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A word used by so many yet truly understood by so few. Professionalism is more than the attainment of academic qualification or the acquisition of various certificates of participation. Professionalism is about showing up early (or at least on time), appropriately dressed for the occasion and thoroughly prepared for the circumstance. It encompasses paying attention to the little details that often transform mediocrity into excellence such as:

  • Undertaking your due diligence
  • Remembering to RSVP through the specified medium prior to the elapse of the RSVP deadline date
  • Pre-reading any papers, documents or information available to you before you attend the event/meeting or undertake the task/activity.
  • Avoiding or minimising your alcohol consumption at work-related social events and maintaining decorum.
  • Ensuring that your body language and verbal communication (tone, content and volume) are always polite, respectful and appropriate.
  • Taking personal notes at business meetings and conferences in order to ensure that you capture the notable points articulated, important decisions made and can put into practice and develop the habits and skills described in corporate training sessions.
  • Keeping past and present records, documents, notes and information (electronic and hard copies alike) well organised and easily/quickly accessible.
  • Practising personal performance management to determine shortcomings and opportunities for improvement, in order to seek professional development in deficient areas.
  • Promptly responding to correspondence, emails, and messages as well as returning missed calls as soon as possible (not more than a day later).
  • Knowing when to seek and request guidance or assistance and engaging the most appropriate person to guide or assist, depending on the specific area or task to be completed.
  • Maintaining a pleasant and polite disposition by not taking things personally and being overly emotional or defensive in the face of negative/unpleasant comments and unjustified criticisms.
  • Taking responsibility for tasks, activities and circumstances under your purview and ensuring accurate and timely completion of same, even if you are not directly responsible for completing them yourself.
  • Learning from past mistakes to minimise repetition and learning from past experiences to grow, develop and progress.

While the implementation of these tips is an excellent place to begin your journey toward professionalism, they would be meaningless without the adoption of the following character traits and values.



Be someone that your colleagues and clients can depend on. Ensure that your word means something by always fulfilling your commitments. If you say you are going to do something then ensure you get it done accurately and within the specified timeframe. This habit will inspire the trust, confidence and respect of both your colleagues and clients alike.


Avoid procrastination. Anticipate likely and foreseeable outcomes and prepare for as many of them as possible. Preparation for likely outcomes well in advance of that outcome becoming a reality, will minimise your chances of being caught off-guard or by surprise and then floundering to get back on track. Commence tasks, assignments and activities as soon as you become aware that it will be, or has already been assigned to you. Manage your time and resources to ensure that wherever and whenever possible, you complete the required tasks and activities well in advance of the date it becomes due.

This will maximise your likelihood and capability to deliver quality work even in the face of an unexpected and unforeseen circumstance such as illness and or family emergencies/death. Implementing backups (electronic and hard copies) and systems to mitigate unforeseen circumstances will also assist you to efficiently and effectively deal with circumstances such as a computer malfunction/theft or a misplaced file. As a professional, your aim should always be to deliver the highest possible calibre of work within the allocated timeframe instead of a dishonest or insincere excuse for mediocrity, inadequate or incomplete work.



More often than not, colleagues and clients alike know when you are being dishonest or withholding the truth although, they may not call you on it. People are smarter and more emotionally intelligent than you may think or give them credit for. Even if you practice all the aforementioned tips, it is possible for something to slip your mind or evade your attention.

On these hopefully extremely rare occasions, fabrication of the truth will only compound the situation and insult the intelligence of the person from whom you are withholding the truth, which will cost you their respect in future. In such instances, just be honest about the situation and explain the circumstances surrounding the same. Be sure to apologise sincerely for your shortcoming and then work to rectify it, as soon as possible.

Do not attempt to make any excuse, deflect attention or respond/behave in a defensive manner as this will only aggravate the situation and an otherwise pleasant working relationship. Your colleagues and clients will appreciate the fact that you are humble enough, to be honest especially if the unfortunate circumstance is a one-off or rare one.


Always conduct yourself with integrity which may not always be easy, but is always worth it. While integrity may initially seem like an abstract concept, it merely refers to acting in accordance with strong positive moral convictions. Actions such as using company time and resources for personal gain and benefit without prior company approval should, therefore, be avoided.

Hiring, favouring or giving preferential treatment to friends and family in your professional capacity is also immoral and the void of integrity. When performing your professional duties and responsibilities, you should always strive to maintain confidentiality and act in the best interest of the organisation, its employees, customers and stakeholders. Dissemination of confidential company information in exchange for personal benefit or gain is also extremely inappropriate, disloyal and should be avoided at all costs. If you find yourself in a circumstance that you can make or influence a decision or outcome that will have some benefit or consequence to you, a family member or friend, also known as a conflict of interest, as a professional, you are obligated to report the conflict and recuse yourself, relinquishing your decision making capacity or influence with immediate effect.

While the aforementioned instances and examples are by no means exhaustive, an excellent but simple measure to ensure that you always act with integrity is to treat others fairly and with respect, without bias or prejudice, in all matters and, in a manner that you yourself would like to be treated.

Always remember that “Professionalism is not a label you give yourself – its a description you hope others will apply to you.” David Maister

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