We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face. We may write about it, speak on it, and build entire initiatives around it. If we have enough juice, in some circles we might even be able to insist we be called one.

But when it comes to what it really means to be a professional, as is always the case, titles, labels, and all manner of verbal branding have little to do with reality.

What we do speaks much more eloquently than what we say. (Or what our business card says.)

Professionalism is a characteristic. It is the sum of a set of traits that form the foundation for behavior in defining moments — whatever the venue might be.

When And Where Professionalism Is Defined

The only thing most of us are able to control with respect to this discussion is our own personal pursuit of the traits we deem central to professionalism.

The temptation is to actually believe that defining moments come with high visibility, and are heralded in some way.

Most of us know in our gut that true professionalism is defined daily — in scores of moments that are often more private than public. There is little fanfare.

Simply calling someone (or something) professional, does not make it so.

In the interest of a productive pursuit, and with acknowledgment of personal blind spots, here is a six-pack of some of the traits I believe to be present in the consummate professionals I have had the opportunity to know.

  1. Professionals accept responsibility. They don’t whine or shrink in the toughest moments. Nor, it should be noted, do the best of the best demand the spotlight for sustenance.
  2. The professional possesses crystal-clear self-awareness, and is constantly honing the ability to identify personal limitations. This trait is manifest in honesty, intentional listening, and a big-picture perspective.
  3. Professionals don’t engage in meaningless turf wars, and do not tear down others. Rather, they build bridges, and are apt to deflect credit.
  4. The professional doesn’t avoid difficult moments, conversations or problem personalities.
  5. Professionals follow up, and follow through. Always. No matter what.
  6. The professional is always professional — without respect to position or title.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Have thoughts and/or additions that might be instructive for anyone aspiring to professionalism? Please contribute.