and even earn good incomes, but they will never be considered great.

In recent years, many firms have debated the question "Are we a profession or are we a business?" I have found many of these debates to be misconceived. Many of those who argue that they are a business say that they cannot afford the laissez-faire management approaches of the past, and must focus more on financial realities. In reply, those who have argued that they are a profession appeal to the needs for autonomy, professional fulfillment, and freedom from bureaucratic constraints. In my view, both sides are wrong.

Being a professional is neither about money nor about professional fulfillment. Both of these are consequences of an unqualified dedication to excellence in serving clients and their needs. As Dale Carnegie wrote many years ago: "You'll have more fun and success helping other people achieve their goals than you will trying to reach your own goals."

A related problem may be how people are being "socialized" into the professions by schools and by firms -- I suspect that many truly don't understand what professional life is really all about. For example, in recent years I have seen many so-called professionals undergo a form of status shock. An acquaintance of mine, a top-of-the-class MBA type, recently left the consulting profession after many years with a top-tier firm because, as he said: "In the early years clients gave me respect because I solved their problems, but now I'm treated like a vendor. They question my recommendations, make me justify everything I plan to do on their behalf, and watch my spending like a hawk. I'm not used to being in the subservient role, and I don't like it."

This acquaintance was (and is) entirely accurate about how significant the changes have been in how clients deal with professionals. In the past, professionals were often given respect and trust automatically because of their position. That's no longer true. However, what this person failed to understand (or to accept) is that it is still possible to be treated with respect and trust -- but now you really have to earn and deserve these things. None of this should be a surprise; as Bob Dylan once wrote, "You Gotta Serve Somebody."

Perhaps it is time for our schools and professional firms alike to stop teaching students that they are the best and the brightest, the special elite in the noblest profession of all (whatever that profession happens to be). Maybe schools and firms should find ways to teach more about what it is to serve a client, and about how to work with people whether they be your juniors, your seniors, or your colleagues. (When I talk with business-school alumni about their careers and what they would have done differently to prepare for them, the most common reply is "I wish I had paid more attention to the courses about dealing with people.")

It's Not (Just) About the Money

If you review the preceding list of behaviors (commitment to quality, reaching out for responsibility, doing what it takes to get the job done, etc.), it should be obvious that people who exhibited these behaviors would be on a fast-track path to economic success. As Julie pointed out, it is doing these things that earn you respect and trust, whether from colleagues or clients. If this is true -- that professionalism works -- then why don't more people operate this way?

I have frequently posed this question to groups ranging from senior professionals to secretaries. I must report that the most common reply I hear is "Well, I'm not compensated for doing all that." This is of course a Catch-22. In most organizations, you would be rewarded (eventually) if you behaved this way. But if you wait to be rewarded before you do it, then you'll probably wait forever. The problem, then, is that people may be too short-term in their thinking -- they are focusing on their jobs, not their careers. The noble path does win, but only if you are prepared to make the investment to act professionally over a long period of time.

Another factor that suppresses people's desire to act professionally (at least in the terms in which I have defined it) is the environment in which they work -- how they are managed. It is easier to find the discipline and motivation to behave professionally if everyone around you is doing the same. However, I am frequently told that this is not the case. I often hear comments like "Why should I strive for excellence when everyone else is just doing enough to get by? I'd be willing to participate if everyone else was behaving this way, but it gets pretty demotivating to be the only one really trying with nobody noticing."

What this comment points out is that even if you have a firm filled with people who have the attitude and character to be real professionals, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of creating an environment that demotivates them. If those at the top are not living, breathing exemplars of real professionalism, it is easy for those lower down to conclude that commitment and professionalism are not required "around here."

So what is it that encourages people to act professionally, and also creates the environment that allows real professionals to flourish? The answers are as old as the hills, even if they are just as frequently forgotten. Here's Julie's advice again:

* "Remember to show appreciation to the one who has taken that extra step or surprised you with an exceptional performance. This will breed more enthusiasm and more good work.

* "Don't be afraid to give people ever more responsible assignments (trust them), and if it doesn't come out perfect, let them try again after you've given them some pointers. Everyone likes a challenge.

* "Get people involved. Share reports, conversations, information about competitors and clients, etc., so that everyone can see the big picture and how they fit into it.

* "Constructive critiques are one of the most powerful learning tools available to the employee. Take the time to help people learn -- not as a matter of performance appraisal, nor an issue of compensation, but simply as a sincere desire to help them improve.

