Professional Character

Professionalism deserving of the label requires  not just expertise, but character.

Character can be shown through “smart and savvy action.”  This might be a more appealing description, in that it focuses on behavior rather than something deeper in the core of the individual.

But I like the implications of the word “character.”   It connotes something our grandparents would have referred to while taking the measure of a person.  I like the way the term character puts the focus not just on what a person can do, but on the manner in which they do it, and their internal motivations to take such actions.  In other words, the way they accomplish something says a great deal about who they are as people.

Character can be deduced by the “intangibles” of a person, by aggregating how they handle themselves.

The reason that professionals must use and demonstrate these intangibles is that much of their work occurs in collaboration with others.  (We could call that collaboration “teamwork,” though it could also consist of any relationship that requires give-and-take, including boss-employee, seller-buyer, regulator-regulated, etc.)

The Seven Key Character Traits of Professionals

1.       Integrity:  Professionals do what they say they will do.  They do not lie, they do not spin, and they act with high standards of ethics and legal adherence.  They earn and maintain the trust of others, for they know that once someone’s trust is lost, it is very, very, very hard to reclaim it.

2.       Respect:  Professionals respect others’ differences, even while they may not agree with or believe in the value of those differences.  But they know they will not win friends or collaborators if they show disrespect, nor will they align with others in a way that might provide opportunities to persuade or influence.  Professionals show humility by respecting others, and thus set themselves up to learn and grow.

3.       Poise:  Professionals maintain poise when things get tough.  They do not lose their cool over things that are frustrating or disappointing, even while they show passion.  This way, they earn admiration and credibility, while avoiding turning off those who are turned away by their intemperate actions.

4.       Initiative:  Professionals are pro-active agents of change, not victims of circumstance.  They take initiative to get things done.  If they do not like how things are going now, then they get things in gear to change them.  This may require forming a strategy to gain buy-in or seeking the blessings of authority.  In the end, they simply do not let things that must be attended to lie down.

5.       Discipline:  Professionals demonstrate discipline in their behavior.  They maintain pace on projects through careful allocation of their valuable time, energy and resources.

6.       Courage:  Professionals have the courage to address issues of conflict and concern.  They do not let their fears keep them from advancing the agenda.

7.       Compassion:  Professionals show compassion for others and themselves.  No human is perfect; everyone makes mistakes.  If we cannot understand the situation from another person’s cognitive and emotional position, then we are either psychopaths or robots.  Further, our compassion causes us to reach out and seek to help those who need and hand, and to forgive them when they make mistakes.  All that said, having compassion does not make the professional a doormat.  Indeed, showing “tough love” and holding people accountable or terminating them if they are falling down on the job becomes easier with compassion.

Armed with these “intangibles,” people of varying skill can collaborate and effectively work in a workgroup or team environment when there are shared goals and mutual accountabilities requiring the sharing of information, resources, or work processes.

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