From the late 1990s till 2009, I worked with many colleagues and clients all over the world remotely. I worked or spoke on the phone with them for a number of years without seeing what they looked like. In those days smart devices and social media have not yet exist, if they began to exist it wasn't widely used.
I had one story to share: one day, someone, a tax expert, from our headquarters (in Geneva) whom I worked with for tax-related matters for countless projects for almost 10 years came to Sydney, and one of his intentions was to meet me in person.
The day came. In the first hour he stepped into our office he requested to be brought to where I was in the office. At last, face-to-face we met after so long; we chatted away about this and that, and planned for a dinner. It was while we walked toward the dinner place that he told me that he was surprised to see what I looked like (in terms of age). He'd imagined me someone older, perhaps in late forties or fifties (I was in my late thirties then). He assumed I must be in that maturity age range because of the way I demonstrated my professionalism all this time. Nevertheless, it was a very happy occasion; seeing him in person made a great impact. To this day, I still happily remember him as one of the most enjoyable persons to work with even when working on most complicated matters (i.e. cross-countries taxes)!
Now, about professionalism. We talk about it endlessly, sometimes thoughtlessly. Expect it, demand it to be in every one and in every business. But can anyone describe it eloquently – what is actually professionalism?
I often wonder myself.
Professionalism could mean different thing to different people. Perhaps, it is easier to answer it, if we allegorically imagine “professionalism” as a human being. What does “he/she” look like?
Again, describing what professionalism looks like can be as abstract as describing love. But not to Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430). He can describe what love looks like vividly: What does love look like?
It has the hands to help others.
It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.
It has eyes to see misery and want.
It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.
That is what love looks like.
Brilliant and timeless description. To me it can also be a perfect description for professionalism.
If you look at it closely: the work of the hands and feet is related to discipline and commitment, while the work of the eyes and ears is referring to empathy.
If I may elaborate further – the work of the hands and feet is the task of management, to get things done, and done well; while the work of the eyes and ears is the role of leadership, to understand the human side of work and businesses.
In business – nowadays, everyone in business is in “service” business – it is a mere lip-service if it is without discipline and commitment. And without empathy, it is no less than the business of capitalists or utilitarians. In both settings, professionalism is either deform or no form and face altogether. Any one with skills or talents will never flourish working in and for such businesses.
What does professionalism look like, then?
Borrowing from St Augustine's description on what love looks like, this is what professionalism looks like to me:
It has the hands to work and deliver commitment with diligence and discipline.
It has feet to hasten to guide, support others in the team, and foster team spirit – bring out the best in them and do something great together.
It has eyes to see if others are overburdened with work and in need of relieve, or emotional support.
It has the ears to hear their issues, difficulties, and challenges, and deal with them kindly.
Perhaps you prefer the description that St Augustine gives about love for professionalism to mine. Go ahead and do likewise. After all, professionalism and love do look alike, don't they! So, go forward unafraid even in these tough times, even if you just lost your job or your business, show your professionalism. I am sure with such an attitude you shall find it again. For whatever you do, you will do it well. Someone like you will be sought-after!