What it Means to be a Professional
Are you a professional?
Most people think they are and, technically speaking, merely getting paid for what you do qualifies you as a professional. However, we use the term to imply much more than a paycheck; it’s intended to signify merit.
Unfortunately, it’s often also used as an excuse for bad behaviour. People say, “I am a professional” as a way of adding legitimacy to their actions. Therefore, it isn’t a word that should be thrown around, but should stand for something meaningful.
4 Professional Myths
Probably the most frustrating thing about the term “professional” is the specious criteria used to substantiate the claim. Then, after establishing their credentials, some people feel empowered to say and do just about anything.
Here are four examples:
Professionals work for big companies: People who work at major corporations often feel superior to those who toil in smaller enterprises. Big companies have big offices and make big deals that involve lots of cash. Surely, they must be more worthy than the drones who work at places nobody has heard of?
Not in my experience. Although I have worked with outstanding people at companies great and small, I have often found it to be the case that employees at large corporations went there to hide, a luxury that small company people can’t afford.
So when someone starts off by saying, “after a career working in marketing at a Fortune 100 company…” you can be sure a very weak point is about to follow. Moreover, even people at high performing companies like P&G and McKinsey are trained to work within a very structured environment and their performance outside of it is often uneven.
Professionals have senior titles: Many others believe themselves to be professional because they have an important sounding title and lots of people working for them. They conjecture that such trappings make them professional by default. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Having a position of power is a responsibility, not a privilege. No matter what your business card says, you still need to go out and perform everyday. The only difference between a big title and a small one is that those whose decisions affect others need to be that much more demanding of themselves.
Keeping this in mind, for most of my career I carried business cards with no title on them. It helped remind me that I still needed to prove myself. (Besides, it was a fun way to thumb my nose at an overly hierarchical Eastern European business society).
Professionals know everything: Over the years, it has often been my extreme displeasure to encounter those who believe that competence in one area conveys omniscience. Based on this misguided theory, they ignore input from others who have a different perspective.
I’ve seen financial officers who like to dazzle people with their creative brilliance, marketing managers who regularly overrule competent editors, web programmers who imagine themselves to be strategic geniuses…the list goes on.
On the other hand, the best professionals I have had the opportunity to work with understand that everybody has something to teach them and endeavor to build consensus among disparate factions. The truly great ones can humble you with their humility.
Professionals lack manners: A disturbing proportion of executives believe that to be at the very apex of the corporate world, one needs to be constantly late for meetings, bark at underlings and neglect to return phone calls and e-mails. This is probably the most spurious myth of all.
Creating hardship on others doesn’t convey importance; it wastes time, creates inefficiency and diminishes overall performance. A true professional works to bring up the level of those around him, not diminish colleagues in order to feel better by comparison.
A Simple Rule of Thumb
Over the years, I’ve come up with a simple litmus test that has been extremely useful in making personnel decisions and choosing partners: Professionals solve more problems than they create. Whenever, I need to make a decision about entering or extending a relationship, I apply that standard.
Problems are rarely caused for want of competence, but usually stem from ill-placed pride and a lack of common decency. Many feel that because they work for a big company, have a big title and know a lot of things (especially acronyms) they are entitled to make it difficult for others. How else can they advertise their stature?
True professionals, however, look to solve problems. They want to help people, seek out “win-win” situations and are willing to shoulder the burden when things go wrong. Their self worth is defined by what they do for others, not what they can do to them and get away with.
Which one are you?