The word “professional” may conjure up an image for you, perhaps connected to what you learned growing up. It does seem to have a kind of stuffy, rigid connotation. In some settings, being professional may even require a certain dress code but to me, professionalism is not found in conforming to an image.
I once attended an entrepreneurial leadership conference for women. I looked around the room and saw a sea of briefcases, suits and blackberry’s (yup, it was a few years ago). I remember thinking, “I don’t belong here.” I thought that if this is what it meant to be a leader and a professional, then it probably wasn’t for me.
My life experiences have taught me differently. I learned that I could still be myself, my own brand of “professional” and be accepted. What I began to understand is that the “look” was only a small part of what it meant to be a professional and that the real test was this: My actions backed my words. It was about integrity.
I’ve been organizing events and sitting on various committees and boards for about 15 years now. Understanding professionalism from this side of things has made me appreciate it all the more. A lot of it seems to come down to what I’ve already referred to: Communication and follow-through. What does that look like?
- Answering emails and calls in a fairly prompt manner.
- If you say you’ll do something, do it.
- If you said you would do something, and then find that you can’t (for whatever reason), communicate that you can’t as soon as you become aware of it.
- Be aware of deadlines and communicate if you’re going to go past them.
- Show up when you say you’ll show up. If something comes up and you can’t, let someone know as soon as you’re aware.
We’re all human and life happens. I have dropped the ball, lost an email, or forgotten to put something on my calendar. This isn’t about being perfect. It’s about doing your best, owning it, and then communicating wherever you’re at. There have been times when I’ve taken on too much and found I couldn’t do everything I committed to. It’s been a learning curve, but somewhere along the line I realized I had to say no to some things. Better to say, “thank you but I can’t” than to say, “yes” but not be able to fully commit. People will appreciate it. I know I do.