The Sweet Smell of Career Success Begins With Good Grooming Habits

22With companies adopting a more casual dress code, some workers are becoming more casual about their grooming habits. Personal hygiene lies at the very center of a professional image. It’s not just the clothing that is worn; it’s what’s underneath it all. If you work with someone who needs guidance, initiate a confidential conversation to reinforce the message that good grooming habits have a positive impact on career growth.

Good grooming habits begin with basic cleanliness and continue with maintenance of one’s body and clothing. With your team member, do a quick mental scan right now, from head to toe. Body Health: Hair. Skin. Nails. Teeth. Clothing/Outer wear: Clean. Pressed. Stain-free. Also consider shoes, cologne, accessories, jewelry, and make-up for women. What’s your final assessment?

I have witnessed plenty of bad grooming habits throughout my professional career. Here are a few of my most memorable:

Bad Teeth. During one of my recent presentation skills seminars, a man in his mid-40s, delivered his presentation with his shoulders rounded, head down, with little eye contact, no smile, and weak vocal delivery. When I shared my observations during our private one-on-one evaluation, he opened up and confided in me that his teeth were really bad, that he was embarrassed, and that he was finally going to the dentist to have them fixed. I felt sad and happy at the same time; sad that he had waited many years to fix his teeth, sad that he may have missed some promotions or better job opportunities along the way, and happy that he was finally doing something about it. Interpersonal communication is a vital part of your life and career, so invest in basic dental care to enhance your image.

Heavy Cologne. Years ago, when I served on a selection committee for a new hire, there was one applicant who stood out, and she didn’t stand out for the right reason. Her cologne reached the conference room long before she did. By the time she arrived, the entire room was filled with a strong musky scent. It was a short interview, and she did not get the job. Over-use of a fragrance can completely shift first impressions. More companies are initiating a fragrance-free work environment because strong fragrance can create unpleasant surroundings.

Clean Yet Stinky. Years ago, I worked alongside a new employee who was delightful and hard-working. It was her first job. Everyone loved her enthusiasm, accuracy and efficiency. Yet we noticed one thing: Her body odor. We asked the oldest woman of our group to have a conversation with this young woman. We felt the news might be better received if it came from a wise sage. This was the right choice. When the news was shared, it was revealed that, although this young woman bathed daily, she wore her clothes several times before cleaning them. That meant that all of the oils from her body, along with perspiration odors, marinated in her clothing. When she put dirty clothes back on her body, it was as if she never bathed. After the conversation, she returned to the office like a new woman. From that moment on, her body and her clothing were clean and fresh. An added bonus: The conversation and the shift in personal hygiene boosted her self-confidence.

How can you help someone who needs a gentle nudge? Initiate a critical conversation by following this simple process:

Be kind. Whatever information you share, demonstrate respect and kindness; do not be judgmental.

Begin with a positive statement. “You are a valuable team member” or “You are doing an excellent job.”

Share specific feedback. “May I offer you some feedback about your personal style?” Once a response is given, add “I have noticed that…” “Are you aware of that?” Wait for a response. Avoid saying “Several people have mentioned to me” or “We have noticed” because you want to ensure that you are building trust in your relationship.

Ask for feedback. See how the person is receiving the information.

Receive feedback without judgment. “Now that I have shared my thoughts with you, what are you thinking?” Wait for a response.

Offer additional help. “May I offer some suggestions?” “How can I help you?”

Keep the conversation going. When you initiate a private conversation about a delicate topic like personal hygiene and grooming, you are deepening the level of trust with that other person. Keep the lines of communication open.

A confidential conversation like this, when it is shared with kindness and concern, can transform another person’s life and offer new career possibilities.

United We Stand, United We Fall: A Lesson in Brand Ambassadorship

united.com

united.com

As a professional, your actions represent not only you…they also represent your company. You are a brand ambassador when you work with customers, speak at a national conference, or volunteer in the community. You are the brand, and all it stands for. You are the face of the company. One false move, like bad behavior, can stunt or end career success.

