Friday, 15 August 2014

Some thoughts on professionalism...

I hear the word professional being used a lot around the place. We are professionals. Professionalism is important. We need to be more professional.
Often people are talking about systems, processes and procedures. Sometimes they are focused on how people look, how they present themselves or their organisation. These are all indicators of professionalism in a sense but I think it goes deeper than that.

When I was 16 my English teacher, Mrs Waugh, talked to our class about maturity and all these years later I remember it still. She told us that we might have thought we were all mature and grown up but in reality we were still children and until we realised that the world didn't revolve around us we would remain children. I am sure this was in response to something someone had said or done in the classroom but I honestly don't remember and it doesn't really matter.

For me professionalism is about being a grown up, understanding that we are not the centre of the universe... that we belong to a community or organisation full of other people who are all important in their own right. It is being able to accept that other people have opinions that may differ to ours and that is OK, that we are able to value diversity. It is about knowing ourselves, knowing our values and living by them in a way that still respects the rights of others.

Professionalism is being authentic in your role. That's where knowing yourself is important because then you can be who you are in an appropriate manner. It is not running to a script, or copying the boss to ingratiate yourself. You may adapt your behaviour to fit in with an organisational culture, norms of the group, but if you are doing so to the point that you are going against your values then you are risking losing who you really are (which is pretty sad!). People can trust you because you are real, you are not trying to be someone else just to fit in. They can trust you because you are reliable, you follow up and if you can't do something you say so.

Professionalism is also about integrity. This is a biggie, it's not just following procedures. I love the description of integrity as 'doing what you know is right even when no-one is looking'. When we act with integrity we are able to stand up and be counted when we make a mistake, we are honest. When we act with integrity we give of our best, we are concerned with doing what we do as well as we can. When we act with integrity we live by our values.

When we are working with others as professionals we act with integrity and authenticity. We show respect. We ask for help when we need it, we don't have to know all the answers, it is OK to be vulnerable. We are acting professionally when we are aware of our own behaviour and the impact that has on others. We can show empathy, the behaviour we choose enables us to better connect with the people we are working with whilst still being who we are.

For me professionalism is not about the role we have or the career path we have chosen.  It is not formulaic, it is not about always being right or the best or the smartest in the room. There isn't one way to be professional. For me it is about the behaviours we adopt and how we engage with others when we are working together. Going back to the lesson from the wonderful Mrs Waugh, it is about being a grown up and realising that you are not the centre of the universe. 

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