A New Year commitment to professionalism: the 4 Ms of the ethical professional… from Gardner’s 5 Minds for the Future

What comes to mind when we think of the ‘professional’?






Over Australian summer I am reading and contemplating Howard Gardner’s book 5 Minds for the Future. He asserts that there are five minds that we each need to master that the fast-paced future demands*:

  • Disciplined mind
  • Synthesising mind
  • Creating mind
  • Respectful mind
  • Ethical mind

The chapter on the Ethical Mind challenged me to think about what it means to be a ‘professional’. Gardner describes the professional as: Committed individuals who embody an ethical orientation in their work*

He explains that professionals are a highly trained group of workers who perform an important service for society. The professional undertakes good work which is:

  • Excellent: quality, highly disciplined
  • Responsible: implications for the wider community
  • Engaging: meaningful, provides sustenance even under challenging conditions

A good worker must have an ethical mind: Serving in an impartial manner and exercising prudent judgement under complex circumstances, professionals are accorded status and autonomy*. The word ‘professional’ goes hand-in-hand with ‘ethical’.

A professional is ethical, she has a set of values and principles that are each consistent and “they sum to a reasonably coherent whole.” A good worker is transparent and will adhere to values and principles even when they go against their own self-interest.

Gardner states that teachers serve as crucial role models.  We have probably rarely stopped to consider that at school, students are involved in their very first and greatly impacting ‘work experience’. Think about that, not only are we teaching students, but they are picking up habits of, and attitudes toward, working life.

Are you committed to carrying out ‘good work’ and willing to keep on trying to achieve that end when the going gets tough? Here are Gardner’s four ‘M’s to becoming a professional in the ethical sense of the term, signposts to the achievement of good work:

  1. Mission: What are you trying to achieve by your activities? Identify your values, principles and goals and stick to them.
  2. Models: Are you exposed to individuals who embody good work? Learn from them, whether in person or through reading their work.
  3. Mirror-test – individual version: Honest self-evaluation. Look in the mirror and assess whether you are proceeding in ways that contributes to your mission. Two tests of your achievements:  Would your mother approve? If the editor of a newspaper printed it would you be ashamed or proud?
  4. Mirror-test – professional responsibility:  There comes a time where it is necessary to call colleagues to account, should they behave in ways that are unprofessional.

As you commence this New Year, renew your commitment to professionalism. Undertake good work that is excellent, responsible and engaging.

*Gardner, Howard, (2008) 5 minds for the future, Harvard Business Press, Mass

I am sharing some key ideas from the book at heresagoodidea.tumblr.com


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