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5 Promises From The Promising Professional

I love words. I love language, that system of words that we use to communicate with each other. In this case, I love how these two words “professional” and “promising” are so uniquely intertwined and related. I love how this relationship is ripe for a metaphor of quality improvement.

What does it mean to be a professional?

The words "profession" and "professional" come from the Latin word "professio," which means a public declaration with the force of a promise. I believe that regardless of one’s profession, there are certain “promises” that one must make and keep.

What are the implicit promises that persons in your profession make?

The word “promising” has two meanings. It can mean showing signs of future success. It also refers to assuring someone that you will definitely do, give, or arrange something.

What does your future success look like?

The Promising Professional™ takes a look at the promises we must make, those things that we must do, give and say in the execution of our role as a professional in order to have future success in our career, in our chosen profession.

When it comes to those promises, some are unique to a particular profession. While many are quite universal. Here are five promises every professional should make.

#1 I Promise …To Be Knowledgeable & Competent

Professionals find themselves in their sphere of expertise and competency. They don’t choose professions that don’t fit their aptitude and skills sets. In addition, a professional learns every aspect of their job. An amateur skips the learning process whenever possible, while a professional knows that she is required to continue the learning process because there is always something new to learn.

Do you know the knowledge and skill sets your position requires?

#2 I Promise …To Communicate Well

Professionals know the importance of having excellent communication skills; for how we communicate is how we build and maintain relationships. Professionals must be skilled at both written communication and oral communication and are aware of how they communicate through body language and other non-verbal forms of communication.

Do you know how to communicate well?

#3 I Promise …To Know the Difference Between Responsibility and Accountability

You don’t have to have a title as a supervisor or manager to be a leader. True leaders know that while you may be able to delegate a task to a peer or a subordinate, you cannot be released from accountability. Knowing the difference between responsibility and accountability is no more important that when we make a mistake. We all make mistakes; and when we mess up, we must fess up. Even if you were not directly responsible for the mistake, you still have to hold yourself accountable when appropriate.

Do you hold yourself accountable?

#4 I Promise … To Have a Great Work Ethic and Manage My Personal Motivation.

I love a quote by W. Edwards Deming that goes: “People arrive motivated. What we have to do is figure out what de-motivates them and stop doing that.” I even use it in my Power of CARE™ presentation under the discussion of effort and motivation.

The second half of Deming’s statement refers to the responsibilities of the organization in which a professional finds oneself. To keep your employees and volunteers motivated requires more of removing the disincentives to great work than finding way to “bribe” them.

The first half – “people arrive motivated” speaks to the promise of professionalism. Professionals are self-motivated. They always want to do their best and even when things get tough, they search within themselves to maintain their motivation to do their best; staying on task until a job is completed and to the best of their abilities.

Do you self-motivate?

#5 I Promise …To Say Please & Thank You.

Professionals know that personal interaction skills, including treating others with courtesy and respect are a key part of their professional reputation and how one builds relationships. Treating everyone with respect is not just about how one feels about others, but how one sees oneself. When you are confident of your own position, you know treating others well does not diminish your importance.

When you come across people who act rude and with an air of superiority, you know that much of it comes from their own insecurity and desire to make others feel small to make themselves feel great and important.

Professionals are confident, but also humble. They have worked on themselves and continue to do so. They know their own power and their humility allows them now to builds up others and empower them. Empowering other begins with helping them see their worth; a small part of that is saying please and thank you.

Do you say please and thank you?

So, what do you get for all of this?

A professional has a promising future. An amateur has an uncertain future. The first step to making yourself a professional is to decide you ARE a professional. You then are in a continuous state of self-reflection: making and keeping your promises every single day.

Are you a professional? Are you keeping your promises?

Nadine Owens Burton has been a teacher, a university administrator, a non-profit board member, a director of a school readiness program and a Mompreneur. She is the founder and president of Owens Burton Consulting, a quality improvement training and speaking services company. Would you like to discuss the promises of your profession or the leaders in your organization? Contact Nadine ( to bring the lessons of The Promising Professional to your organization or event.

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