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Professionally Speaking

Be the best you can be

The meaning of 'professional'

A true professional is rare and stands out in any field. When we hear the word professional we tend to think of lawyers, physicians, dentists, and-of course-pilots; but I have seen some very professional short-order cooks, airline gate agents, waitresses, and truck drivers. Likewise, I have seen some very unprofessional physicians and, yes, pilots.

The true professional has standards. The professional pilot, for example, decides for himself or herself if the weather is too bad for this trip, the load too heavy, or the aircraft unsafe. The professional's standards do not vary at the whims of other people.

The professional doesn't badmouth his or her employer. When unhappy, the professional might well complain to the boss and seek correction of the problem, but he or she doesn't complain to customers.

All of this sounds simple, but I have been amazed at how many so-called professionals behave in a decidedly unprofessional fashion.

In the earliest stages of my flight instruction, a CFI explained to me that a certain Cessna 150 had the Hobbs meter connected to the master switch. "Turn the master off for a few minutes of each flight," he said, "and you will save a lot of money." To this day I wonder if that CFI realized how much more he had told me.

He had told me that he would not only steal from his employer, but would also help customers do the same. He told me also that he didn't think much of his employer. Those things I knew. The things I suspected and wondered about were even worse. I suspected that if he would steal from his employer, he would also steal from me, given the chance. I wondered what he knew about his employer that I didn't. Was the employer so vile that employees customarily stole? If that was the case, might I perhaps be better off at another flight school?

Funny thing-over the years his employer became a good friend of mine and remains so to this day. I have no idea what became of the CFI. I do know that I would never have recommended him for a job.

On the other hand, I have known many CFIs who were professional to a fault, and I am convinced that it paid off for them. I have recommended more than a few of them for jobs. I ran into two of them recently at the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame induction banquet. One runs a big aviation department; the other is chief pilot of a corporate jet department. A third I have seen lately is an engineer for a NASA contractor. My recommendation wasn't all that important for them, but it was extremely important that everyone who knew them-customers, bosses, fellow employees-spoke highly of them. They were professionals as CFIs, as department heads, as charter pilots, as corporate pilots, and as chief pilots. Everybody knew it, and everybody confirmed it.

Professionalism is the one thing that all employers-at all levels-seek above all else. I have seen professionalism open many doors and seen the lack of it slam doors forever. It is not something that you can put off until you get a "good" job. It is something you must have on your current job in order to get a better job.

Here's an idea: Just as a bank has a board of directors, select for yourself a "Board of Professionalism." Choose a few people you consider to be absolute professionals. When problems arise or decisions must be made, go to them and ask, "What would be the professional way to handle this?" Listen. Discuss. Then, and only then, make your decision.

Try it. I promise it will make a difference in your career.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying for more than 33 years and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating.

By Ralph Hood

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