Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Have you ever been around someone who shows true professionalism? You may find it difficult to fully describe the characteristics of such a person, but you know them when you see them. Such a person typically exudes intelligence and competence, treats you with dignity and respect, and instills high levels of confidence.
I think we’ve all also had numerous instances where we’ve run into a person who is clearly an expert in his/her field and who has often risen to heights in his/her profession, who is clearly intelligent and talented, but who demonstrates very little in the way of professionalism. This may be a doctor who is haughty and dismissive with little patience for his/her patients, a lawyer who is curt and often abusive and who talks down to all around him/her, or an engineer who can’t be bothered to waste his/her valuable time with mere mortals. These are professionals who do not show true professionalism.
Professionals are people who enter careers such as medicine, law, business, engineering, and many other areas, who have typically undergone rigorous and demanding training (educational and other). They are Knowledge Workers (see Knowledge Is Power!), where the value they bring to the company or organization they work for comes primarily from their brains and their knowledge and not from their brawn. However, being a professional is not the same as performing in a professional manner. It doesn’t take a professional to show professionalism. Showing professionalism means a lot more than bringing the requisite intellectual capacity to the job. Showing true professionalism requires competence and proper behavior in many other areas. The following illustrates some of the characteristics of people who show true professionalism.
► Accept Responsibility and Ownership: Accept responsibility and ownership for your work. It is not enough that you are “given” responsibility and/or ownership by your boss for a given task, assignment, project, department, or whatever. It is essential that you “accept” and “take” the responsibility and ownership. In showing true professionalism, it should be clear to all that you take full responsibility for your actions, be they positive or negative, and that you are the owner, whether things go right or wrong. Lead by example! [See also Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, and Do What You Say You’ll Do!]
► Respect Others: Show full respect for all others who you interact with, whether those directly involved in activities or those who may be only peripherally involved, such as administrative assistants, facilities personnel, or any others. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. By showing respect for everyone you come in contact with you demonstrate that you don’t see yourself as “above” anyone, and people recognize and respect such behavior. Remember that respect is earned and not owed. While people may respect a title, they will still form an opinion about the person with that title that will be based on the respect that person earns (or doesn't).
► Share Your Knowledge: Share freely what you know. Don’t try to hoard knowledge, thinking it will give you an edge over others. If you know something valuable that can be helpful to others, let them know. Don’t be boastful about it, but present your knowledge when it can be useful. Your goal is for the team to succeed, whether the team is your immediate colleagues or the company as a whole. The more people know, the higher the probability for success. By sharing your knowledge freely, you also encourage others to share their knowledge freely, and the synergy that can be released when people trust and share with others can be nothing short of astounding. [See also When It’s “Us” vs. “Them”, Nobody Wins!]
► Really Listen to Others: You need to hone your listening skills to carefully listen to people and really hear what they say. Too often people listen only enough for them to decide what they will say in response, either to provide helpful information, or to demonstrate their own brilliance. They often don’t really hear what others are saying. Really listen, and echo back what they’re saying, in your own words, so they will know that you do truly understand what they’re saying. Encourage others to do the same. True synergy comes from people understanding each other and acting on the joint information that comes from all participants.
► When You Are Wrong, Admit It: When you make a mistake, own up to it. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. We all make mistakes, but it is a mark of true professionalism to admit when you’re wrong and say what you’re going to do to make things right. Likewise, when you don’t know something, say so. Don’t try to bluff your way through something in order to give the false impression that you know something you really don’t.
► Give Credit Where Credit Is Due: When others make significant contributions, recognize them! Everyone’s contributions are important, and recognizing those contributions helps to build the team and to build trust. In no case should you take credit for the work of others. That will undermine trust and the team in the most debilitating way. [see also Stolen Credit - It's Not Just About Credit Cards!]
► Praise in Public, Criticize in Private: When giving credit to others, do so in public. The person receiving the praise will certainly appreciate being publicly recognized, even if he/she may be a bit shy about receiving such attention. Everyone enjoys seeing their co-workers being congratulated publicly for their efforts, and it helps to engender a sense of value for work well done. When mistakes are made, criticize the person making the mistakes, if that is your responsibility, in private. There is little value in criticizing people in front of others. It embarrasses the person being criticized in front of his/her co-workers, and is often embarrassing for others watching a public dressing down. [See also Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves!]
► Put Yourself In the Other Person’s Position: The saying goes, “Don’t judge a man unless you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” You may be forced to make judgments of others and can’t always do this, but before you rush to judgment, stop a moment and put yourself in the other person’s position (see also No Job Is Hard For The Person Who Doesn't Have To Do It!). Is it likely that the person you are about to pass judgment on made a rational decision based on the facts of the situation and the position he/she is in? If so, then temper your judgment based on this perspective. It may still be necessary to punish bad judgment, but think first before you act.
► Motivate Others to Excel: When working as part of a team, let your actions serve to motivate everyone involved. It feels great to be a part of a successful team (see Pigasus - When Pigs Fly!), and can be terribly draining to be part of a dysfunctional team (see also Dysfunctional Families). Let your actions serve to build the team and motivate all involved to excel.
Professionalism is a character trait to be proud of. It enables others to truly respect you, and you to respect others as well as yourself. Practice professionalism in everything you do, in work and out. It should be a goal for everyone to show true professionalism!
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