The ABC’s of Professionalism
“Your Excellency!” Even those who never come in contact with royalty know what these words mean. Well, get used to a brand new meaning because they are now my battle cry for you and a call to arms against the dragons that are impeding your quest toward professional excellence. Maybe your dragons are named “Rut” and “Grudge.” Or maybe they are known as “Pride” and “Rigid.” Thankfully, there are attitudes, behaviors, and principles of professionalism that will equip you to slay them. This post in particular will help sharpen your battle axe and fill any chinks in your armor. Add them to your arsenal and get to work on “Your Excellency!”
Professionals will bend when they need to bend and stand firm when they need to stand firm. The challenge is understanding which attitude is appropriate for which circumstances.
“The definition of insanity is continuing the same behavior and expecting a different result.” — Alcoholics Anonymous
“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” — Thomas Jefferson
“Stay committed to your decisions but, stay flexible in your approach.” — Tom Robbins
People who orient their lives around accomplishment, who are driven by achievement, often have to work harder than others to develop patience. Perhaps it’s because when they visualize outcomes, they overlook the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to get there. Maybe it’s because they do not foresee certain challenges or they underestimate the level of effort required. In any case, without patience, frustration sets in. Patience is a sobering virtue that adds realism to expectations. As long as patience does not become a substitute for action, it is an irreplaceable virtue needed to achieve professionalism.
“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” — Saint Augustine
“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.” — Chinese proverb
“For everything there is a season,
And a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time for war, and a time for peace.”
— Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
One of the worst habits anyone can form is the habit of giving up. When things get difficult, it’s not the time to quit. Struggling through difficulties, trying again and again after multiple failures is where the learning and improvement occur. Success follows failure. In fact, if you aren’t failing, you aren’t growing.
“If at first you succeed, try something harder.” — John C. Maxwell
It’s impossible to predict with 100% certainty which failure will precede success. What is certain is that every time you quit, you are forfeiting success.
“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” — Japanese Proverb
“There is no telling how many miles you will have to run while chasing a dream.” — Anonymous
Growing up, we had a rule in our family. No one was allowed to quit. It wasn’t as much a rule as it was an understanding. It meant, if I went out for football and made the team, I had to finish the season. If I was injured, I would be expected to sit on the bench (where I spent most of my time anyway) and support my teammates. It was acceptable to not go out the following year. But, finishing meant completing the season.
“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.” — William James
Quitting is no minor thing. It always means breaking a promise to one’s self. It usually means breaking a promise to others, too. Here’s some food for thought: is quitting also breaking a promise to God?
“Saints are sinners who kept on going.” — Robert Louis Stevenson
Loyalty is another word for commitment, usually referring to a relationship toward a person or a group of people, such as a team or an institution.
“Lack of loyalty is one of the major causes of failure in every walk of life” — Napoleon Hill
“An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.” — Elbert Hubbard
“A boy can learn a lot from a dog: obedience, loyalty, and the importance of turning around three times before lying down.” — Robert Benchley
Champions are those who take commitment to an entirely different level. They have a do-or-die attitude. No failure, mistake, or hurdle is bigger than the desire they have to achieve their dreams. When people tell them, “It’s okay, you gave it your all.” they dig deeper and find a little bit more to give. Their dream is bigger than their doubts, fears, pain, and excuses.
“When the world says, ‘Give up,’ Hope whispers, ‘Try it one more time.’” — Anonymous
“Difficult things take a long time, impossible things a little longer.” — Anonymous
“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” — Newt Gingrich
Trying new things is generally a good thing. People should always be willing to get out of their comfort zones for new experiences. However, there is a difference between “trying” and “committing.” Too often people walk away from something and say, “Oh well, I tried.” Did they really try? Or was it a half-hearted attempt? Did they start off with a built-in excuse? They next time you are faced with an opportunity, be resolute. Instead of saying, “I’ll try.” say, “I will!” That’s a commitment.
Being assertive is sometimes confused with being aggressive, pushy, or rude. Once a person understands that ideas, principles, and opinions can be expressed in both a direct and respectful way, he is able to imagine the benefits of professional assertiveness.
“The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well being of others.” — Sharon Anthony Bower
Assertiveness takes form in all of the ways that define who we are: thoughts, words, and deeds.
“Assertiveness is not what you do, it’s who you are!” — Attributed to Shakti Gawain
While becoming an assertive person is a personal decision, it is also unlikely to be a quick transition. Raw assertiveness tends to grow gradually in direct proportion to increases in confidence.
“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” — Arthur Ashe
“Self-confidence is the memory of success” — Anonymous
Professionalism requires assertiveness to be tempered with professional attitudes and behaviors such as kindness, forethought, and patience. With these well in hand, professionals are prepared to balance assertiveness with tact.
“Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” — Sir Isaac Newton
“Forethought and prudence are the proper qualities of a leader.” — Publius Cornelius Tacitus
“Wit without discretion is a sword in the hand of a fool” — Spanish Proverb
“The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life” — William Shakespeare
“Discretion in speech is more important than eloquence” — English Proverb
There’s a special instance of discretion that involves appropriate use of private information. Let me be blunt — gossip is not a feature of professionalism.
“What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth.” — Jewish Proverb
“If it’s very painful for you to criticize your friends – you’re safe in doing it. But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that’s the time to hold your tongue.” — Alice Duer Miller
“Whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.” — Spanish Proverb
“Gossip needn’t be false to be evil – there’s a lot of truth that shouldn’t be passed around.” — Frank A. Clark
“Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell.” — Shana Alexander
“There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it hardly becomes any of us
To talk about the rest of us.”
— Edward Wallis Hoch
Finally, before setting out to slay your personal dragons, there’s a Biblical perspective to take into account.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;”
— Bible, Ephesians 6:10-17
Armed with these added tools of professionalism, you can be more prepared to someday say to yourself, “Welcome, your excellency!”
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