What does professionalism look like to you? Some of us may think of professionalism as being a rigid framework, one in which you must be dressed a certain way, you must look a certain way and act a certain way to uphold some archaic standards of business or professional behaviour. Professionalism has been misused to undermine and intimidate members of certain social groups that do not uphold the status quo – examples of this are “debates” surrounding whether afro hair is professional in the work place or how women should dress in the workplace to be taken seriously. This is a deeply damaging view of what professionalism is and might explain why some individuals experience the impostor syndrome in business and workplace environments. In an ideal world professionalism would have nothing to do with outward appearance; in fact there have been many instances in which people have looked the part but their behaviour has let them down.
Professionalism is the key to upholding a trusted reputation, it is not perfectionism. To act professionally in business or in the workplace is to honour your agreement with your client, customer or team in a way that ensures the best outcome possible is achieved for all parties. If for example you want to go to a shop to buy an item of clothing, the retailer should be welcoming, the shop should be clean, it should be open when it says it will be open and the transaction should be relatively straightforward. This is the basic standard of professionalism – you get what you want based on your expectations and if the shop exceeds your expectations then you are more likely to return, trust the shopkeeper and probably let people know about your experience. Now there will be times when things do not go as planned for the shop; they might be short staffed, they might run out of stock, there might any series of variables that could cause an issue but as the customer you would expect that the shop does its best to ensure that your experience is not unpleasant in such a way that even if you do not get what you want you are still likely to return. If you are a business owner think of yourself like the shop that I have just described. There will be times when circumstances out of your control may have an impact on the service that your customer or client receives from you but it is up to you to ensure that little damage is caused to your reputation. You want people to know that even when mistakes happen they can still trust you to do your best and if you cannot do your best at that time make sure that the transaction is not so terrible that they use it against you in the future. I would not set my sights on perfection, in my view perfection can induce stress and anxiety as it leaves no room for the realities of life. Focus on what your intentions are, if your intentions are to provide a great service then honour that intention and manage the expectations of your clients and team in a way that maintains trust and builds your reputation. We all make mistakes, things happen, life happens; it’s how you handle those mistakes that makes a difference – you can always be professional and still be true to who you are.