I hear leaders talk about that word often. They say “I want my team to be professionals” or “Why can’t they be more professional?” When I ask “What do you mean by ‘professional’?” I typically receive stumbling answers that aren’t very clear or helpful.
It is understandable that you want your team members to be professional. What isn’t OK, however, is asking them to be so, without providing a clear picture of what you mean. After all, if the picture isn’t clear to them, how can they possibly deliver that behavior?
So here is what I think it means to be “professional.” It is my description. Yours is probably different, and that is totally fine. My goal is to encourage you to think about your own definition, clarify it in your mind, and use it as you coach your team members to greater success.
Professionals are …
- Personally accountable. Professionals recognize their role in activities and results around them. They recognize and take responsibility for their actions, words, choices, words and more. They know they can’t control others but they can influence them. They aren’t victims. They take ownership to create the best possible results.
- Able to see the big picture and adjust their actions based on that vision. Professionals see their role in the big picture of their team and work. They operate based on that vision, so they rarely create silos. They participate in ways to move the entire organization toward those desired goals.
- Willing to help, even when it’s not “their job.” Professionals see themselves as part of a team, so they are willing to help, but not take over. They recognize and look for ways to help because they view their job as more than just what’s written in their job description.
- Able to work well with others. Professionals know they are part of multiple teams and in order for them to succeed, the team must succeed. That means they focus on working well with others and building the relationships to help make that happen.
- Trusting and trustworthy. Professionals realize the importance of trust in the workplace. Team and working relationships can’t become very strong without trust, and so they build trust by being trustworthy first.
- Committed to building their skills to excel at their job today and in the future. Professionals value their job and are consistently and intentionally working to get better. They pursue improvement through deliberate practice, training, study, observation and more. They possess a mastery mentality – with the goal of becoming the best they can be.
You’ll note that I don’t talk about clothing, demeanor, body language or presentation skills that many leaders focus on. Why? Because even unpolished, nervous, even sometimes goofy, employees can be total assets if they meet that other criteria. While you don’t want employees’ behavior to reflect badly on your team or organization, in my opinion, what matters most is how hard they work, their teamwork skills, and ultimately, the results of their work.
My list could be longer, for sure. My goal wasn’t necessarily to be complete, but as I said earlier, to get you thinking, and hopefully taking action. Use this list to spur your thinking. Compare your behavior to this list, compare your team’s behavior to this list. Most of all, if you are going to use the word “professional,” be willing and able to share what you mean when you say it.
That’s what a professional would do.