* "Don't promote teamwork and then only recognize the captain. Make sure recognition is given to everyone in some way. It doesn't have to be money -- it can be as simple as saying 'Well done.' Take a friend to lunch -- 'It's on me.' Work hard to make people feel part of what's going on."

To Julie's comments, I'd add a few of my own. I believe that everyone likes to feel that what you're doing has a purpose -- that you're doing something meaningful in the world. If all anyone ever talks about is the money, it gets pretty depressing. You can't just pay people to be dedicated, motivated professionals. You must reward them if they are, but money alone won't do it. Ultimately, you must inspire them to be as professional as they know how to be. To get people to be professionals, you must treat them as professionals -- and be tolerant of nothing less.

Julie's view on this is as follows: "If the person has the right character, and you treat them as you would want to be treated, they will respond with enthusiasm and commitment. If they don't, then you should reassess what the person is doing working for you. Or maybe they need to reassess if they're in the right job."

I hope these thoughts cause the reader, whether a managing partner or a secretary, to ponder two questions that we all need to think about frequently. First: Do other people consider me a professional? (How well do those I serve think I meet the criteria on page one?) Second: Do I deal with those who work for me in such a way as to encourage their commitment and professionalism, or do I sometimes act to suppress it? (How good am I at bringing out the professionalism in others?)

Copyright © 1997 by David H. Maister

Revue de presse

Thomas J. Tierney Worldwide Managing Director, Bain & Company Insightful, entertaining and useful! Maister's work bridges the gap between theory and practice; grounded in conceptual bedrock, it offers practical 'Monday morning' advice for anyone involved in managing a professional service firm.

John Harvey Chairman, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Australia David Maister is the guru of professional services. A routine reading of Maister?s lessons is good religion for all practice managers.

James M. Kouzes Coauthor of The Leadership Challenge and Credibility True Professionalism is pure gold. You?ll be able to mine this rich vein for your entire career and always discover another nugget.

Adrian Martin Managing Partner, BDO Stoy Hayward UK Maister is not for the fainthearted. If you are not prepared to ask the tough questions about your business, don?t open this book! ?

Tom Watson Vice Chairman, Omnicom Group, Inc. Maister?s ideas are applicable in a wide range of professional businesses and are equally valid for small firms or large. This book speaks to the professional in all of us.

Martin Sorrell Chairman, WPP Group plc Provocative, controversial and stimulating, Maister challenges traditional thinking and provides new insights on a wide range of important issues.

A. W. (Pete) Smith, Jr. President & CEO, Watson Wyatt Worldwide David Maister has a keen awareness of what creates success in professional service firms and a clear way of communicating ideas that truly make a difference.

John M. Westcott, Jr. Assistant Managing Partner, Hale & Dorr, Boston Maister in print, like Maister in person, is animated, entertaining and insightful. He always leaves the reader with food for further thought.

Robert M. Heller Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel David Maister is a walking oxymoron, a practical visionary whose thoughtful analysis of the professional service firm is must-reading for anyone trying to lead, manage or survive in one. If you need help getting your prima donnas to sing like a chorus, read this book -- better yet, ask them to.

Fergus Ryan Managing Partner, Arthur Andersen, Australia David Maister?s knowledge of professional services is second to none.

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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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Amazon.com: 28 commentaires
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Should be required reading in law firms 25 mai 2002
Par Ellen Ostrow - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
"True Professionalism" expresses Maister's core message: do work
you love with people you like and everything else will come
with ease. Few of the lawyers I coach have heard this message
before. If they'd read Maister they'd realize that business
development isn't about selling, with all of its worst connotations -- it's about helping people you respect and whose problems are meaningful to you.
Maister encourages the reader to consider the "radical" idea that work should be enjoyable and that if it is, then success will come from doing it well and with sincere caring. I agree with him and enjoy being reminded each time I re-read this wonderful book.
14 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
if I were a professional, I'd be offended by this book 2 février 2010
Par Charlyn Gee - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
I thought that this book would extend the concept of professionalism out of its traditional realm and into the world of business. But I was dismayed to find that professionalism as Maister thinks of it doesn't apply to me... because I work for a corporation. Maister sees a "professional" as someone who provides a service to a client, and who could work as a sole practitioner. His book seems to be mostly geared towards lawyers and consultants, and more specifically law firms or consulting firms.

