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Pro·fes·sion·al·ism. The term has several dictionary translations. Webster defines it as the conduct, aims or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person. Other references describe it as the competence or skill expected of a professional and the key to quality and efficiency.

I’m sure that everyone one of us knows at least one person who personifies the definition of a professional. It’s evident in their presence when they enter into a conference room or just step into your office. Your first impression is their physical appearance–always appropriately groomed for the occasion in smart attire. Even their carrying cases for papers and electronics are suitable. Their tone of voice is medium and calm and they are positive, authentic and assertive in their communication.

Professional presence is the amalgamation of all the qualities that others perceive in and about you. You have an identity by design or default. The question is, do your interactions match your core values, your skill sets and your competency?

Professionalism encompasses the day-to-day behaviors that define who you are and what you do. Your behaviors, skill sets and competencies all determine whether your individual contributions positively or negatively impact the goals, mission and vision of the organization you represent.

Common courtesy is a key quantifier in measuring your professional communication. Combatant, defensive and aggressive communication creates a negative perception about your character, your abilities and your worth to yourself and to the organization. Simple manners, thoughtfulness and ordinary etiquette are still in style in this casual business world.

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There are several traits that distinguish individuals with high professional presence.

  • They possess a confidence in their ability to perform the functions they were hired to do.
  • They have an innate ability to solve problems and focus on solutions.
  • Their sound and responsible decision making ability results in choices that impact the good of the organization and are not self-serving.
  • Focusing on positive outcomes instead of negative results is their operational method–confronting and eliminating fear from their thinking.

Professionals take calculated, measurable risks in order to challenge themselves, create movement and change the organizational culture. They take care of themselves through effective self-management. They exercise, eat healthy foods, nurture their body, mind and spirit and create an environment that is positive and motivating and stress free.

Here are five tips to help you improve your professional image.

  • Develop an appropriate dress policy for yourself. The world is business casual. Learn to dress appropriately for each occasion.
  • Define what you do. Your performance, your reputation and your image are defined by your day-to-day actions. Wanting to be liked instead of respected is the biggest detractor from a professional image.
  • Polish your communication skills. Be assertive and concise. Making too much noise, nonverbally and verbally, will detract from your professional presence.
  • Practice simple manners and proper etiquette–in person, in your written communication and emails. Be polite when entering another’s office or hold a door when entering a restaurant or commercial building. Knowing the right thing to do in social situations is imperative for career growth.
  • Find or study a mentor who can provide input, example and guidance. Accept self-responsibility and be willing to ask for valuable critique from someone you trust to help build your strengths and neutralize your weaknesses.

In his blog Taking Ownership of Your Professional Presence, Art Petty says, “Don’t be naive and assume that others view you as the confident, sharp-witted and agile leader or contributor that you perceive you are in your mind’s eye. In this world of constant change, a failure to manage yourself, your presence and your value proposition is tantamount to defaulting on yourself. Instead, take ownership and build professional equity by deliberately strengthening your professional presence.”


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