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What does being professional mean to you?

4 Mins

A professional approach has numerous aspects incorporating amongst others: manners, etiquette, dress, style of approach, dedication, diligence, energy, determination and attention to detail. Let’s look at some of the above in more detail.

Manners, etiquette and dress 

I sometimes wish I had been working in the 1950’s – the Cary Grant era of style and sophistication when business people were effortlessly stylish and seem to conform to an accepted code of etiquette and manners – at least in the movies… Of course I am not saying that we should all rush out and buy antique suits and start to wear hats and there was altogether too much smoking at that time. 

However, we can learn from the smart-dressed approach that was universally applied and the calm, respectful manner that dominated most of the interactions. It was in many ways quite formal and it is this formality that is a key part of professionalism, even today. Business is a serious activity and we should always remember that and act and dress accordingly. 

Dedication, diligence and attention to detail 

Let’s take a few minutes to consider professional sport. Modern sport requires a level of dedication that is to be admired and frankly copied in business. I am mainly thinking of the physically demanding sports such as athletics, tennis and cycling. To compete at the top of these sports athletes need to focus on all aspects of their lives to ensure that on the day of competition they are in peak condition and have minimised any deficiencies in technique that they may have. 

As the level of dedication has improved so standards have been raised and sports like tennis are transformed since the early days of the last century. Sports such as cycling have the added aspect of advances in the equipment used. Team Sky has broken records and has been responsible for creating the first British winners of the Tour de France in recent years and much of the success has been put down to Dave Brailsford’s system of “aggregation of marginal gains”. In a nut shell this involves analysing all aspects of the sport from the bike design and weight to the clothing used and even the positions adopted by the cyclists on the bike. 

By making improvements in all areas each often only improving the performance a fraction the overall effect was a Tour de France win. Brailsford describes marginal gains as: “The one per cent margin for improvement in everything you do.” 

Now the majority of the process of business is pretty rudimentary and unspectacular. We live for those success moments and they are what make it all worthwhile but the 9 to 5 is largely filled with small actions that slowly take the company in the right direction. This is where I think that a lot can be learned from the marginal gains approach. There is a tendency to adopt routines and procedures and not to question whether improvements can be made and this is a drag on business development. A true business professional will constantly question the approach in a proactive, constructive manner and analyse whether it is the best, most efficient way to achieve the goal. 

Read on for a round-up of the key characteristics most professionals share.

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