“Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.”
‘Be Professional’ is an important part of my leadership philosophy and has been for years. I’ve heard it described as an attitude of excellence, or a list of admirable actions and attributes. Definitions also focus on a professional as someone providing a necessary service to society. Years ago, I was reminded about the basic meaning of being professional from one of my fellow Soldiers.
I was at a gas station, pumping gas in my military uniform when I noticed another Soldier also pumping gas, but he was out of uniform, sort of. He had his uniform boots and pants on but had taken off his uniform shirt wearing only his brown t-shirt, wasn’t wearing his headgear or hat, and was actively trying to ignore me a few pumps away. Anyone in the Army should know better than to be “out of uniform”, especially in such a public place.
I couldn’t help myself, I got curious and walked over to my fellow Soldier to see what was going on. After asking why he was out of uniform, he informed me that he was "off-duty," and that you didn’t have to wear our uniform correctly when you were off-duty. I asked what does off-duty mean, and he told me that when you get off at the end of the day you are no longer on duty, so you are off-duty. He didn’t say “Duh!” but it was implied.
That comment transitioned me from curious to serious, but with a smile and a chuckle. You see, he was wrong. You either wear the uniform correctly all the time or you don’t wear the uniform at all, that is the Army way. So I politely corrected him, explained the need for both of us to look professional at all times, and he reluctantly put on the rest of his uniform. I don’t think he ever stopped at that gas station again, but I could be wrong.
Some people may have ignored the Soldier out of uniform, but I couldn’t because I am an Army leader, and a fellow member of our profession of arms.
What does it mean to be professional?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines professionalism as "the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person;" and it defines a profession as "a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation."
The Army’s definition of a profession is a trusted self-policing and relatively autonomous vocation whose members develop and apply expert knowledge and expertise to render an essential service to society in a particular field.
Additionally, there are five aspects to a profession that include:
· Providing a unique and vital service to our society that it cannot provide for itself.
· Providing this service with a specific expertise, knowledge, and skill.
· Earning the trust of our society with the effective and ethical application of our expertise.
· Self-regulating and policing each other to ensure we are effective and ethical to include the education and certification of our members.
· Being granted significant autonomy and discretion in our practice of expertise on behalf of society.
For me, being professional means understanding that first you are part of a profession - a calling and way of life bigger than you and taking that responsibility seriously in your day-to-day actions. Next it is applying yourself in a pursuit of competency and excellence in that profession, making yourself a trusted member and a professional for the betterment of your community. And finally, it is applying what you have learned, bringing all of your skills, moxy, and determination to bear as you invest in others building excellence beyond yourself to the betterment of your chosen profession.
If you are wondering about the attributes of being professional, I came up with a simple acronym that encompasses many thoughts about professionalism. Just remember PROS:
Professional Image – created from looking the part and setting a good example.
Reliability – maintained by accountability, honesty, and building trust.
On the Ball – demonstrated from competence and passion for what you do.
Self-Disciplined – grounded by being responsible, respectful, and ethical.
I am an Army Soldier. According to the Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 1, the Army Profession, the five essential characteristics of the military professional are described as:
· Military Expertise - Our ethical application of expertise, skills and power.
· Honorable Service - Our noble calling to service and sacrifice.
· Trust - The bedrock of our profession.
· Esprit de Corps - Our winning spirit.
· Stewardship of the Profession - Our long-term responsibility.
I am also a credentialed Life Coach. This profession also has a unique set of educational requirements, levels of experience for credentialing, code of ethical conduct, and provides a unique service to people and society.
How about you? Are you a member of a profession? If so, what did it take to join and be a member of that profession? Education? Experience? Service? Attitude? Take a moment and see if you can answer that first question.
Next, what service do you provide to society and the people in your community? All professions have a unique skillset, so what is yours and what do you do with it?
Finally, what type of conduct is expected in your profession? What does the ethical application of your expertise, skills, and power look like? More importantly, what are the repercussions if you do not live up to your moral obligations?
If you don’t think that you are a member of a profession or are working towards becoming a member of a profession, you can still be professional by taking the roles in your life seriously, determining expectations, and the attributes that make you reliable and trusted. The acronym PROS works for personal roles just like a profession. Some of my roles in life are a Christian, husband, father, and grandfather. I can tell you, I’m not perfect, but I seek to be professional in these roles as well, always looking for opportunities to serve and set a good example.
We all have the opportunity to be professional, whether we are a member of a profession or not. It is our responsibility to understand what it takes to be professional in our endeavors, what ethical behavior looks like, and most importantly the unique service we provide.
I challenge you to think about your truly unique, special set of skills and roles that require your 24/7 dedication for the betterment of your family, friends, and community. I also invite you to share the benefits of professionalism, these concepts, and the characteristics that make your profession unique with your fellow leaders and subordinates. This ensures we are constantly reminded of our commitments, because there is no off-duty time when we are being professional.