Unflattering Trait ≠ Unprofessional

People are sometimes described as unprofessional by their colleagues or associates when they have a trait or characteristic that stands out—-typically in an unflattering way.  Consider:

***the woman with the shrill laugh who seemingly thinks everything is funny (her colleagues initially found this trait to be cute, but over time became repelled by it)   

***the man who is naturally inquisitive and incessantly asks questions. (his peers quickly found this to be aggravating)  

***the supervisor (someone who happened to have a hearing disability) that speaks especially loudly—even when having one-on-one conversations in close quarters. ( even understanding his condition, the staff never quite got used to this and too often felt like they were being yelled at—inappropriately so)

If asked, how would you describe these individuals?  Or what if you were an executive recruiter and one of these people becomes a serious candidate for a position you’re attempting to fill.  As a professional, how do describe (objectively so) the individual to your hiring manager client?  After all, what you say holds sway with the hiring manager.  Say something inappropriate (or misleading) and you could torpedo the candidate. 

Sometimes we’re inclined to describe these types of individuals as unprofessional.  And that inclination is often fueled from our own emotional reaction to them (the importance of mind-set six, once again, raises its head).  From my point of view, when someone has a trait or characteristic that stands out in an unflattering way, it doesn’t make them unprofessional.  ‘Un’ means without or the opposite of.  In effect, in describing someone as unprofessional it suggests that the person has virtually no professionalism.  It would be a rare circumstance in which that would be true.   

Plus, when you suggest someone is unprofessional it suggests that you can’t trust them—whether it be their competence, their judgment, or their character (for more on this see Chapter Four in The Power of Professionalism).  Having a defining personal trait (however annoying) typically doesn’t have much to do with their professionalism and, by default, their trustworthiness.  Simply said, transposing someone’s personality with their character does that person a disservice—and does not reflect well on us as a professional.         

When describing someone who has a trait or characteristic that is unflattering, consider describing  them as a bit unpolished, needing greater refinement, or something analogous which is appropriate to the situation.

Take first impressions.  It’s true that when someone ‘shows up’ disheveled (think: unkept appearance) it invariably creates the wrong impression.  Many will be put off by it. Certainly people don’t initially associate ‘professional’ with that person.  Yet, it’s important to resist the urge to refer to them as unprofessional—for many of the reasons previously stated.    

The point here is not to generalize.  As professionals, it’s important for all of us to be objective. Recall  the woman with the shrill laugh.  Annoying? Sure. Unprofessional? No.


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Connecticut Huskies Know ‘It’s All About The Team’

As Richard Kovacevich, former Chairman of Wells Fargo, has stated, “You learn very quickly playing sports that it’s all about the team.  It’s the best five players that win the basketball game, not the five best players.”   

On Monday the best team, the University of Connecticut, won the national championship.  Their opponent, the University of Kentucky, had ‘the five best players’.  Actually, they may have had more than five—they’re loaded with half-a-gazillion McDonald’s All-Americans.  Their starting five were all uber-talented freshman.    

Yes, Connecticut’s point guard Shabazz Napier may well have been the nation’s best player.  Yet Connecticut’s talent quotient was dramatically lower than Kentucky’s. In many ways Kentucky is an NBA farm club. ‘One-and-done’ describes what their current freshman are expected to do—namely turn pro. Whether they will or not remains to be seen. 

On Monday the best team won, not the most talented team.  Connecticut didn’t miss a free throw going 10 for 10 (Kentucky was 13 of 24).  Connecticut, who was at a sizeable height disadvantage, out rebounded Kentucky by one. On paper Connecticut should have never been able to out rebound Kentucky—it just doesn’t equate given Kentucky’s superior height advantage and previous dominating performance on the boards all year.      

If talent were the ultimate differentiator, Kentucky should have won. They didn’t.  That’s because talent, as important as it is, is overrated.  At the end of the day, it’s the team that matters most.    

Congratulations to the Connecticut Huskies. 

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Lessons In Professionalism (and Success) From Basketball’s San Antonio Spurs

Last night I caught a few minutes of the San Antonio Spurs/Golden State Warriors game.  For those unaware, these are two National Basketball Association (NBA) teams.  I happen to be a fan of the Warriors—being a native of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Spurs were impressive in winning the game—their 19th in a row!  If you want to see basketball played at the highest level imaginable—watch the Spurs play sometime. It’s the precision and jaw-dropping impact of Cirque du Soleil in gym shorts. Some have argued the Spurs could field two NBA quality teams from their current fifteen-man roster.

The Spurs have three future Hall of Fame players but that’s not why they’re so impressive. They play within a system—one that’s been carefully honed over the years by coach Gregg Popovich.  When it comes to the Spurs, it’s professionalism on steroids. 

I believe that, out of all the modern sports, basketball is the best in illustrating the mind sets in action. 


***the deadly-shooting point guard who acts as a decoy, enabling them to distribute the ball to open teammates (mind-sets 1,2,6,7 ).   

***the player who passes up a good shot so that their teammate will get a better one (mind-sets 1,2,6,7).  

***the uber-talented individual players who choose to forgo their individual stats and play as a unified team (mind-sets 1,2).        

***the shooting guard who takes a charge from the opponent’s 280 pound power-forward (mind-sets 1,2,3).

***the star player who generously renegotiates their contract, releasing monies for the team to sign a desirable free-agent, and enabling the team to stay under the salary-cap (mind-sets 1,2,4).

Watch the Spurs play sometime—you’ll see these attributes and more.  You’ll see professionals in action.


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Is The US Stock Market Rigged?

Author Michael Lewis says it is. 60 Minute’s March 30th expose on the subject may be of interest to you. Lewis’s new book Flash Boys was released on Monday.

What’s the thumb nail version of the story?  Clever traders were manipulating the market by gaining a speed advantage over everyone else—including unsuspecting industry veterans. In the industry it’s called ‘front running’.  The advantage (pennies per trade) times gazillions of trades resulted in some serious money—measured in the billions.  The impact to the average investor was small but still ‘didn’t feel right’ to Brad Katsuyama the hero of the story.

Brad, a former employee of the Royal Bank of Canada, ran the New York trading desk for RBC in Manhattan when he discovered the problem.  Long story short, he eventually started his own exchange to counteract ‘front running’.  Big players in the financial services world are taking notice—with some having invested in the new exchange.

Katsuyama notes, “We’re selling trust.  We’re selling transparency. To think that trust is actually a differentiator in a service business is kind of a crazy thought, right?’  Arguably a number guy, Katsuyama learned first-hand how the absence of trust is like a cancer to an industry that depends on it.

When asked why he left his cushy (and very lucrative) job at RBC to start a risky new exchange, Katsuyama noted, ‘it felt like a sense of obligation” to fix a troubling problem that was negatively impacting millions of unsuspecting people.

Katsuyama is all about doing his part in restoring trust to the financial markets.  I’m really grateful he did. To many he’s a hero.  To me, he’s the consummate professional.  —the ultimate compliment in my book.




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