The recent United Airlines debacle demonstrated that actions speak volumes about who you are and what you value.

The United Airlines Flight 3711 incident, which occurred on Sunday, April 2, has been reported, analyzed and picked apart by the media, bloggers and regular folks like you and me. Here’s what happened: The flight was fully booked, and passengers were already seated. One passenger, Dr. David Dao, had been asked to relinquish his seat (which he had paid for) to make room for a United employee. He refused. As a result, Chicago Department of Aviation officers swooped in with brut force, handcuffed and carted Dr. Dao off the plane. In the process, his nose and a few teeth were broken. A video captured by another passenger immediately went viral. The rest, as they say, is history. In fact, it was an historic event.

It didn’t have to be this way. A moment of thought before taking an action would have resulted in an entirely different outcome…a more positive one…for everyone involved.

Days later, top headlines are still trending:

Newsweek: Why United Was Legally Wrong to Deplane David Dao

NBC News: United CEO: Doctor being dragged off plane was ‘watershed moment’

What would a good brand ambassador do? Here are a few thoughts:

Know what your brand stands for. Your brand is that one thing that represents who you are and what you stand for. First, United’s brand begins with its name, United. That one word creates a larger-than-life image of the company. What does United stand for? Second, you may or may not remember United Airlines’ famous tagline, “Fly the friendly skies.” Because of the brut force that was used to remove Dr. Dao from his seat, one might question, “Is United really friendly?” If United’s thought leaders had really, well, thought about this, they may have come to the conclusion that the action that was being considered didn’t fit with the United brand. But things didn’t play out that way. Every employee of United is a brand ambassador for the airline. And every employee of the Chicago Department of Aviation serves as a brand ambassador for the organization.

Do the right thing. Consider the public’s reaction once the video went viral. It was clear that everyone agreed that the situation was not handled properly. We have all been in situations where our gut screamed out to us “Don’t do it!!!!!” Yet, we ended up not listening to our intuition and lived to regret our poor choice. When your conscience speaks, listen.

If protocol is flawed, pitch it. “I was just following protocol” is not a good enough reason. Sure, United Airlines had a policy. All airlines have policies, procedures and protocol. Sometimes you need to look at protocol, look at the situation, consider the outcome, and ask if the protocol fits the situation and if the outcome is one you desire. If things don’t add up, it’s time to re-examine the protocol or throw it out completely in that situation. The incident has resulted in United Airlines changing its policy.

Take quick, responsible action. The leadership at United Airlines first offered a boilerplate response to the media, saying they were examining what had happened before commenting. A few days later, United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized and took full responsibility. This was too little too late. Two days after the incident, United’s stock had fallen by 4%, roughly $1.5 billion. Although the stock has regained some of its strength, United will carry this ding on its record forever.

Be strategic. In my workshops, I remind people how important it is to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the marketplace. Technology makes it so easy to do. If you want to get ahead in your career, you have to stay ahead of the competition. A change in the airline industry began shortly after the United Airlines incident. A CBS News headline says it all: “Three airlines change policies in wake of United’s passenger dragging incident.”

Build a culture of respect and compassion. You will never find yourself in an awkward situation or have to apologize for bad behavior if you treat every person that you meet with respect and compassion. More people recognize  that this is the best way to move forward together.

The United Airlines incident is already becoming an important case study for business schools, communication scholars, human resource professionals and enforcement officers. Hopefully this is one case where we will learn from mistakes and bring about positive change as brand ambassadors.

Set a Positive Tone and Build Lasting Relationships

relationship-building-content-marketing-372x230Your success as a professional comes from building solid relationships. When you are working with someone for the first time, you set a certain tone to help the other person understand who you are, your values, principles, work style, and your worldview.

