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What makes a professional, professional?

At first glance, this may seem a relatively straightforward question to ask. But after pondering for a moment, you might find it is a little trickier to answer.

What one person may define as ‘professional’ could differ considerably from someone else’s perspective. After all, professionalism isn’t something that is ever taught – we’re all just expected to pick it up as we go along.

The word ‘professional’ is used every day, in every walk of life. So, what is meant by it?

To answer this, I canvassed the opinion of colleagues, clients, family and friends and while there was a plethora of varying suggestions, there soon emerged a common set of agreed characteristics. The first is leading by example.

You don’t need to be a leader to lead, you simply need to recognise the requirement of the role you have to do and then do it to the best of your ability every day. Another word for it could be dependability – professionals are good at their job, have mastered the skills required and can be relied upon by everyone within the business.

This is followed by a stringent commitment to putting the customer and their fellow colleagues first. People who are seen as professional are those who recognise that without the customer or the support of their team, there would be no business. As such, they are considerate of others, recognise the role each person plays within the organisation, and understands the bigger picture.

Professional people are said to physically project a positive image, too. From the way they dress and carry themselves, to the language they use and how they engage with others across the business, they have a good personal brand and crucially the respect (which is reciprocated) of their peers. Tied in with this is a sense of honesty.

We all make mistakes and what matters is the way in which a person handles the situation when they have been at fault. Professionals do not try cover things up, they acknowledge where they have gone wrong and look to rectify the situation without apportioning blame.

I tend to agree with all of the above definitions, although there are many more that I could add. Before setting up my own business I spent over a decade serving in the Royal Marines. If anyone questioned my professionalism in that role, it would have been incredibly insulting such was the fine degree to which we went about our duties.

How would you define professional? A sense of academic and professional achievement? Evidence of continued career success? We all praise the ‘professionalism of the Emergency Services, yet we don’t always share the same sentiment for a humble office worker – should we be doing?

Source: Barney Cotton, What makes a professional, professional?, Business leader, March 23, 2018.

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Last Updated : Thursday, June 18, 2020