David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

Creating and Sustaining Professionalism (In Oneself and Others)

post # 238 — November 13, 2006 — a Managing post

Following up on the previous post I published today about my latest podcast episode, I would like to get a discussion going about professionalism: what it is, and how you can/should treat others to elicit it in them.

The podcast (and the book chapter it was taken from), suggests that professionalism is when people:

  • Take pride in their work, and show a personal commitment to quality;
  • Reach out for responsibility;
  • Anticipate, and don’t wait to be told what to do -they show initiative;
  • Do whatever it takes to get the job done;
  • Get involved and don’t just stick to their assigned role;
  • Are always looking for ways to make things easier for those they serve;
  • Are eager to learn as much as they can about the business of those they serve;
  • Really listen to the needs of those they serve;
  • Learn to understand and think like those they serve so they can represent them when they are not there;
  • Are team players;
  • Can be trusted with confidences;
  • Are honest, trustworthy and loyal; and
  • Are open to constructive critiques on how to improve.

Julie MacDonald O’Leary, who began as my secretary and who was my business manager for seventeen years commented (in the book, TRUE PROFESSIONALISM):

Professional is not a label you give yourself – it’s a description you hope others will apply to you. You do the best you can as a matter of self-respect. Having self-respect is the key to earning respect and trust from others. If you want to be trusted and respected you have to earn it. These behaviors lead to job fulfillment. The question should really be, “Why wouldn’t someone want to do this?” If someone takes a job, or starts a career worrying about what’s in it for them, looking to do just enough to get by, or being purely self-serving in their performance—they will go nowhere. Even if they manage to excel through the ranks as good technicians—they will not be happy in what they are doing. The work will be boring, aggravating, tiresome and a drag.

When asked what brought out the professionalism in others, Julie observed:

  • Remember to show appreciation to the one who has taken that extra step or surprised you with an exceptional performance. This will breed more enthusiasm and more good work.
  • Don’t be afraid to give people ever more responsible assignments – trust them – and if it doesn’t come out perfect, let them try again after you’ve given them some pointers. Everyone likes a challenge.
  • Get people involved. Share reports, conversations, information about competitors and, clients, etc., so that everyone can see the big picture and how they fit into it.
  • Constructive critiques are one of the most powerful learning tools available to the employee. Take the time to help people learn – not as a matter of performance appraisal, nor an issue of compensation, but simply as a sincere desire to help them improve.
  • Don’t promote teamwork and then only recognize the captain. Make sure recognition is given to everyone in some way – it doesn’t have to be money – it can be as simple as saying “Well done. Take a friend to lunch – it’s on me.”
  • Work hard to make people feel part of what’s going on.

What’s your view? What would you add to the characteristics of what a “real professional” does, and what do you think is the best way to create and elicit these attitudes and behaviors in others?


Danielle Keister said:

Wow! Your list is so neat to me because it embodies exactly all of the things my profession (Virtual Assistance) consciously promotes and strives for. These are ideals that Virtual Assistants are consistently made aware of when they enter the profession, and are constantly reinforced. I’m going to be thinking on this and see if I can contribute to the list.

posted on November 13, 2006

Roman Rytov said:

Great list. Reputation building takes time but it’s a long-time investment that will repay to you in a variety of forms (new cusotmers, new contracts, higher rates). Cutting corners may yield short-time benefits but will a detrimental effect quite soon. Building a brand of yourself is the most important project that should keep your attention during all your professional life.

posted on November 13, 2006

A F Massari said:

The list is very comprehensive and Julie’s comments most inciteful. I boil it down to two things:

1. Have an external versus internal (self) focus.

2. Treat others as you want them to treat you.

posted on November 16, 2006