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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bryant

Why Professionalism Matters More Than Performance

Myth: Good performance is enough to create a successful career. Variations of this myth include: your work speaks for itself, and results matter most. Yes, your performance and results matter. They are necessary ingredients for career success, but they aren’t enough. They aren’t even the most important. Professionalism matters more.

What does Professionalism even mean? The term professionalism may conjure up images of a person in a suit with a briefcase full of TPS reports, swiping their key card at 7:30 am to beat everyone to the 8 am meeting. But that’s not what it is. A surfer whose job is to hang out on the beach waiting for the next righteous barrel can show more professionalism than an office worker. Professionalism, in any industry, simply means that you treat others with respect, value people’s time, keep your commitments, and act with integrity. Professionalism is essential to career success. How can you practice Professionalism?

  1. Show up on time. Showing up on time to meetings, lunches, phone calls, video chats, and appointments shows that you respect others and value their time. Of course, you can’t always control your circumstances. If you’re going to be late, let the other parties know. When you do arrive, be ready. If you find yourself perpetually late, allow for more time between appointments, leave earlier, or change the habits that make you late.

  2. Maintain a professional image. Many modern workplaces have adopted more casual dress codes, offer remote work options, and encourage employees to be authentic. None of this should compromise your professional image. Dress appropriately for your situation, use respectful language, maintain eye contact, and actively listen regardless of where you are.

  3. Be present. Get rid of distractions. Put your phone or watch on “do not disturb” and do not check messages while you’re in a meeting with others. Checking messages, looking around, or allowing your phone or watch to buzz over and over doesn’t make you look important, it makes you look unprofessional. If you’re too busy to be present in a meeting, you should reschedule it for another time.

  4. Show integrity. Be accountable for your actions, take pride in your work, admit when you’ve made a mistake, and commit to fixing it.

  5. Take ownership. Don’t ask questions you could easily look up. Think of possible solutions to a problem before you present it. Don’t turn in unfinished or sloppy work. Be honest with yourself and others about your capabilities and timeline.

  6. Treat others the way you like to be treated. If you don’t like waiting on people when they’re late, not being listened to, sending emails or voicemails that don’t get a response, or being let down when you’re counting on someone, don’t do it to other people. Following this rule takes care of 95 percent of being professional.

Why does Professionalism matter more than performance?

  1. It’s rare. Unfortunately, professionalism is becoming increasingly harder to find among job candidates. Especially in entry-level positions, many people can do the work. Finding someone who will show up on time, treat others with respect, be present, take initiative, and act with integrity is much harder. But in the long run, it matters more. Professionalism is an attitude and a mindset. Performance requires skills and training that are easier to teach.

  2. It’s transferable. Professionalism matters in every job, across every industry, and in every location. Your performance and results may vary based on your tenure, position, and outside factors, but you can maintain professionalism in everything you do. It follows you throughout your career and sets you up for success.

  3. It’s memorable. A truth (often attributed to Maya Angelou): “People will forget what you said. They’ll forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.” Your professionalism or lack thereof in any work situation is more memorable than how you performed. Because it’s about treating yourself and others with respect. It communicates that they matter, and what you’re doing matters to you.

Your performance and results pale in comparison to your professionalism. Failing with professionalism will serve you better than succeeding without it. Your level of professionalism builds credibility, trust, and relationships or damages them. Great performances don’t require professionalism, great careers do.

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