5 Qualities of Professional People – Ask HR Bartender

by Sharlyn Lauby on October 28, 2012

Unfortunately, there are business qualities we don’t spend enough time on in school – like professionalism or gaining respect. That’s the challenge in today’s reader question:

Hi. I’m a manager at my organization. I don’t feel that I’m professional enough. I don’t always word or say things in the proper manner. There’s very little respect from my staff. Can you help me? 

This is a tough question. Often we want to associate professionalism with leadership or management. In the world of business, everyone needs to be professional. And I agree with the reader – communication skills are important. Occasionally, we can put our foot in our mouths but if that happens too often…well, people figure it’s not a mistake, it’s who we are.

professional, professionalism, respect, business, workplace, leadership, manager, Robert Smith

But there are other qualities that factor into whether others think we are professional (and therefore, worthy of their respect). Here are a few that immediately came to mind:

Knowing your stuff. Please notice I didn’t say “know everything”. Part of gaining respect is being able to say “I don’t know.” Be the best you can at what you do and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something.

Standing for something. This is about ethics and having a moral compass. You don’t have to agree with someone to respect their ethics. I’ve known people who threw their moral compass out the window to avoid confrontation. People notice that stuff and their credibility is lost.

Keeping your word. This is a big one. If you commit to something, then do it. If something happens and you can’t deliver – tell someone. Or renegotiate the deadline. Laying low and hoping people won’t notice doesn’t work.

Being honest. I know this should go without saying but we all know that there are people who struggle with honesty. And I’m not even talking about those times when it’s all-out, mean-spirited lying. Think about when a person doesn’t tell someone about a mistake because they don’t want to get involved or confront the issue. Eventually the lies catch up.

Supporting others. In my career, one of the quickest ways I’ve seen people lose the respect of their co-workers is when they to stop supporting them. In this case, being a manager is a tough job with many responsibilities. One of them is developing their team. When team members feel they’ve been abandoned, there’s a huge disconnect and respect is lost.

I’m sure there are other qualities out there. What would you say is the number one quality in professionalism?

Image courtesy of Robert Smith

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Russel Stuart October 30, 2012 at 6:29 am

Professionalism has been described in various ways, but the one that appealed the most to me is: “Professionalism is the finesse with which you do things”. How succinctly professional! All the points you mention here add up to make a pro. Of these, the one on keeping your word is stands out, because people who don’t keep their word don’t inspire confidence.
To me, the number one quality of a professional is being able to accomplish what one wants to without ruffling feathers. After all, that is what finesse is all about. It takes a rare ability to do this. I have a high regard for such people, because I should admit, I don’t have this quality, like the manager you mention in your blog! I am not sure such guys are born with this quality or cultivate it.

Sharlyn Lauby October 30, 2012 at 11:20 am

Thanks for the comment Russel. I’d add one thing to your definition. Professionalism is knowing when to ruffle feathers and when not to. Sometimes it’s necessary but it doesn’t need to drive a permanent wedge into relationships.

Russel Stuart October 31, 2012 at 3:08 am

Thanks to you too, Sharlyn, for the quick and nice response! I loved your play on my words: “Professionalism is knowing when to ruffle feathers and when not to”. Really sweet! Ruffling feathers and still keeping the relationship intact is what professionalism eventually boils down to. As you mention in your post, professionalism is a sum of many factors and qualities. To some, it comes naturally, while others need to hone it over time, with some effort.

Gillian November 1, 2012 at 5:29 am

Good post! It’s hard to boil professionalism down to just a few qualities. I would build on what you have here by adding personal accountability. It’s important as a leader and manager to be able to take responsibility when your decisions aren’t popular or when things don’t go smoothly (instead of playing the blame game).
Gillian recently posted..The Best Career Development Advice

Sharlyn Lauby November 2, 2012 at 10:46 am

Thanks for the comments. Totally agree on the importance of accountability.

Kristina November 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I think this is a great post! Professionalism is so important for every position, especially if you are in a management role. I remind myself that above all if I deliver everything to my team professionally and hold myself accountable to things like deadlines, follow ups and such then they won’t have a reason to not respect me. However, if they still don’t respect me they probably aren’t the right fit for our organization.

Sharlyn Lauby November 5, 2012 at 8:23 am

Thanks Kristina. Your comment reminded me of an old Steve Martin quote “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

karin hurt November 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm

I love what you say here about ” you don’t have to agree with someone to respect their ethics”… disagreement with shared values is one of the best environments for creating important change.

Sharlyn Lauby November 7, 2012 at 8:33 am

Thanks for the comment Karin!

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