7 Ways To Be Major League Unprofessional

We learn in direct contrasts – how we GO when the traffic light is green is also how we learn to STOP when the light turns red. Hitting a great golf shot is also about learning what club will not work to hit that same shot. Being a better leader is also learning characteristics of not-so-great-leadership, so as to reinforce the right behaviors. As Marshall Goldsmith says, “We don’t need so much time to teach great leadership – rather we need more teaching leadership as what not to do!”

Here are 7 lessons we can use to avoid becoming major league unprofessional in our leadership:

  1. Hygiene. Simple and sure; my best friend says, “M&M’s aren’t breath mints!” Breath, hair, clothing, eating habits, politeness – oh the list goes on and on, as these all play a role in etiquette, and business professionalism. For today’s blog, lets focus on attire – dress to your audience and customer and maybe upgrade it by one. If we dress slightly above our audience or customer, that shows respect. Being respectful and dressing in-line with our customer and audience can be positive too. But if we dress below our audience – ouch, we better be prepared to poke fun at ourselves.

It’s when we way under or over dress, that our attire becomes the focal point, and not in a good way. It’s when we dress in a tuxedo for a job interview as a janitor that we run into problems (go watch the movie Step-Brothers). Most important here, as lots of research and etiquette is spent on this topic, is that we should think about our appearance, prepare for what we want to say about our brand in how we present ourselves. Worst of all is not planning our attire, or saying, “Whatever, no big deal.” Then we get to explain to someone why there is ‘no deal,’ maybe there is no deal because of how we showed up.

  1. Take credit. Poor leaders take credit; good leaders give credit. Great leaders don’t care about credit! ~ Seth Godin. Do the right thing when no one is looking and give the credit up to others. Sharing is winning. This is common sense but not common practice. As we learned early in school, if you get an “A” it is seen as more important than HOW you got the “A.” Taking credit supports our ego, but when we take our ego out of the picture, our maturity, humility and professionalism go up! Even if you earn the credit – thank your team and support crew as that is winning without self-interest, and people around you will follow that sense of humility.
  1. Blame others or situations. Elevating ourselves through our work and communication skills with colleagues and supervisors requires patience, listening, and insightful questioning. It’s easier to just find someone or something to blame – we look good without having to earn it! We get to look better without all the effort and time. There is no ‘get-rich-quick’ schematic to professionalism, and yet we all can think of times, we try to look right or get ahead of the pack, through blaming others or taking a victim stance. If you start hearing, “there was nothing I could do,” or “I tried, but they just don’t get it!” – you might be playing the blame card. If they don’t get it then we didn’t influence them in the right way. We can’t blame a customer for not buying. We challenge ourselves to do a better job next time at selling. That’s professionalism and not playing the blame game.
  1. Under deliver and over promise. This is a classic mistake. Sadly, in many cases, this comes from a very genuine desire to help others. As optimists, we say, “sure, I can do it”, and find ourselves over-committed. We end up letting others and ourselves down. Saying, “No” early on, sets clear expectations and timelines, and can avoid the risk of being unprofessional in the eyes of others by trying to overcommit. We judge others on their actions, or lack-of-action, even when our intentions are good and even noble.
  1. Have a different story depending on who you’re talking to. We have one story for our boss, one for our colleague and one for our friends. These are stories we build up in our heads to make us look good to that person at that time. If we were to pretend that everyone in the department, household, boardroom and local newspaper were standing next to us when we tell our story of our greatness, how would we feel? Are we consistent in all scenarios? Is our story the same, regardless of where we are or whom we are talking to?
  1. Be too smart, do all the talking and interrupt. How often we help others by adding our thoughts and suggestions to their comments and ideas. We have to help. Our desire to always add our comment may help the outcome of the idea by 5%, but we may hurt someone else’s engagement or commitment to their own idea by as much as 50%. This rule of 5/50 becomes true. As we try so hard to be right, we become unkind. The opposite of listening is waiting. We are waiting for our turn to talk and then we aren’t really listening anymore, but thinking about our next comment or response. Listening is not asking questions. Listening is hearing another person’s words, tones, and body language, without trying to figure out our response. Listening is powerful and is active, not passive. Often, we are more concerned that if we don’t say something funny, topical or relevant immediately after someone stops talking, we’ll look bad. Actually, not to say anything and to reflect a person’s emotion of joy, hurt or confusion, allows a person to continue their train of thought, and can build our professionalism
  1. Go dark. Under the flag of “I am just so busy,” trailing off on communication or responses will hurt your reputation. Holding off on getting back to that person, so they’ll know I am important is a sad scheme. Busy looks important! So going dark may actually be intentional? Wow, that is a shame. Whether its intentional or poor organization skill, it is unprofessional. If we are so busy we can’t return every message, we need to at least be in touch with those important relationships in our life. Even if it is only to type, “I’m thinking about our discussion and will be back with you soon” sends a powerful message that the other person is valuable to us. By acknowledging our need to ‘think’ about their message, we let them know that we haven’t forgotten about them and that they matter. To go dark, can be seen as mean, lazy, disorganized, uncaring and clearly unprofessional. We send equally powerful messages through our inactions, as much as we do with our actions.

Be a Pro!!


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