In my career work with leaders and spokespeople for more than 30 years, I emphasize the importance of making a positive first impression. Whether it’s a new Board of Directors, new boss, or new client, you want to set a positive tone from day one. That tone says “I respect you.” “I will take your thoughts into consideration.” “I am here to help you.” Whether in business or politics, academia or non-profit life, there are certain professional standards, ethics, and behaviors to uphold.

As I enter my fifth year of providing blog posts on topics related to professional presence, professionalism, strategic communication, brand ambassadorship and leadership, I often turn to the current news for examples.

The buzz since Inauguration Day has been around one topic: What is the tone being set by the incoming administration? Herein I provide three lessons on the importance of setting a positive tone.

Make your message powerful, positive, and uniting. Words matter. Tone matters. Embracing the importance of the moment matters. Donald Trump’s inaugural address contained some strong negative rhetoric, sounding more like a campaign speech rather than the inaugural address that so many were hoping for. Part of that negative rhetoric degraded the political leaders sitting behind Mr. Trump on the platform, including elected officials, past presidents and Supreme Court Justices by referring to them as a small group of elites. The inaugural address was the time to focus on the future by including messages of unity, not division; lifting up, not putting down. Lesson: If you want to win friends and influence people, begin by starting out on a positive rather than a negative note, and never insult people publicly, especially those who have come before you. Why? Because you need those people.

Remain open, not defensive. Being a former spokesperson myself, I tuned into the live television coverage of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first press conference. The key word here is first. What I saw and heard shocked and concerned me. His defensive body language spoke volumes. He came at the media with both guns blasting, yelling, as he chastised them for the ‘miscalculations’ of the size of the audience on Inauguration Day. He claimed that the audience size was bigger. His language was bombastic, aggressive, and unprofessional. When he was finished, he abruptly left the room, not allowing the media to ask any questions. You see, the White House staff was miffed at the comparison in audience size, since television stations and major newspapers ran a side-by-side photo of President Obama’s 2009 Inauguration Day audience with President Trump’s 2017 Inauguration Day. Clearly, Obama’s audience was much bigger. And rightfully so. It was an historic event. He was elected as the first African-American President of the United States. On that day in 2009, Washington, D.C. Metro stations were jammed. Busses were full to capacity. Hotels were over-booked. It’s historically noted. You can’t change those facts, though this is what Spicer was trying to do, to de-legitimize the media’s reports of the size of the crowd on Inauguration Day. Lesson: There are several lessons here. The first, and most important, is on your first day, your first press conference, you set the tone. Make it positive, not negative. Second, have something important to say. Don’t waste the media’s time with a single trivial message. There was no reason to hold a press conference. Third, control your emotions. Don’t shout at the media. They have power. And they will use that power to call you out. A spokesperson’s role is to communicate factual information in a clear, concise fashion. Uncontrolled emotion does not belong in the room.

Admit your mistakes and move on. In a televised interview with Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd, White House Counsel Kellyanne Conway tried to downplay Sean Spicer’s remarks by using a new phrase, “alternative facts,” which immediately went viral. When Chuck Todd pushed Conway on the phrase, claiming that a more correct phrase to use would be “falsehoods,” Conway flippantly accused Todd of being “overly dramatic.” In all the years that I served as a media spokesperson, I never talked to a member of the media like that. It’s disrespectful. Lesson: Words matter. The moment Conway said “alternative facts,” she was in trouble because there is no such thing as alternative facts. There are just facts. Admit that a mistake was made, and move on. Now, the alternative facts conversation will continue to be covered in the national media and social media for far too many days to come. News flash: There are far more important issues to be discussed.

Instead of setting a tone of inclusion and unity, the Trump administration in its first few days in office has unfortunately continued its exclusive, divisive, arrogant tone from its campaign days. So sad!!!!

Out With the Old Goals, In With the New

2017-1It’s that time of year again…time to review the year that is ending and plan for the new year that is about to begin. The last week of December is an excellent time to take stock of professional goals and achievements. The review begins with a few simple questions:

For 2016: Goals/Achievements

What were your top professional goals this year?