Also, it often seems like, because I work for a corporation, with no real expectation of autonomy, I already by default have the skills he claims professionals so badly need - like the ability to work as part of a team or to accept management.

Half of the book is spent implying that professionals (or possibly people overall) are unable to be internally motivated to excellence, and repeatedly insisting that the only way to make them perform at a high level is to have an external force demand that they do so, and strictly enforce those demands. He describes such a policy as "intolerant" and uses this word A LOT. He further suggests that professionals should want and accept this, because they too should realize that they can't achieve excellence on their own.
It is a little offensive, and I would imagine that such a firm taking such a faithless approach would have great success among the average, but would drive away the best.

The other half of the book, strangely, implies that actually you can't change people that much, and should adjust your firm to contain only people who share the same standards and values.

This book is sometimes called inspiring and perhaps that is because Maister suggests that a fulfilling professional career is in fact possible (even though many may feel like it's "just a job"). And he does offer some decent, albeit obvious, advice about how to get there (think about times in your work when you were happy, or clients that you liked, and then DO THAT - find more of that kind of work, or that kind of client).

Overall I thought this book was quite muddled, with mediocre advice presented in a poorly organized way.

Note about the Kindle edition: this book has a lot of lists, and about half of the lists are incorrectly formatted in the Kindle edition (they appear as a long run-on block of text instead of a bullet list). Also, this book in print form has quotes from the main text set off in little side boxes meant to emphasize important ideas. In the Kindle edition there are no boxes; instead the quotes are just repeated in line in bold text, producing a weird effect of redundancy.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Essentials Needed To Become a Successful Leader 21 avril 2004
Par Joyce A. Ogirri - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
David Maister does a great job of explaining the fundamentals essential to anyone that has a job or is looking for a job in consulting. Splitting the book into three sections made it flow well and easy to follow and comprehend. Furthermore, Maister really focuses on the things that you should look for within yourself as well as the firm and clients. He makes you think about what one should really focus on in your career and the benefits you can receive from your job. This book also guides an employee in explaining situations that will probably occur at some point in their working career. David Maister gives you the tools that you need to be successful; all the person has to do is apply it to their everyday life.
The principles that Maister discussed in his book showed me that there is a balance between the client, the firm, and yourself. This balance is important because it dictates how successful you will become. It is also important to value your client as well as engage with them so that you really know who the client is and what their needs and wants are. Even though you must achieve your goals, you should help others to do the same by establishing a relationship, which in turn will make the working environment healthy and successful.
There is so much information you take a way from this book that will help you in your career as well as your life. I advise everyone to buy this book, because it is very beneficial to the success of anyone's career. Through the use of catchy phrases and clear, practical explanations, I feel that anyone can read this book and take something from it to apply to their career.
22 internautes sur 29 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Insightful & simple - but too hard to use. 12 mars 1999
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
You're a consultant, lawyer, accountant or some other professional in a practice which needs to sell to survive.
This book gives good, simple, guidelines to succeed. Follow them and you'll do well.
Don't worry that your competition will do the same because many of the recommendations will get lost in the "Too Hard" basket. For example, Maister's treatment of unchargeable time is simple and cuts right to the chase: how is non-chargeable time measured? What is the RoI of this time? Is there a schedule or a programme for what is essential investment in the future?
The logic is impeccable, but it will lead to little action precisely because unchargeable time by definition doesn't contribute to the bottom line immediately.
It is a book which seeks out many of the sloppy, unimaginative practices prevalent in professional firms and provides practical remedies. It is a book that will be much recommended but too hard to use, and the reason why is best illustrated by Maister's recommendation on guarantees:
"Guarantee your work to the complete satisfaction of the client. If the client is not completely satisfied, accept that portion of the fee that reflects the client's level of satisfaction".
This stuff is just too scary. To trust clients and staff that much is asking a lot. To force a firm to live up to its marketing claims is, for most, a risk not worth taking.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Insightful! 18 octobre 2001
Par Rolf Dobelli - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
David H. Maister has written a valuable book about what it really means to be a professional. Presented with depth, insight and plenty of practical advice, the book is intelligently written and can be applied to anyone's career, no matter the level or industry. Maister also has plenty to say to companies about their professionalism and lack of it. We [...] recommend this book to professionals in all areas, and if you want to be a better one - or if you're not sure whether you are one or not - start reading.
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