Synonyms surrounding the moniker “professionalism” includes descriptors like “adeptness,” “proficiency,” “skillfulness,” and even the word “civility.” But professionalism on a deeper level hearkens far more than a set of activities to showcase our skill sets, or even behavior in response to a more formal setting. Professionalism (or lack thereof) signifies a personal branding, a business aura that stamps us in the mind’s eye of both our peers and colleagues.
If perception is reality, then perhaps we should be more curious about what our coworkers think. What do you surmise are three words they use to describe you? (and more importantly, what is the disconnect between these adjectives and their current depictions?). Our residue consists of a thousand small things that define us. These include (but are not limited to): putting our best foot forward, while at the same time being sure not to “squash” surrounding parties; life-ministering self-expression, respecting others’ boundaries, self-less extension on behalf of peers (e.g., mentoring), organizational citizenship, corporate ministry, positive interpersonal interaction, reciprocal courtesy, putting others first, avoidance of immaturity (and not responding in kind to others’ mean-spiritedness), volunteering, email etiquette, assuming the best of coworkers, dressing the part, impeccable personal grooming, along with establishing and monitoring our one-on-one relationships.
The professionalism insignia excludes peer exploitation, self-serving self-promotion, tossing people aside once they have satisfied our needs, and expecting coworkers to march to the beat of our personal drummer. Professionalism then implies not simply ownership, but complete responsibility for our actions at all times – for when we hit the mark, and for the times that we miss. Decorum, emotional intelligence (particularly when we are in a public forum), a superlative of the Golden Rule – The Platinum Rule© (treating others in the manner in which they wish to be treated) rule, with “respectful” separate from sycophancy. Professionals tell the truth in a manner that honors both parties’ dignity, and ultimately, the good standing of the organization at large; they assiduously guard what populates their thoughts, and the subsequent words departing from their mouths.
Professionalism is a mindset, a mental empire over which we wield ultimate discipline and authority. If your peccadilloes escape you, then enlist the advice of Dorie Clark, who suggests assembling a support group – a trusted cadre of colleagues/friends/and or family who can provide feedback, and who can tell us like it is. Executive coaches (who serve a similar function) help employees to see their blind spots seemingly obvious to others, but that somehow remain hidden from themselves.
Whether we are committed to continual improvement (or, whether we expect others to take us “as is”) determines whether we are perceived as consummate professional, or as “not yet ready for prime time.”