What do you think of when you hear the word “professional?” Is it the Luc Besson movie that launched Natalie Portman’s career, or Olympic figure skaters on the front of a Wheaties box? Perhaps it’s your officemate who deftly addresses your manager’s concerns about the status of a project?
Of course, all three are correct and while I’d love to delve deep into the themes running through Besson’s The Professional, I’d rather talk about your officemate. Professionalism is a smorgasbord of soft skills. It’s not any one thing in particular, but an assortment of tasty skills that combined, are far more than the sum of its parts. Sure, it’s the ability to calmly maneuver through conflicts and the concerns of others. It’s also timeliness, time management, communication skills and those non-verbal conversations we have with clothes, personal presentation and attitude. It’s how we treat others, in person and on the phone.
Being a professional, in whatever field, is not just about being paid for what you do. The word amateur originates from the original Latin meaning “to love.” You can be a professional amateur at your job if you care deeply about what you do.
Professionalism is more difficult to teach than, say, basic coding. In coding, the results are immediately evident. It’s less easy to teach someone how to be a great team member or to take constructive criticism well. These interpersonal skills require us - humans, to be humans; to engage and to fail and be creative and do it all again, differently and thoughtfully. Coding doesn’t ask as much from us.
In LinkedIn’s annual skills gap analysis, they determined that interpersonal skills, particularly communication skills, provided the greatest workforce needs imbalance. There are not enough professionals skilled in professionalism in the labor force. And it doesn’t look like that trend will be changing any time soon.
With a critical eye, we need to examine how and why our workforce is lacking in these areas and then implement solid training plans. Acknowledging the problem is only half the battle. We have to address it. In the Digital Age, professional skills training have to start at the elementary level or sooner - at least at the same time a child begins to look at screens. In dealing with an unprecedented problem, our solutions must be equally unprecedented.
That’s my professional opinion.
LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics, headquartered in Charleston, SC. Her company provides fun, interactive soft skills training events that utilize theatre strategies to help humans grow their professional skills. We’re happy to have a conversation about skills training at 843-771-0753.