Mirror, Mirror on the Wall – Who’s the most professional of us all?

The term ‘professional’ means relating to or belonging to a profession in the widest sense of its usage. This accounts for why almost everyone and anyone call themselves a professional. But, to be truly regarded as a professional is entirely another matter!

I once did some research on ‘the professions’ and that’s when my eyes opened to the true definition of professional. I find I am not alone in this. For, whenever I raise the question with people, I am usually greeted with blank stares or vague answers. And so, I thought it might help to blog about the definition of a professional and attempt a broad guide to rating oneself as a professional – based on a few, simple, soul searching questions.

Here are the questions you need to ask, beginning with ‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall – Who’s the most professional of us all?’ Just joking. On the other hand, aren’t we all operating in a competitive world?

Before I proceed, I read a few days ago that the average time a person spends on an Internet page is less than 15 seconds. So, for those who don’t have the patience to read this entire blog, let me define a professional up ahead. A professional is someone whose expertise in her or his field is highly acknowledged. A professional is a person who is always reading field material to keep her or his knowledge current. And, in the bargain, develop critical thinking skills to ensure that opinions delivered are well researched, dispassionate and objective. A professional always meets her or his commitment to clients – delivering a quality product or service on time. And last, but not least, a professional is a person who upholds the ethical standards of the profession she or he practices in. As of society!

There, all those who are in a hurry to leave this page can now exit. Unless, as a professional, they really want to evaluate where they stand:)

To go back to the questions that need to be asked of that mirror, here they are:

    1. How is your professional expertise rated by your seniors and peers? The common practice is to call oneself a professional by virtue of being qualified in a discipline or by virtue of being engaged in an activity as a livelihood rather than as a hobby. But a mere degree can never earn you the right to being rated as a pro unless you are seen as a competent expert in your field. It is because of this dimension of professionalism that only the greats such as a Roger Federer and Sachin Tendulkar in sports or a Warren Buffett in investments are called pros. You simply have to work at being that good! And that happens only through dedication to your field of discipline. Which means constant study, an open mind to learning new things and application of those learnings through trial and error.
    2. How would you rate your expertise in the field? When a client or customer engages you, it is with the primary expectation that, as a professional, you will ‘fulfill as completely as possible the primary service for which the profession stands for.’* This means that you need to be thoroughly conversant and well-versed with not just what you learnt in college but the current happenings in your profession, related fields and the broader environment. It’s simple really. Would anyone of us go to a doctor or lawyer who does not have a good track record of resolving issues? Or has a rep for not listening to or understanding patients? Don’t we abandon doctors who may have treated us for years but who we now deem as outdated? Looking at the flip side, I have often heard folks in advertising grumble that clients don’t treat them as professionals. When I was in advertising, I was one of those grumblers. Today, years after climbing over the fence to the client side,  I would like to say to those folks that ‘advertising people are mostly not treated as professionals simply because they do not take the trouble to thoroughly understand a client’s business before coming up with advertising solutions.That being the case, naturally a client finds issue after issue with the recommendations made. To be taken seriously and be seen as pros, advertising people must be able to chat knowledgeably with a client and understand in-depth his or her industry and business.’
    3. How sure are you that your recommendations are objective? Human beings tend to fall into set patterns of thinking. Humans also tend to be self-absorbed, leading to many a person subconsciously or otherwise viewing a subject matter through the lens of personal beliefs. Hard not to. Unless you consciously work on developing critical thinking ability. Critical thinkers don’t offer an opinion unless they have gathered enough knowledge on the subject. They also take care to examine both sides of an opinion before reaching any conclusion. Over time, critical thinkers learn to be dispassionate, thereby ensuring their personal biases are not influencing their conclusions.
    4. What’s your hit rate of meeting your commitments? True professionals are respected not just for their expertise but because they can be trusted to deliver. Even when they are unable to deliver at the time committed, professionals always take the time to communicate to a client that they are unable to meet the schedule and why? This good old professional practice, sadly, is almost non-existent now. A client or customer, today, has to fend for themselves and demand value for their money for services they have contracted from so-called professionals.                                                                                                      
    5. Do you uphold the ethics of your profession? Society? In his The Professions, Michael Bayles highlights the fact that a customer and society, at large, expects a professional to deploy all her or his intellectual knowledge and operational experience to work in favour of the customer’s interest while ensuring that the well-being of society is never endangered. These interests or ethics are expected to be upheld even in situations where a conflict of interest may exist. A doctor, for example, should not ask patients to do unnecessary medical tests to drive up the expenditure and increase the revenue of the clinic or hospital being served by the doctor. That’s misuse of knowledge, violation of professional ethics and damaging of the public interest. In other words, very unprofessional. The same holds true when service providers try and persuade a client to go down a more expensive route when more affordable options exist. Here, the service provider is acting in their own interest and not that of the customer.  And, in the bargain, eroding the professionalism standards of the industry they operate in.

After raising these questions, if we all collectively gaze into that mirror and ask, “Mirror mirror, on the wall – who’s the most professional of us all?”, I wonder what that mirror’s answer would be?

I know the mirror would tell me, “keep trying – for you are not quite there as yet.”


*The Professions, Michael D. Bayles

Featured Image Credit: Parallel Mirrors by Tomato Umlat (Flickr) under Creative Commons License

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