There are a lot of articles about building your professional brand and its importance. There are a lot of articles on leadership development. However, not many tell you that before aiming towards leadership positions, you need to have your basic professional skills developed. When I talk about basic professional skills, I mean professionalism. I mean being able to remain professional regardless of the problems you are facing at work or in your personal life, regardless of people you work with and their attitudes, regardless of anything. Being professional is good for you. You cannot even apply for a new job without being professional at your old job because you always need a reference. So here are some tips or Basic Professional Skills and Tactics that I have observed, developed or learned the hard way. Not all of them might be relevant, some of them are focused on more of the “office” setting, but some are really insightful in any work environment.
The list of basic professional skills:
1. Work with anyone regardless of personality, personal preferences, skills difference or history
Remember this guy that everyone hates because he makes friends with the manager and reports on everyone and every wrong thing you’ll ever do in your life? Well, guess what, you might get lucky enough to have to work with him in one team, or, worst of all, in a pair. How can you manage this? Everyone has his own strengths and weaknesses. You can be nice and try to tolerate him and pretend to ignore that your manager surprisingly knows about you being late for 2.5 minutes without him being there at the time when you arrived. You can observe and find this evil person’s weakness and give him an ultimatum. That’s what they usually do in the movies. It may work in the movies but you will make yourself an enemy that will use any possible opportunity to get his or her revenge. Or, you can try to find a key to him. Does he love cats? Give him something for his cat or perhaps even a mug with a picture of a cat on it. Did he help you with a printer? Get him a gift card for a coffee shop. There are many books that can teach you how to manipulate, be liked or become friends with anyone. Use them.
2. Be kind and respectful to everyone.
Everyone heard of this one, but you may not realize that by “everyone” I mean everyone, even cleaning ladies. The office is like an animal kingdom, where everyone depends on everyone else. Learned it the hard way. Short story: one day I arrive at the office to find my garbage container standing on top of my work desk. The desk where I keep copies of my presentations, where I have a snack occasionally…You get it. Even though, the night before, I left a plastic cup of coffee in the garbage and it probably leaked, I was still very angry. This is precisely why you should obey one important rule – never let your emotions guide your actions. So what did I do? I wrote a letter to this anonymous cleaning lady, in a commanding tone, telling her to NEVER put up garbage bins on my desk again. Ever. What happened after this? Well, let’s just say that nobody took away my garbage under my desk for the next few days. The lady probably took her sweet revenge. And guess what. Old coffee really smells.
3. Be an active team player.
Do you remember how excited you were to prepare this team activity for the next social meeting with your colleagues as you were in charge for planning; and, when you got there and started explaining the rules of the game, you suddenly saw a facial expression that was as excited as if this person was about to face the biggest dental surgery in the history of human kind? Don’t do this. Don’t be that guy. Respect others and their efforts. Just do the damn activity and support your team. Your boss will love your enthusiasm
Find topics or tasks that excite you.
While we were excited to get a job when we were studying at university, once we get a job we kind of calm down and stop paying attention. Some days you find yourself spending more time talking to friends, checking Facebook or looking at new properties or cars you want to buy. But is enthusiasm important at your work? Absolutely. For all people occupying leadership positions, unless they were married or related to the right influential person, enthusiasm was something that brought attention towards them from their supervisor, and this is what opened the magic doors to ascending stairs. If you are not enthusiastic, it is like you don’t care about your job. And maybe you don’t but does it feel right? Of course not! This is why I challenge you to either find tasks that will excite you, or find topics to work on that may sound interesting. Or interesting people you need to meet. Add some flavor to your work and this will go a long way.
5. Never show that you are bored with your job.
This is especially relevant when it comes to talking to your supervisor or manager. The moment you show to them that you are bored, they will start seeking your replacement. But what if you are really bored? Don’t ever show it. When you talk to your supervisor or manager, phrase it in a less harmful way – “I feel I need new experiences that support my development goals”, “I want to challenge myself more because this is how I learn. Is there anyone who requires help with any tasks?”. This will communicate the right message to your manager and soon you won’t be bored.
6. Dress the part.
Everyone knows that we should not dress casually to the office. Casual means jeans (unless it is a creative environment), shorts, shirt skirts, transparent shirts, flip flops, bright make up, big jewellery, strong perfume (even if it is French – some people may have an allergy). Look in the mirror before leaving the house and ask yourself whether your manager or director would ever dress like this. If not – go change (that is, assuming your manager is not a weirdo, things happen). Also, be clean. It applies to everything from clean nails, hair and showering. Worst case scenario, for those who like to sleep – apply dry shampoo.
Also, when you get to the office, get there 5 minutes early and go to the washroom and fix your hair, make up and everything else. I found myself many times running straight to workplace and only at lunch I got to the mirror and realized how ridiculous my hair looked all day (and I was delivering a presentation to my manager!). So the rule goes like this – look and remain polished at all times. Just like the first lady. It will also give you confidence and some peace of mind.
Both written and verbal communication is extremely important at any job. You need to be able to clearly explain what it is you are working on, details of your project and your accomplishments to your director at any time. This requires confidence, public speaking skills and clear communication. Practice at home to achieve the right balance of volume and clarity. Watch ted talks. This skill will help you at any point of your career.
8. Professional Cubical/Workplace
What if you act and look professional and everything seems well but your cubical is messy, full of papers and half-eaten sandwiches from two weeks ago and your party photos, it sends a conflicting message to your manager. Instead, make your cubical work for you by surrounding yourself with things that help you do your job, show your accomplishments (but don’t overdo it), show that you are developing professionally and are interested in your field (e.g. books about your field or profession or new trends), things that show that you are organized (calendar, clock, etc.) and things that energize you.