Build characteristics shared by
the very best professionals
“Bob,” my coaching client, had recently changed jobs and was unsure about his new team. He said about his staff, “They’re great. Really good people. They have a lot of skills. But, somehow, they’re not real professional.”
Bob liked his new team members and believed they had potential. But, while he couldn’t put his finger on why, he felt the team’s performance was less than it could be. As he thought about his first year goals, the challenge he took up was to help his team become “more professional.”
As a serious careerist like Bob, you want to be supported by people who are highly “professional.” And, of course, you want others to regard you as a true professional. But just what does that mean?
What is a “professional”?
The meaning of the term “professional” has shifted in recent decades.
The traditional professions included doctors, lawyers, architects and other experts who were specially educated, usually licensed and often relatively well-paid.
But today’s definition is much broader. The word can describe anybody who is seriously engaged in meaningful, challenging work. Professionals are found in myriad fields, from IT to the culinary arts, but all workers aren’t professional.
Knowledge can set professionals apart. Today’s professionals are committed to building their skills and expertise regardless of whether they have specific degrees or certifications.
In addition to continuing their education, professionals strive to maintain quality and ethical standards. They believe their work is valuable. And they expect more from their careers than just financial compensation. They want satisfaction, some sense of identity and community, and the opportunity to make a contribution.
What does it mean to be “professional”?
Just because you have a professional type job doesn’t mean others will regard you as highly “professional.”
To call someone “professional” suggests they belong to the highest tier of performers in their line of work. As the term “professional” is used today, it encompasses a long list of attributes that add up to the gold standard of career excellence.
If you want to get your work done like a stellar professional, and if you want other people to see you as truly professional, the best approach is to work on the key attributes one by one. You might start with my checklist of the characteristics of superb professionals:
1. Knowledgeable. They are experts in their field, and they do what it takes to keep their expertise up to date. They like to learn and are curious about related areas. They seek opportunities for training and growing on the job.
2. Alert to trends. In addition to maintaining their technical knowledge, they stay informed about economic and other developments that could influence their marketplace. They watch the broader competitive environment and think about ways it could affect the goals and operation of the organization where they work.
3. Customer focused. They think constantly about their customers and stakeholders — who they are, what they need and how to help them. They know how to communicate with both their customers and their colleagues. And they treat everybody with courtesy.
4. Reliable. They do what they say they will.Despite unexpected challenges, they persevere to honor commitments. They treat their word like a contract, and they expect to be held accountable for action items.
5. Process oriented. They consistently get things done well because they know the best way to go about doing things. They identify the critical steps to various tasks, then use tools like checklists, templates and protocols to set procedures and maintain standards. They are adept at measuring and demonstrating progress toward specific goals.
6. Exuding urgency. They regard their work as important, and it shows. They hustle to get projects done, and let others see that they’re hustling. They know how to manage their energy and are perceived by others as energetic.
7. Look good. They understand that appearances do matter. They are well groomed and they tend to be a little better dressed than some of their colleagues.
8. Cool under pressure. They are self aware and work to develop high “emotional intelligence.” They notice their own emotions and make good choices about how to handle them. They take care of themselves, so they can come across as relaxed, strong and confident.
If you want to work on just one of these attributes, which would it be?
For more on managing your professional style, read about executive presence.