What were your greatest achievements? (list as many achievements as you like)

Which achievement are you most proud of? Why?

What was the greatest lesson you learned? In what way are you applying that learning to your career?

For 2016: Unachieved Goals

What goals did not get completed? Why?

Will any of these unachieved goals move into 2017? Where do they fit in your priorities?

For 2017: Goals

What are you most looking forward to in the new year?

What are your top goals?

What skill(s) do you want to improve or add? In what way will that skill help to advance your career?

How will you reward yourself when you achieve your goals?

Paying It Forward

In what way will you help others achieve their goals? (Will you serve as a mentor or coach? Will you help to develop an initiative for young leaders within your company?)

How will you recognize or reward others for exceptional work?

In what way will you help to create an open, supportive environment at work?

Taking the time to answer these simple questions is time well invested. By reflecting on your achievements for 2016 and focusing on goals for 2017, you will enter the new year with a fresh perspective on the work that lies ahead. If you like the process, ask these questions at the end of each quarter as you prepare for the next. By the end of 2017, you will be so used to the process, you will be ready for another new year. Who knows? In a year, you may be even further ahead in your career than you anticipated!

The Grace and Integrity of Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill, pbs.org

Gwen Ifill, pbs.org

America lost a media trailblazer this week with the passing of Gwen Ifill, co-anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She was a woman of unparalleled integrity, unstoppable spirit and character. There will never be another.

This past summer when the Republican National Convention visited Cleveland, where I live, my husband and I decided to drive downtown and enjoy the excitement of a major political convention in our city. We walked along the trendy East Fourth Street area, which served as home to all of the national media posts. Well-known reporters, news anchors, and commentators were everywhere, mixing and mingling with visitors and conducting interviews in the street. My eye scanned the crowd, and there she was – Gwen Ifill – eating a light lunch at a sidewalk cafe. She smiled that stunning smile and was gracious as people approached her.

When you read about her journey as an award-winning journalist, and hear her personal story of humble beginnings, you are reminded that any person who has a dream can pursue and achieve it.

“Journalists are accused of being lapdogs when they don’t ask the hard questions, but then accused of being rude when they do. Good thing we have tough hides.” Gwen Ifill

Gwen Ifill knew how to ask the tough questions, and she never backed down. Her professionalism and level of intelligence were at their finest in her role as a political debate moderator. The questions she asked were thought provoking, and she brought a certain level of authority, responsibility, and respect to the role.

She encountered discrimination, racism and bigotry in her life, yet she remained undaunted and focused on her dream, her future. The integrity of her work demonstrated that she was not only capable; she was the best in the business. She led by example, was a trusted friend and advisor to many, and served as a mentor to many young women coming up through the ranks. That example continues to provide hope to young women, especially women of color.

I can only imagine the conversation she is enjoying now – on that other plane – with longtime friend and fellow journalist Tim Russert, who also left this earth too early. Oh, what a great reunion.

Reflecting on all that Gwen Ifill accomplished in her lifetime encourages me to be a better person. May we all as professionals look to her example for inspiration as we strive to succeed in our careers and in life.

Professionalism and the Presidency

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet at the first Presidential Debate, nbcnews.com

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet at the first Presidential Debate, nbcnews.com

For those of you who follow my posts, you know that I am a thought leader on professionalism in the workplace. I even wrote a book about it.

This week, I am using that thought leadership lens to look at the first U.S. presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. After all, the position of President of the United States is the highest and most professional role that any American can hold.

I have shared some of the qualities that the President must possess to represent our country here and abroad, and I have provided a score in each of these categories. You may agree or disagree with my thoughts, and that’s okay.

Leadership. Hillary Clinton was the first to extend her hand to Donald Trump for an historical handshake as they both entered the stage. Clinton then walked to NBC-TV news anchor Lester Holt, moderator, and extended her hand. A leader takes the initiative. She set the tone. Score 1 for Hillary.

