“How can I get my folks to be more professional? I feel like how I think they should look and behave is not important to them. They just want to be their “authentic” selves … no matter how UNprofessional I think they look and act. Help!”
There are three things I suggest you do as you’re thinking about how to work through this notion of professionalism.
The first is to check yourself, meaning that we all have different lenses for how we view the word “professional” depending on a lot of things, including power and privilege as it has to do with our cultural backgrounds. So how you think about “professional” in this day and age is very different from just a few years ago, or even a few years before that. Really ask yourself – what is it that you bring to the table about expectations around the term “professional”? And is that congruent with the times we find ourselves in right now and the people we’re working with right now? Really ask yourself if “professional” is the right word you’re looking for.
This brings me to point number two. I want to encourage you to start thinking about impact and effectiveness versus professionalism. In other words, when you’re thinking about how your people dress and act, ask them and ask yourself – are they having the impact and the effectiveness they want to have in order to meet whatever the work goal is? If they’re not having the impact and effectiveness, then maybe there’s something we should consider in terms of how we look, how we operate, how we talk, that can be changed, so that we become more effective, with a greater impact.
So instead of this amorphous term we call “professional”, start to measure impact and effectiveness. And then reverse engineer that to discover how we can best look, act, and be in order to be most effective. Sometimes it has to do with traditional ways of being “professional” and acting “professional”. But a lot of times it is much more about the particular work, the particular conversation, the particular thing that you are doing.
And then the third strategy I want to share with you is to make sure you and your team are doing the DEI work – the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work. When we start raising our own awareness of cultural biases, both intended and unintended, and the micro aggressions and macro aggressions that are associated with not getting that right, we start to really understand that a term like “professional” is a hollow word. It has to do with our own perspective.
There’s a great quote from Anaïs Nin who said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” And that’s what we’re doing with the term “professional”. We are looking through a lens that may not be what we need it to be any longer. So really stick with impact and effectiveness as opposed to just being “professional”. And a big part of that is doing the DEI work and that deep dive into what we bring to the table in terms of expectations of each other.
For more, take a look at my recent blog post, Professionalism: What the Hell?, where I really get into more about the nuance of the term “professional”.