What it means to be a professional ?

Many people have asked me this question right through my career. The answer is simple but we make it complex. We think professionalism comes only from professional education or joining professional organisations. Professionalism is a way of life. It is the way we live, act and respond to everyone around us in life.

My five Commandments on how to evolve as a professional would be as follows :

A. Keep your time : The simplest, yet the most difficult thing to do in life is to keep your time. Yet most of us fail in this simple thing. Whether it is a time givento your kid or to your vendor, supplier or employee, it does not matter. It also does not matter if the person is higher in social status or lower. In my view, you are a true professional only when you keep your promised time with everyone around you with equal respect.

B. Respond : Another simple thing we fail to do every day is call back people, who called us when we were busy or away. It could a phone call, a message or a visitor. It is always a good idea to call back each and everyone who called you irrespective of whether known or unknown ( except toll free numbers and marketing calls). We do not consider it important to call back people.

C. Empathise : Every decision we take will be perceived fair and professional if we are able to put ourselves in the shoes of the persons, who are likely to be impacted by our decision. Any amount of data analytics cannot substitute empathy and its related emotions. Professionalism does not mean unemotional decisions.

D. Dress for the occasion : One has to be one step better than what the organisation promotes as a dress code. It may be worthwhile to find out and dress appropriately. A business suit does not necessarily make you a professional nor a casual wear makes you unprofessional. However, remember that you need to be better dressed than what they expect of you. You could do research and find out what is appropriate dress in an organisation or even a nation, when you go abroad.

E. Keep your commitment : If you promise someone, something , you have the liberty to think before you promise. But, you do not have the luxury to go back on your commitment. Again it does not matter whether you have made the promise to your family, friends, colleagues, suppliers or customers. A promise is a promise and one needs to do everything to live up to it. In case, there is a delay, one could always seek for extension of time rather than forgetting it and lowering one’s professional image.

One could argue that there are multiple dimensions of being professional. I agree but it is worthwhile to start from the basics. These are the basics and the simplest. The simplest things in life may not be easiest to follow. It is like our new year resolution of going for a jog every day. How many of us have been able to live up to a new year resolution even to ourselves.

It is worthwhile to remember that professionalism may not be taught in business schools or other professional institutions. It is a way of life and culture. We need to learn from the environment and people around us both at work and beyond.

S Ramesh Shankar

15th July 2019

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