Clarity. For each question that was asked of Hillary Clinton, she answered the question clearly, offering factual information. The majority of Donald Trump’s responses were off topic, vague, or not connected with the question in any way. Quite frankly, he side-stepped most questions. Score 1 for Hillary.

Respect. When I think of the leader of the free world, I think of someone who is diplomatic, thoughtful, calm, and clear. Donald Trump showed disrespect for Hillary Clinton by interrupting (or manterrupting) her 51 times during the 90-minute debate, according to Vox. Debates are carefully structured, allowing each candidate two minutes to answer the same question provided by the moderator, then followed up with a more open banter. Despite persistent interrupting by Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton remained calm and positive. She didn’t roll her eyes or huff and puff or make faces. She remained consistently calm. Trump, on the other hand, made faces throughout the debate. I shuddered to think how such behavior on his part would be interpreted by another world leader. Score 1 for Hillary.

Preparation. Sorry, Trump supporters. Donald Trump flunked this test big time. As a communication expert, I teach people how to deliver powerful presentations. The first step in any solid performance is preparation. Answering his first question, Trump revealed his lack of preparation. His rhetoric and ramblings were anything but presidential. Despite what Trump has suggested, Clinton not only looked presidential, she responded as a President would. Why? Because she had prepared for the debate. She has the experience. Some political pundits felt Clinton was over-prepared or too scripted. I don’t share their perspective. She was speaking from her extensive knowledge base. Score 1 for Hillary.

Insight. A professional transcends hyperbole and sound bytes to offer deeper understanding, insights, ideas, and solutions. Trump didn’t back up his comments with any solid solutions. Clinton added additional thoughts, insights, and references to specific plans. Score 1 for Hillary.

Trust. Trust and trustworthiness has been a huge issue in this presidential campaign. After seeing each candidate perform at this first debate, I had to ask myself the most important question of all: “Who do I trust the most to lead our country as President?” Score 1 for Hillary.

There you have it. This is my opinion of who I believe presented a more professional image for our country, based on what I saw, heard and felt during this first debate. Of the two candidates, Hillary Clinton was more professional, better prepared, more thoughtful in her responses, and frankly, more presidential. Donald Trump fell short in all categories. He was ill prepared, non-substantive, vague, and disrespectful. In this first debate, substance trumped shallowness. Let’s see what happens in the second and third debates.

Finding Common Ground: The Ali-Cosell Story

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 9.46.54 AM

Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali

There are many lessons that we can learn from boxing legend Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay). Yet the one that stands out most in my mind is the special relationship and bond that he shared with sports commentator Howard Cosell.

The two men couldn’t have been any different, yet, they found common ground in sports, a place where they could meet and simply be their best. They were both performers, top in their fields, and eloquent orators. They first met in 1962 and remained colleagues and friends for more than three decades.

Cosell was a brash, highly intelligent sports journalist from Brooklyn. He had a distinctive reporting style and vocal quality, with a heavily nasal delivery, and careful enunciation of every word, stretching them out towards infinity. He asked tough questions and made bold statements. Ali took them all in stride and was an equal match – and partner – for Cosell. When the two got together, it was magical.

Ali carried the title “The Greatest Fighter of All Time” with grace, style and of course showmanship. He threw barbs as strategically as he did jabs and punches. He used words to taunt his opponents, fire up the media and set the stage for a memorable fight. To watch him in the ring at the height of his career was like nothing else we had ever seen. Fast hands, fast feet and fast language. It was a killer combination.

The Ali-Cosell relationship was based on mutual respect. They may not have agreed with each other on everything inside and outside the ring, yet, they were able to come together around the love of the sport and give us a spectacular show. It was evident the two men cared deeply about and respected each other.

As professionals, we can learn a lot from Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell’s relationship. When you are working with someone whose background, core values, age, ethnicity or personality differs from yours, assume a champion stance. Treat that person with respect and as an equal, and you just may develop a relationship that will stand the test of time.

