Process + Culture

Being Pro


Ben Wilson
Ben Wilson

on 10/14/2016

Think of the word “PRO” in your head… it’s probably a football or baseball star. What immediately strikes you about them versus the amateur? Is it their talent? Perhaps, but there are many who are not as nearly talented, yet are still PRO. Is it their experience? Perhaps, but there are many rookie PROs. I say it’s something less tangible… it’s the commitment and the perspective.

Place a PRO next to an amateur, and it should be evident who is striving for PRO-ness. If you’ve ever remarked about someone “oh… she’s gooooood“, but can’t pinpoint why… that’s PRO.

In my years of experience, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to break down what makes a person PRO, to help me in my own striving. Below is that list, in order:

#1 Be Prepared

This is about trust, not knowledge.

If you are meeting with a client, get to know them before you walk into the room. If you accept a meeting or are handed a piece of work, do the research. If you are managing a project, have a plan and communicate it. Do that well ahead of time and show up on time.

All of these things are signals that you are in the game and motivated. Your actions should say “I can be trusted to act in your best interest”.

#2 Respect

Understand that everyone on your team and all of your clients are - like you – human beings with wants, desires, pressures and history. Understand that they are different and how they are different. React accordingly. Communicate appropriately.

Listening is the first and best way to show respect. As @clarkster noted in this tweet, the best meetings are 20% talking … and 80% listening. Give everyone in the room a chance to be heard.

Finding the right way to disagree or to give clear direction is probably the hardest thing to do. Find someone who does it well, and pay attention to how they do it.

Finally – let people fail on their own. Know that the only way to gain respect is to give respect – and freedom. Let your team members learn, and accept that this might impact you in the short term, but benefit everyone in the long term.

#3 Set Expectations

No one likes to be surprised, so always set expectations early and often. This likely manifests itself as a schedule, a set of tasks or just a quick “I might need your help“.

When it comes to clients, give them a schedule and deliverables. Let them know what you are going to do, and after you do it, recap what you did. Repeat. Everyone likes a rhythm.

Similarly, set priorities on EVERYTHING. See also: this numbered list of things I’ve learned. It’s in order from most to least important.

#4 Keep your eyes on the prize

…but know when to sweat the small stuff.

The mark of a PRO is they always keep in mind the end goal even when they are knee-deep in a specific problem. They also know the small things that might have a big impact.

Setting priorities here is key. Not all project goals are of the same importance. Not all features and functionality are of the same importance. Make these priorities clear.

Take a lot of small steps, make a lot of small improvements. Be consistent in your process and your progress.

If you have to fight – know when it’s best to fight and when it’s best to move on. This is eloquently (and rudely) put forth in Cap Watkins’ delightful article: ”The Sliding Scale of Giving a Fuck“.

#5 Be a good translator

If you want to be a PRO at whatever you do, you need to be able to bring people together. Regardless of what industry you work in, the PRO folks know a lot about many different things, and the best can bridge a divide between two parties.

Highly-technical folks (e.g. developers) suffer from this – so much so that there is an expectation that a great developer should be completely antisocial. But that’s just not true. A great developer should be able to translate any problem into English, and say it in a way that does not offend the intelligence of the other party.

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