And It's Not About Your Socks
There's tons of career advice out there. Students, entrepreneurs, leaders - we all strive for success and acceptance. But when you get to work with a lot of people in a huge variety of industries, functions and business relationship, you quickly realize that the few who stand out have one thing in common – professionalism.
I am not trying to be smart, it's the basics, you're right. Unfortunately, professionalism doesn't follow authomatically with "following a profession", and "being professional" seems to not come naturally to most of us. The reason is that professionalism is nothing that you have, but everything that you do.
Here's the 4 P's that "professional" means to me.
In today's fast-paced working environment surprisingly few men are on time for meetings and calls. This depends partly on the culture and the hierarchy level, but is generally a wide-spread syndrom.
"Punctuality is the courtesy of the kings." Ludwig XVIII
Even the Germans, known for their sensitivity on that topic, surprise me nowadays when on time. Journalists from "Die Zeit" however claim that there is a connection between punctuality and personal qualities, like e.g. self-discipline. In coaching there's a skill for that, called self-management. The article quotes psychology professor Mitja Back who claims that punctuality is an indicator for diligence. In the reverse conclusion, the lack of punctuality reveals a weakness of charachter srength.
Interestingly enough, an act of courtesy for the British, known for good manners, also implies beeing polite. Honestly, being polite when people get on your nerves can be dreadful, but an act of leadership. A prominent advocate of politeness and courtesy in general, the German philosopher Arthur Shopenhauer, put it as simply as that:
"Courtesy is prudence therefore is rudeness stupidity." Arthur Shopenhauer
And indeed, what can you get by being rude in the long run? The world history and our own experience show that career success and personal happiness are the result of disciplined intercourse and respect of others. Especially, today when technology is democratizing society by giving back power to individuals, everybody is somebody. Even if they don't remember your politeness, your rudeness they will (more examples by the one and only Dale Carnegie).
How often have you attended meetings with people without preparation? And how often results came out of such meetings? The truth is that not being prepared shows a lack of appreciation of your time and the time of others. And this is not the attitude to bring in if you want to be known for being professional.
"Success is where preparation and opportunity meet." Bobby Unser
Indeed, preparation is the difference when it comes to getting things done. That's particularly important for entrepreneurs but also for networking conversations. Do your research, build scenarios, learn about your partners. Ideas and goals are important but chances are that if you knock on doors someday they some will open. You don't want to say hello and close them with nothing to sell, right? Remember, being prepared is the easiest one of the 4P's. It's entirely in your control.
Being present is the hardest one. We and our two brains, constantly competing with each other for consciousness (check "Thinking fast and slow" by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman). I do not want to quote Eckhart Tolle or Buddha hier, although being present can be the result of a life philosophy. I would like to put it as simply as that.
If you are not present who is speaking?
All in all, being professional is a rare and valuable quality in the workforce. Of course it is, it takes discipline and character strength to always be punctual, polite, prepared, and present. This is what makes "professional" the biggest compliment for me. It's the one word I have hardly used in LinkedIn recommendations and reference letters. And your opportunity to stand out.