Back When professional are WE professional

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Sounds good? It’s just the sound. Wish we all, as professionals, can conduct like one. My friend with that swagger would brag ‘the moment I enter the office, I remove my personal suit and don the professional blazer’ like a jersey by a footballer ready to play ball. I bought that line for he was very convincing given his long hours, confidence, competence, career path strewn with glowing accolades from clients and colleagues. Besides, he was my buddy. Well, I for one, in the corporate context was the turncoat. I was like Tommy Lee Jones in the movie ‘Fugitive’ – even in the call of duty he will stress “Yes, it’s personal ‘. To me, as well, “everything was personal. There is nothing professional even in the ‘line of work’” an aphorism my friend abhorred, thrashing me time and again as ‘conduct unbecoming’. I couldn’t care any less as I wore the way and carried myself as it suited – call me professional or petty, I dusted it off my shoulders. The definition of Professional/professionalism, especially the academic ones are galore if you glance Google. So my interest is more from ‘what exactly we know to be a professional?’ I sure don’t wear two suits, besides the claim to split personalities like scissoring a piece of cloth is unacceptable – even clinically. When you have a sick spouse at home who needs your attention and a deep crisis in the project which you are leading – you stay at home nursing or report to work firefighting? It’s a moral call, and truly professional and personal. Many of us, from my own experience, will select someone at home to park in your place and rush to office because there is no one to replace. It boils down to the most significant aspect of ‘dispensability’. In terms of priority, both are equally important, so while you HAVE TO BE PRESENT at work, the SPOUSE CAN’T BE SIDELINED and hence the phone is abuzz with feeds about progress from home. Multitasking? Now this is not a specific scenario for a particular individual? Check the pulse in the professional arena and you will hear scream and shouts of “I second”. Like a log of wood lit on fire at both ends and left to deal with the unforeseen, wondering which to fend first, is that a moral dilemma or a professional predicament? Won’t you agree, any which ways, it becomes very personal? We are humans made up of flesh and bones, not robots programmed to ‘respond’ to a request. And emotions always run high. If you are devoid, either you are an exceptional person or exceedingly good at camouflaging. Bottom line – as my good friend quipped “what do you mean by being Professional?”, very valid as we are so used to using that word without knowing its definition because everyone employs it – be it vernacular or scholarly speech. I tried with the amateur turned pro line because in sports a ‘pro’ is one who plays for pay while amateur pursues as pastime, besides the skill level is a far cry from a seasoned player. A clear distinction but then we aren’t seated in a stadium but sharing space in an office separated by cubicles. So what makes one a professional in the corporate circle? Professionalism, as most perceive as well-groomed, neatly-attired, impeccable manners, which indeed are important and inclusive. Is it limited with these attributes? Setting aside the heavy-duty business jargons the quintessential aspect is being truthful and transparent when your ‘yes’ is a ‘YES’ and ‘No’ is ‘NO’; when you have the courage and conviction to call a spade a spade. The litmus test will be the integrity and excellence, and we are a mixed bag. It’s not a thin line but a fine one that tugs your conscience in addressing the call of your child when you are stuck deep in a deadlock in the project working hard to iron out the impasse. Be critical; don’t criticize How often we ridicule a suggestion as silly or stupid? My brother after graduating from IIT was hired by an amazing fortune 500 company and whatever he shared was enlightening that we should emulate. During their brainstorming session, which usually is a small circle of people of the middle and senior management, everyone has to propose an idea failing which treat the folks assembled for Pizza. Scurrying to avoid a burnt hole in the pocket, everyone would pitch something or other – forget it making sense or not, but say something and usually the least of all is voted as the best. Well, that’s the moment of epiphany in Brainstorming. Rather than stifle and suppress by silence for the fear of mockery from the many, the management eggs you to “give it a go as you never know”. Perfect. How will you know unless you have tried? As a green horn, at the start of my career, I did have the audacity to ask and even [ashamed to admit] be cynical about the comments. My reporting manager wouldn’t even flinch, instead will be focused on my eyes reading my thoughts. While appreciating my candor, he would caution “listen, it’s not me but this white board you are riling. It’s never me but my idea. Let’s be clear about that.” Point taken, but you step out of the room deriding the person with disparaging remarks “the guy is stupid”. Juvenile thought? I am not contesting. ‘How can you separate the dance from the dancer’ logic? Pretty dumb in hindsight and that’s why I was so naïve and nonchalant. While you can be critical, don’t ever criticize for you just don’t discredit but damage the faculty and impair from functioning forever. The criticism, far from constructive, is destructive damaging beyond repair, shattering the confidence of the battered individual who will be very reluctant or hesitant even to spell out should the need arise. The mouth should not be muzzled just because few didn’t agree or accept to appreciate the merit. Better be belittled as dumb or dimwit so long the word is heard loud and clear. Call it nice or names. Unfortunately, not everyone sport that an attitude and wear on their sleeves. Be vocal; not vicious Another attribute that puts an individual to a great sense of discomfort would be the viciousness when voice amplifies as vociferous. We victimize by making it a vendetta when difference of opinions should be aired without offending the sense and sentiment. Words can wound and enslave; sting and scald; Vitriolic and vengeful. Seasoned professional have their own way in making it sound so ‘personal’ and still communicate the message professionally. An incident is worth narrating: We worked in agile methodology where the day begins with a ‘stand-up meeting’ and latecomers are strongly discouraged without resorting to reprimand. It was another team at work and the team lead was charismatic and quite a contender in leadership. With arms folded, he greeted the team members as they stepped, and once the watch clicked ‘time’, the latecomers were greeted with a wider grin “check the clock, and count the heads. We will pass on our flavor of ice-cream” and true to the words, the team was treated to ice-cream. Within a week, the team was clocking ‘on-time’ arrival. Brilliant! “They are mature enough to own up their act, and pay for it as well. Don’t think they need to be told. They know” was his response to me when queried why no disciplinary action was initiated. “We did. There is discipline. Studied silence has its own share of success”. It doesn’t get better than that – you win a battle without shooting a bullet or shedding a drop of blood and yet there is a battle. Baffling! When professional, be professional. The toughest of all is ‘to be professional’. I wish to recall my father’s advice “detached attachment. Learn to express your love without mollycoddling. The care will become a curse. Safeguard your sanity.” A man of very few words, he always spoke to us in Silence – that stern glare said it all. But we do have to reconcile to the fact that spending 10 plus hours in a common space with co-workers makes office as THE HOME and colleagues more as family. I did my math and the actual waking hours at home were so less my five fingers proved too many. So you make sure office is as good as home, if not better start treating like one. Not lethargic but responsible. ‘Distance lends enchantment to the view’, so ‘close’ doesn’t have a personal connotation, rather its resembles the sync in ideology, the same wave of frequency, common grounds, our communion in word and deed, and remember there is always this invisible wall impregnable erected for our good lest we fail and fall on moral values. We need to strike the right balance and govern by a code of conduct – not by a rule book as our guideline but the very conscience. In conclusion, I still stand by my ‘personal’ stance and strive as much to conduct professionally. We are not mercenaries on a mission, but mortals with our own strength and shortcoming. The workplace should be treated fairly with the admission and accommodation of ‘personal’ needs that extends beyond our immediate family. When professional, may we be professional - It’s not desire, but directive. ~Alice


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