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Lighthouse - July, 2019.


Recently we heard about someone, we’ll call Alex for the purposes of this article, who was told by a successful chief executive, that they had been held back in the promotion stakes because they were seen as being ‘too professional’. This tale prompted the Kaleidoscope team to consider what ‘being professional’ and ‘too professional’ was all about. Eventually we came to a conclusion, you might regard, as being one which is not generally considered.

We agreed that being professional at work is essential if you wish to be a success. Consequently, we first considered, from an employee’s viewpoint, what ‘being professional’ might mean. Simply put the definition of ‘professional’ is actually a person who is engaged in a specific activity as a main paid occupation. However, being professional frequently means different things to each of us. For some it means having advanced qualifications, degrees or industry certification. For others it might mean doing a good job or being smartly dressed at work. Consequently, what is actually required to be professional can be difficult to pin down. On the flip side the requirements of a successful company, to portray themselves as being corporately professional, is well known. Such a company generates a perception of dependability, respectability, reliability, dedication and most importantly trust.

We soon realised that professionalism has two facets in the business world. There’s one for the individual worker and another demanded by a company to achieve an overall corporate image. Both these distinct entities are clearly and closely inter-related. Without achieving a high standard in the former it becomes, more or less, impossible to attain the latter. Accordingly, we focused firstly on what a worker needs to do to be classed as professional.

‘Professionalism’ isn’t about what you are wearing or the fact your hair is perfectly coiffed. Indeed, one leading UK executive, of a stock exchanged listed company, was known to chair meetings wearing a cowboy hat with boots to match! Using big or posh words, when you talk, also has nothing to do with being professional. Indeed, an individual focusing on these issues may mean that they come across as too professional. Interestingly we didn’t believe this was the implication of the ‘too professional’ accusation levelled at Alex. Image, personality and a team spirit are important, particularly when working as a dedicated group. Nevertheless, an individual’s professionalism will depend on how others assess them and not on their own judgement. Those believing they need to be somehow super professional could alienate them, as colleagues may feel that they cannot easily interact with them.

So, our bottom line is: –
Dress well so as to be comfortable.
Be yourself.
Make sure you enjoy your work.
Keep your qualifications to yourself because no one needs certificates waved in their faces.

But what drives an employee’s environment? It’s the need of a company to achieve a professional accolade in order to be successful. This is where, we believe Alex fell down. He failed to realise that, in focusing 100% on the needs of the company, he overlooked the different perceptions of professionalism amongst staff. Invariably a company sets out their objectives and targets on the basis that management are convinced they are credible and achievable. In doing so, they believe success will be assured as customers will appreciate dealing with a business that delivers.

But what happens when things don’t progress as visualised? This is when the ‘trouble-shooter’ is often brought in to identify the problems. Over his career this is the position for which Alex was noted. He was so professional, to a point, that all that mattered was focusing on what the company needed to achieve success. There’s nothing wrong in this you might say, but do you recall the saying,

‘No matter how qualified, a poor workman always blames their tools’?

Without occasional self-checking we may all fall into such a trap. When things go wrong, we mitigate our insufficiency by passing the blame to someone or something else. Alex’s role as a trouble shooter was to get to the heart of a problem, identify where such instances were happening and determine a solution. In this context Alex was ‘too professional’ because it meant challenging others on their professionalism. This required a tricky balancing skill to keep everyone happy.

Alex’s situation underscored the meaning of professionalism and its interplay between employee and company. This led us to conclude, rather uniquely it seems, that being professional means owning what you have done, by accepting full responsibility for your actions.

True professionals will never pass the buck!

In a similar way The Kaleidoscope team stand by our conclusion. So please feel free to offer your opinions if you wish. They will be welcome.

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