"Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground." - Theodore Roosevelt
If you happen to check the net right now, you may find several interpretations of this beautiful quote. You may have probably formed one of your own at this moment! Without asking you to change that, let me bring your attention to mine for a while. This quote always reminds me as to who I wish to be as a Professional. Professionalism is what a Professional does and it comes from his thinking. What do I mean by that?
Who is a Professional? What is Professionalism? Is it just a term, or is it a role? Is it taught in college or do we learn it on the job? What would you say is professional behaviour? Have you ever experienced unprofessionalism? How did that make you feel? Why is it important to be professional? - What do you think?
I distantly recall my first understanding of professionalism and that was when I encountered unprofessional behaviour. In my career, I got some wise advice about professionalism from a few seniors and then chanced to read a few articles on it. Along with skills and knowledge, we speak of professionalism as behaviours such as smiling, greeting people, coming on time, dressing well, sending that email as promised, not participating in gossip conversations, speaking in an audible and respectful tone, giving attention and eye contact to the other in a conversation, apologising where necessary, not wasting time on personal calls during working hours and much more. Is this important? It certainly is, but are these just behaviours that we have to do or could there be something more to it? Let me share my thoughts.
I happened to travel last month for work. Breakfast was a buffet spread at the hotel and while we served ourselves the staff made sure we were comfortable. On the second day at the breakfast table while I turned in my seat to stand up and get a refill of my juice I saw the same waiter who had attended me the previous day pour out a glass while nodding at me. Then with a joyful smile, he placed the glass on the table with a quick question if I needed anything more. He was extremely polite and I felt served. It was almost like he was going beyond the checklist. Interestingly, his colleague at the front reception spoke very politely and answered all my queries well which was great, but almost transactional. So were they both professional? I would say yes. But the gentleman at the reception was “Doing professionalism” while the banquet person was “Being Professional”. The difference in my experience was that one of them was being effortless and hence felt more genuine while the other seemed to operate on the surface. The difference was in their meaning of professionalism, one of them referred to it as a rule book or as an expected behaviour while the other went one level deeper.
This difference in our way of being at work comes from our intention or our meaning of professionalism. The intent to make a good impression and do my job well is different from the intent to serve clients well and make a difference. Both are different meanings of professionalism for two people. What matters is what you choose. Choose an intention that feels true to you, empowers you.
Be valued as a Professional
We all have encountered that professional who says the right words yet we don’t experience those words. At the same time, we have also met those professionals who magically connect with the same words and the experience is beyond those words. That distinctive feel between the two is the professional edge you could have when you begin to stop just doing professional behaviour and build your professionalism at work based on your purpose. Be the person you wish to appear.
The First Step
So how do we become aware of our intention and think through our meaning of professionalism? Just begin by asking a few questions;
What is important to me at work?
What does success mean to me?
How do I want to be perceived?
How do I want people to experience my presence?
Who is the real me that I wish to express?
How do I want my work to stand out?
How do I want people to go feel after interacting with me?
As you get clearer, you will begin to feel firmly rooted and being a professional will become effortless. Your journey to optimising personal effectiveness at work begins with this. As you reach the stars, feel the ground below your feet!
“You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you and allowing that goodness to emerge. But it can only emerge if something fundamental changes in your state of consciousness.” - A New Earth
Think deep, live in the moment!