From Career Treadmill to Fast Track

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2 Principles of Professionalism in the Workplace

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Last week I had the privilege to speak to a leadership class at Texas Woman’s University. The co-ed class was a diverse group of health care managers and aspiring managers from many cultures, backgrounds and ages. What was most interesting was the unanimity in definition of professionalism! To be sure the class responded to my question for a definition with an assortment of qualities, characteristics and values including: integrity, attitude, respect of others, courtesy, responsiveness, consideration, openness to communication, accountability, and competence. However, as we analyzed the list a consensus of two underlying principles of professionalism emerged.
1. The “I” factor — In this principle the class acknowledged that professionalism begins within one’s character and values.

  • The wholeness of integrity was foremost and first on the list. Saying what you mean and doing what you say is the behavioral demonstration of integrity. In other words behaving consistently with your values and having values that are consistent with the next two factors are essential to professionalism. So if you have integrity but are inconsistent with the second factor essential to professionalism, you will not be perceived as professional, nor will you likely be successful in any role you perform at work.
  • The next most prominent “I” factor was attitude. Everyone agreed that a positive outlook is essential to professionalism. There may be personal or business issues that undermine one’s positive attitude, however, putting these in perspective and remaining optimistic and positive in one’s approach to solving them is foundational to a professional.
  • Another “I” factor was accountability; recognizing that you must take responsibility for your own actions, as well as being aware of how the actions of others impact the team, department and organization, customers and other stakeholders, is also a part of professionalism. A simple way to think about accountability is “The OZ Principle” which states rather than engaging in the “blame” game, which is “below the line,” you rise “Above the Line” by seeing it, owning it, solving it and doing it.
  • Finally, competency is a hallmark of a true professional. This “I” factor requires you to develop the skills and competencies to perform effectively and efficiently in your role and your work team while ensuring that your goals and results are consistent with the organization’s expectations.

2. The “Other” factor — As the class considered the qualities that seemed different from the “I” factor, it was apparent that “relationships” were linked to all other qualities of professionalism. In fact, how to relate to others is the ultimate test of professionalism.

  • Even if you have all the “I” qualities, as mentioned above, if you lack the ability to relate effectively to others, you will not be viewed as a professional. So unless you work in total isolation, which not too many workers do, you must learn to relate to others. That of course is saying a mouthful and we could not cover all the interpersonal skills and competencies this might entail, but we did discuss a few common examples.
  • One individual mentioned the differences in the workplace that we often hear about in terms of “diversity”. Certainly respecting varying cultural, racial, religious and generational differences is essential to professionalism. Being sensitive to differences in the sexes related to viewpoints, needs, and values is important.
  • We discussed the importance of leading by example not only for managers and supervisors, but for individual contributors. One example would be to meet or exceed expectations even when a co-worker may be shirking. Another suggested that when we notice others abusing workplace practices, it may be appropriate to confront them privately about the issue. Certainly talking behind their back was mentioned as counter-productive.
  • We discussed a range of behaviors common to the workplace and how they may distract from performance and productivity such as taking personal calls, dealing with personal business in the open, text messaging and using lap tops in meetings, listening to iPods at work. Other traditional issues such as tardiness, unexplained absences, not providing sufficient notice for vacation or personal time off were mentioned as unprofessional. Abusing lunch time or not coordinating lunch times with others in the department to ensure coverage were also considered unprofessional.

These two critical factors to professionalism, the “I” factor and the “others” factor are both tied to one’s values. Have you considered what you value in the workplace? What is important to you to achieve? Is it success at any cost? How do ethics factor in your value system? Where do others stand? Do you practice the “golden” rule of doing onto others as you would have them do unto you? Do you recognize the importance of the “platinum” rule which states that respect for the values and style of others is vital to effective interaction? Finally, do you have a commitment to learning and development? Are you open to continuous improvement? Do you receive criticism constructively and seek to understand the other person’s perspective and opinion? Are you motivated to change and adapt for the good of the team and organization and your career?

These are important questions to ask yourself as you seek to develop your professionalism and advance your career. In Job Search: The Total System™, we list reasons “why people are rejected” and find that they essentially relate to the “I” and “Other” factors of professionalism. Not only are these factors what companies seek in new hires, but they are instrumental to retention. Research has shown that candidates are hired primarily for their competencies, but fired for their lack of interpersonal skills and professional behaviors. Do a self-review of your professionalism, make the changes to measure up in all factors and watch your career take off!

By Sheryl Dawson

Categories: Career Development · College Grads · Education · Leadership · Networking · Total Career Success

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