I have often used the term “professional.”
“We must be professional.”
“We must all act like professionals.”
“We expect you to act professionally about this.”
Until recently, I never stopped to think what “professional” might actually mean and entail more precisely.
It may be easier to define if you have a professional designation and are a member of an Order that explicitly describes what you can and cannot do in your field of work.
Yet, what about the rest of us that do not have professional codes of conduct and ethics that direct our actions and behaviours?
To this end, I have spent a great deal of time self-reflecting on this subject and have established what I think the term “professional” means to me.
I will endeavor to outline my thoughts below for your consideration. Perhaps, after reading this, you might develop your own framework for yourself and/or for your organization.
I will openly admit, I have struggled at times to maintain this level of professionalism.
I often say that I am a work-in-progress. Yet, overall, it reflects what I aspire towards.
As a starting point, I asked myself if I considered myself to be a “professional” and if so, what actions and behaviours have I demonstrated over the years that supports my assertion that I am, indeed a “professional.”
To start, I show up to work everyday that I am expected other than when I am planned to be away or when unexpectedly ill.
When I come to work, I know that there are certain tasks that need to be done that day, even if they are not always the most enjoyable tasks to do.
I live-up to my commitments. I am not here just waiting for the first opportunity to leave so that I can advance my title and position. I am here to contribute in a tangible way and grow.
I know that extrinsic needs such as monetary pay is necessary for my survival, yet intrinsic returns can be just as rewarding and fulfilling.
I take pride in the work that I do and would be happy if someone saw what I was doing when no one was looking.
I know that job descriptions might have some use, yet I also recognize that my job description is generic and was written over ten years ago. I recognize that if I am still only doing my job description, I have likely not grown.
As a professional, I am not doing my work the same way I was when I first started my profession over a decade ago. I have purposely and consciously worked to gain new tools and training and I continually practice what I have learned.
In good times and in difficult times, I try to keep an open mind and even laugh at that which is funny. Whenever possible, work should also be fun and enjoyable and sometimes we need to proactively make that happen.
In doing transactional work, I know that controls are in place and someone might be ensuring I am pressing the right buttons and adhering to protocol. I am accountable for my work, actions, and behaviours.
I have openly asserted that I love what I do knowing that not everyone can say the same. In such cases, ask, what can a person do to take themselves one step closer to liking their profession more?
That said, if the work is no longer truly a good fit in both directions, for the best interest of the organization and the individual, a transition may be required. As a professional, it would be prudent to make this transition proactively rather than reactively and should not come as a surprise to the employer.
An open and honest conversation with the employer might be a necessary conversation to have. I say this knowing that in instances professionals might be their own boss; be true and honest with yourself if that is what is needed and required.
I am patient, knowing that big change takes time and even small changes can be challenging.
Having some structure can help develop good habits and routines yet I know being on autopilot can be dangerous.
As all individuals, professionals want to add value and have purpose, yet know, sometimes the work that needs to get done, needs to get done even if they have to do what they normally would not. This is what I call the necessary core work of the organization.
Venting might be necessary and even healthy to some extent, yet constant complaining is not professional.
As a professional, we can work towards revisions or change. We have more in our control than we realize; we just need to slowdown and think.
Being professional does not mean we do not get overwhelmed or even scared at times. Sometimes that which is scary might be an indication that it might be necessary to address.
Distractions are constantly around us. As a professional, we work to ensure that we shield ourselves from these distractions especially if they are a negative influence trying to take us in an unhealthy and unproductive direction.
To this end, we know that focused work is essential and that might mean logging off from emails or teamwork environments during the day to get necessary work done. Our results will be a product of our focused efforts.
We know things will go wrong sometimes and even expect them. We make mistakes yet we own them, course correct and move forward. Yet, we can also ask for help if and when needed and not wait until the challenge gets unmanageable.
If you ask me to share my toolkit, I can quickly and easily share with you some of what I have learned in the past decade.
We understand that humility is the cornerstone of leadership or creativity and we do not feel the need to show off and we do not put others down to self-aggrandise. That said, major successes especially team accomplishments should be celebrated.
With time, we might aim to develop some level of expertise or achieve certain levels of measurable competency in vital aspects of our profession. Your organization or colleagues might even ask you to be a subject matter expert on projects or initiatives.
A professional does not always have the answer on the spot, yet we know what questions to ask and then work to seek out what we need to know or learn ourselves.
We understand that our profession does not reflect who we are as human beings and people, so we learn not to take everything personally. Developing resilience and emotional intelligence through self-reflection is vital as we progress professionally.
We learn to understand our triggers and know that it is ok to have limitations. Listening to our internal engine is important and we need to take time to rest and recharge. A professional knows to take a break before they get to the edge to avoid crashing and burning.
We understand that what is needed today might be different than what was needed years before. Additionally, what worked years ago may not work today.
We do not blame others for mishaps or mistakes yet work to ensure they do not happen again by looking at process first.
A professional does not spend time comparing what they are doing with others. We know that nothing productive comes from comparing and constantly being fixated with what is “fair” or “unfair.”
No professional takes joy seeing others struggle and fail. We understand that our professional colleague’s success can be organizational or societal success which is good for everyone.
We act as ambassadors for our organization when we are away from work. If you feel you cannot consistently do this, it might be time for a transition and a necessary conversation with your employer. Again, I say this understanding professionals may be self-employed.
As a professional, we do not treat people better because they have a lofty title or higher position, we treat all people with dignity and respect.
Professionals do not presume and assume; we work to validate in times of uncertainty.
We know that listening is of paramount importance. People need space to speak, think and act for themselves.
As a professional we can easily recognize other professionals and in turn, our peers with whom we work, would without hesitation call us a “professional.”
Lastly, when you have reached your true calling, you would do this work even if you did not get paid to do it. Then, you will have become the consummate professional.