Some years ago I wrote a post asking if you as a leader or an entrepreneur feel that others treat you as a professional. It was an article that gave readers a chance to complain about how they're treated, which doesn't happen often, in discussing the behavior of others towards them, justified or not.

professional entrepreneur
professional me

Even though that's a major issue for some of us, we have to ask ourselves if we act like professionals. Do we offer respect to our clients... whether they deserve it or not?

I believe everyone should have to earn respect. I also believe that more leaders and consultants need to earn the right to be seen as a professional. I've met a lot of people over the years who feel that because they have a title or a business certificate that they're professionals and should be seen that way. Unfortunately, it goes further than that. To keep it short, let's look at 5 points.

1. Do you get back to people?

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I don't expect people to necessarily get back to me if I've made a sales calls since I've intruded into their workday. However, once I've engaged with someone and we've discussed business, which might include my sending them a proposal, I feel the right to expect that they'll be professionals and get back to me, whether they're hiring me or not.

This happens rarely; people who were blowing up my phone suddenly disappear. People who have asked if they can work with me suddenly stop answering email. People who reached out to be first, had me jumping through hoops and have given me hope one day and make me feel like persona non gratis the next... I'm supposed to take you seriously?

I've had people tell me over the years that's just business; I'm not buying it. Whenever I've had the chance to ask others what their pet business peeve is, this is always in the top 3. That's why this is my favorite Dr. Phil line: treat others like you want to be treated.

2. Do you complete projects timely?

The only time I didn't complete a project ahead of time came about because the client changed the parameters in the middle of the process. If I tell you something's going to take a week, it takes a week. If I tell you that I can have something done in 3 hours, it'll be done. That's just how I am.

Those are small things, though. When I have bigger projects, they're usually something I've done previously. I have an approximation of how long a project will take, but it also depends on the client doing their part. When I do health care projects, my time frame is dependent upon how much access I have to the departments I'm contracted to help. When I used to create websites, it always came down to getting a client to get back to me when I wanted them to take a look at what I'd done to that point.

As the contractor, for the most part it's on you to complete projects on time. Sure, things come up from time to time, but telling someone a project will be completed in a week and a month later you still haven't finished... not only are you a fraud but you don't deserve to be paid! That's not how professionals work, no matter what field they're in.

3. Are you a whiner or an innovator?

Elmo the professional

It's hard to be a professional if you're complaining about things all the time. People you work with don't want to deal with that.

Instead, work on being an innovator. When you see something you don't like, come up with ideas on how to change it, then present those ideas. Even if you encounter resistance, it's better to be seen as someone who has the mindset to try to fix things rather than someone who complains all the time and suggests nothing... as long as you know what you're talking about.

If you're someone who keeps quiet while noticing things are going badly, and you're in a position to help, you're not being all that professional. True, they might not take your advice but at least you come up with something trying to solve their problem. Unless you're in the leadership position you can't force everyone to do something based on your recommendation.

4. How honest are you and how are you honest?

Two very different questions.

The first part of this question asks if you tell people what's really going on, or if you own up to whenever you make mistakes. All of us are going to make mistakes sometimes, and most of them are fixable. Sometimes you don't have to say anything if it was small and you were able to repair it. If not, staying silent will cause bigger issues down the road more often than not.

The second part of this question asks how you deliver news to people. The concept of being brutally honest (#3 at this link) stinks in my opinion. If you deliver bad news directly without any concern for other people's feelings you get what you deserve, no matter your intention. Words do hurt, even if they're not directly at the person you're delivering the news to. A true professional won't sugar coat the truth, but also won't come out and say the equivalent of "your baby's dead, but it was young anyway."

5. Are you reactive or proactive?

Are you the type that jumps in and immediately tries to fix things without looking at everything that could possibly be involved, or are you someone who wants to fix the root cause of the problem instead of putting a band aid on it? Are you someone who hears something about someone and immediately goes to confront them, or do you take time, review the circumstances, and determine for yourself whether the action needs addressing or not?

Over the years I've learned the lesson that most of the time problems are bigger than people think they are. Every once in a while I've learned that my perception of being able to fix everything is countered when processes, procedures or technology don't yield to my expertise.

Whereas being proactive is a great strategy, never waiting until something goes bad to take action, it also needs caution and research so you're not messing up what already works in your attempt to improve it. Being reactive only works in emergency situations you never saw coming, which are things that aren't always in your control. Both of these take balanced thinking; that's how true professionals manage everything they do.

There's five items to start with; what would you add in expecting someone to act like a professional?