Elegant leaderWe 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, titles, labels, and all manner of branding gymnastics have little to do with making one a true professional.

As is always the case, what we do speaks much more eloquently than anything we say. (Or what our business card says.)

Professionalism is about wht one decides to be. It is the sum of a set of traits that form the foundation for behavior in defining moments.

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.

It is easy to come to believe that defining moments come with high visibility. But most of us know in our gut that true professionalism is defined daily — in scores of moments that are often more private than public — when few observe, and there is little fanfare.

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

Five Traits

In the interest of a productive pursuit, and with acknowledgment of personal blind spots, here are five of the traits present in the consummate professionals I have had the opportunity to know.

  1. Professionals take responsibility. They don’t whine or shrink in difficult 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 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. Professionals follow up, and follow through. Always. No matter what. The true professional is dependable.
  5. 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.