We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face. We may write about it, design programs and build entire initiatives around it. If we have enough juice we might be able to insist on a moniker or title that insinuates we have arrived.
But when it comes to what it really means to be a professional, titles, labels, and even robust branding efforts have little to do with the reality.
When it comes to determining what it means to be a professional, what we do speaks much more eloquently than what our business card (or Linked In profile) says.
Professionalism is a characteristic. It is the sum of traits that form the foundation for behavior in defining moments — whatever the venue might be.
The only thing most of us are able to control with respect to this discussion is our own personal pursuit of the traits we deem central to the professionalism to which we aspire.
The temptation is to act as though defining moments on a big stage…in the glare of bright lights..in the context of high visibility.
In our gut we know that true professionalism is defined daily — in scores of moments that are often more private than public…where there is little fanfare.
Simply calling someone (or something) professional, does not make it so.
In the interest of a productive pursuit, and with acknowledgment of personal blind spots, here is a six-pack of some of the traits present in the consummate professionals I have had the opportunity to know.
Professionals accept responsibility. They don’t whine or shrink in the toughest moments. Nor, it should be noted, do the best of the best demand the spotlight for sustenance.
The professional possesses crystal-clear self-awareness, and is constantly honing the ability to understand personal limitations. This is manifest in honesty, intentional listening, and a big-picture perspective.
Professionals don’t engage in turf wars, and do not tear down others. Rather, they build bridges, and are apt to deflect credit.
The professional doesn’t avoid difficult moments, conversations or problem personalities…approaching challenges with honesty.
Professionals follow up, and follow through. Always. No matter what. As cliche as it may sound, this is fact.
The professional is always professional — without respect to position or title.
This is not offered as an exhaustive list. It does, however, represent the foundational traits to which I personally aspire. Have thoughts and/or additions that might be instructive for all of us? Please contribute.
At some point, given the right topic, almost everyone will have a moment worth sharing.
The challenge, at least as it relates to productive dialogue, is that many of us believe the frequency and scope of our insight is so grand as to warrant the lion’s share of attention in any given room.
But when was the last time we engaged in an interaction where the objective of everyone in the room was to listen, intent on learning? On finding the building blocks for better conversations?
If you’ve been in a room like this it probably left a mark. There is dynamism there. When gaining insight is the goal, ideas flow freely. Maybe even new ideas. Solutions emerge more quickly.
But rooms where listening dominates are scarce. After all, territory must be staked. Turf marked.
Pick the most stressful or contentious interaction you’ll face in coming days. What might change if the objective were to listen? No immediate agendas. No winning or losing.
To be sure, there are plenty of reasons not to go down this road. Where’s the practicality? Someone has to lead. I’m expected to come to the table with a point-of-view, experience and expertise.
If you want to introduce a rare dynamic into difficult conversations, try being a point of listening rather than worrying about sharing your point of view. Unless you’re in unusual company, no one really hears — or gets — your point of view anyway. Not because it isn’t brilliant; but because while you’re talking most everyone else is only half-listening, while formulating a response.
(Double down on the above paragraph if the objective of the one doing most of the talking is to convince, convert, defend or distract.)
And if the fear is that failing to own a room displays weakness or affords unfair advantage to another’s point of view, consider the possibility that minimal progress will be realized in a room where the primary concern is winning the moment.
Real listening is an intentional and difficult act. It stems from a commitment to learn, and the relentless search for a bridge that connects all parties…even over enormous chasms.
When I believe my insight is ultimate, and that the room is best served when I broadcast my point of view, I should not be surprised when the only ones paying attention are those who share my perspective…and nothing changes.
There is rarely a shortage of talk. But when the talk accomplishes little, there may be a shortage of intentional listening.
In relationships with family, co-workers, friend or foe, perhaps the key to the change and progress we seek lies in having the courage and discipline to listen…to find the elements necessary to build a bridge to on-going conversation