Being professional

Being professional - happy creative team in an office location

The common dictionary defines professional as following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain. It also says it relates to a person who is an expert in their chosen field or vocation. I imagine each of us has a mental picture of what we believe a professional might be. In business the idea of a professional takes on many different shapes but I’d like to cover some of the basics.
When I say “the basics”, I’m referring to our appearance, conduct and behavior as people working in business environments where we interact with others each day, especially customers and those external to our own organization.

Someone once said that 80% of success is just showing up. I would add that how we show up makes more of a difference. I recently did an interview for a senior role in the company that is intended to be primarily customer facing. Upon review of this person’s resume (CV) it made sense to schedule a meeting. It was at this point that my views of a professional were challenged. While this person had good experience, a seemingly successful track record and knew a fair amount about the topics we were discussing, I was constantly distracted by their shirt. This person’s shirt had never been ironed, the collar was turning up, the stitching on the sleeve was coming apart and I kept trying to reconcile in my mind how this was something they didn’t realize might be troublesome in an interview, especially for a role that would be dealing directly with customers at senior levels.

Maybe his dry cleaning got lost or his iron stopped working that morning or perhaps he just didn’t see it as important. The person didn’t have the complete set of experience and skills we needed and if he had, then I would have definitely addressed this in the interview. Part of me wishes that I raised it with him regardless just to make him aware and see if he was even conscious of this fact. This experience emphasized all the more how important “being professional” really is. This again goes back to what our definition or expectation might be, but if we take the simple dictionary definition, then being viewed as an expert and following an occupation somehow implies that we need to know where we fit into the equation and then look the part accordingly. I say accordingly because there isn’t one look or one way to be professional but it takes awareness and initiative on our part to know the what’s, why’s, when’s and how’s.

Answering the question: Would people buy from me? Will others follow me and accept my leadership? Am I credible?….

You might ask a different question. As business people, being professional means that we use a mirror and a lens. We use a mirror to honestly evaluate ourselves and ensure that our appearance, conduct and behavior meets the requirements for the environments we’re in. We use a lens to consider how others see us and whether we need to change something; be on time for meetings more often, talk less, listen more or even iron our shirt. Perhaps it is a bit personal, but I’ve had to tell others that they could use a mint or even take a shower.

If you work in a company where you are involved in the buying process, think about the people and companies you like to buy from. Maybe you’ve taken for granted that they show up dressed for the occasion at hand or that their company exemplifies core values and a presence that says “professional”. The truth is, it takes work to understand what professional really means for the given area or field we’re in but also for the customers we serve and the company we work in.

One organization held semi annual company meetings to discuss this very topic. They used the time to dig deep into the culture of their company and continuously redefine their definition or being professionals in their field. Everything from dress code, materials used, communication style and many other areas were addressed. They dusted off the employee manuals and kept a fresh perspective that if the markets and customers were changing then they needed to as well. This takes commitment and a level of effort that many will struggle to achieve but in the words of Alistair Cooke “A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it”