The Power of a Professional

About a year ago I was privileged to serve on a leadership coalition that traveled to Gettysburg for a three day training. It was an incredible experience that incorporated leadership lessons from the past for application towards improving and leading our current organizations. It was a once in a lifetime leadership opportunity that provided a wealth of individual and organizational learnings.

As a lifelong learner and student of leadership, a chance to expand my knowledge was invigorating, and I drank in every moment of this experience. Fortunately, I was not let down, each and every day was a panorama of leadership learnings. Many of which are etched in my memory and find application in my work on a daily basis.

From museums, to battlefields, and even college seminar rooms, each day was packed from dawn till dusk with leadership opportunities. Opportunities to engage with world class leaders and educators expounding upon lessons taken from the battlefields of Gettysburg to the wisdom of President Lincoln. The experience provided true insight into the past as a vital link to understanding and solving our current organizational and individual leaderships issues.

However, in the middle of this tremendous experience, one single seminar truly caught me off guard and hit me deeply, both as a leader and an educator. The simplicity of the insights issued had deep implications for the future of education as a profession. Interestingly enough, these insights were proclaimed in parallel to the state of our armed forces. Professor Emeritus of Political Science at West Point, Dr. Don M. Snider commanded our attention with a message that I still reflect upon to this day. It was a truly powerful and captivating message. The message proclaimed that day? Are We Professionals?

Shortly after our return from the trip, I sought out the obscure work of this professor and his two colleagues. I have included an example of their work that echoes the message from that day, with an “education” influence inserted into the quote …

“The purpose of any profession is to serve society by effectively delivering a necessary and useful specialized service. To fulfill those societal needs, professions – such as medicine, law, the clergy, military and ‘education’ – develop and maintain distinct bodies of specialized knowledge and impart expertise through formal, theoretical, and practical education. Each profession establishes a unique subculture that distinguishes practitioners from the society they serve while supporting and enhancing that society. Professions create their own standards of performance and codes of ethics to maintain their effectiveness. To that end they develop particular vocabularies, establish journals, and sometimes adopt distinct forms of dress. In exchange for holding their members to high technical and ethical standards, society grants professionals a great deal of autonomy.” -Field Manual 1, June 14, 2005, para. 1-40

The previously quoted example is aligned closely to the message imparted to us that day, and it was extremely thought-provoking. We left enlightened with an understanding and knowledge, similar to successful organizations, that professions are a function of trust…a trust that society places on you as a “specialized service” to “fulfill societal needs.” And when society loses “trust” in your ability to operate and function in that manner, eventual bureaucracy and a stifling of the profession linger not far behind.

It is definitely worth noting from their work…”society grants professionals a great deal of autonomy“…and it is society that will determine your ability to operate as a profession and or professional. However, as trust dissipates, so will the ability to function with autonomy within the profession or as a professional.

Dr. Snider’s seminar and literary work, “The Army’s Professional Military Ethic In An Era of Persistent Conflict” caused me to take a long, difficult, and reflective look at our institution of education and the educational profession…

Professions create their own standards of performance and codes of ethics to maintain their effectiveness.

In closing, Dr. Snider’s work raises many questions for us as we reflect on our current situation…Are we operating as ‘professionals‘ or has bureaucracy infiltrated the ranks of the profession? Does society still have trust in our ability to function as a profession or has the rug unknowingly been pulled out from under us?

Thank you to Dr. Snider for his powerful reflection on our practice as professionals…


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