Resolve to Share Your Knowledge

knowledge0This year, rise above the standard resolutions that make you feel better about yourself (lose weight, drink more water, exercise) and do something that will make others feel good about you: Resolve to share your knowledge with co-workers, colleagues, family and friends.

It begins with a simple statement: “I resolve…to share more of my knowledge…with others.” The end result: When you give more, you get more in return.

You have been living in the Information Age for more than two decades now, and yes, people can find information on the Internet with a quick click of the mouse. However, the most meaningful information that you can give (and receive) comes through human contact, old-fashioned face-to-face interpersonal communication.

In your profession, you glean valuable information through your lived experience. That’s something that you cannot find on a spreadsheet or in a PowerPoint presentation. You share that information by telling your story. “When I started at this company ten years ago, we didn’t have a marketing director. Now we are shipping our products to 39 countries worldwide.” It’s that personal information that puts things into perspective for the listener.

Today, there are still some people who choose not to share their knowledge with others because they fear that someone else may assume their position. It sounds something like this: “It took me 25 years to get to where I am in this company. If anyone thinks I’m going to simply share all of my knowledge, well, they’re wrong!” This type of scarcity thinking holds those people back from greater achievement in their career and in life. Imagine the kind of work environment they could create if they became more inclusive and collaborative in their thinking and sharing of information. It positions them as true leaders who want others to succeed. They invest their time sharing their knowledge so that others can perform better on the job. What a concept.

Sharing your knowledge with others positions you as:

*Inclusive
*Caring about the success of others
*Collaborative
*Unselfish
*Giving
*Professional

As you think about the tremendous knowledge that you possess, think specifically about the kind of knowledge that you can (and will) share with the people around you. They will appreciate it for two reasons: 1) You have shortened their learning curve or 2) You have given them a critical piece of information that allows them to do their job.

Deliberately holding back information out of fear is so outdated. Share your knowledge with others and see how positively people will respond to you. Your giving will come back to you ten-fold.

Begin with the question: What knowledge can I share with others?

The Pro’s Code: Dress the Part

Part 14 – the last in a series on professionalism.

Criteria 14: Well packaged. Dresses the part, like a professional.

DocMartinBoots1990sWithin just a few seconds of meeting someone for the first time, people “preview” other people before they know anything about them. This first impression can last from a few seconds to about fifteen seconds. When people size up others, at a quick glance they notice physical attributes or external features, like: Gender, race, age, ethnicity, weight, outer wear, physical characteristics, skin quality, posture, stance, and movement.

From these physical attributes, they begin to observe: Physical health, grooming habits, level of education, manners/etiquette, marital status, socio-economic status, language (verbal and nonverbal), wealth, and original geographic location.

At a deeper level, people assess: Personality, level of professionalism, credibility, trustworthiness, approachability, attractiveness, honesty, attitude, friendliness, promptness, confidence, courtesy, and demeanor.

When you make a first impression, you want it to be the best it can be. Make that first impression a positive and lasting one. Here are a few tips:

Know Your Body Type. That deserves repeating. Know your body type. A specific body type looks best in clothing that accentuates that body type. The three basic body types are:

  • Ectomorph (Think Cher). Long and lean, delicate body build, thin, small shoulders, usually with a narrow waist and hips with a linear physique. Wardrobe tip: Big chunky anything, especially jewelry, looks out of place on the Ectomorph’s delicate build.
  • Endomorph (Think cartoon character Dilbert). Soft body, big bones, large trunk and thighs, with more body fat around the midsection. Wardrobe tip: Tight pants…tight anything…isn’t flattering to the Endomorph’s physique. Keep clothing loose and flowing.
  • Mesomorph (Think Arnold Schwarzenegger). Athletic build, broad shoulders, large bones, narrow waist, large muscles. Wardrobe tip: Ditch the boxy Chesterfield coat. You’ll look like a refrigerator walking down the street. Add fullness below the waist to balance your broad shoulders.

Dress With Credibility in Mind. Clothing can accentuate or divert attention from your credibility. A tailored business suit for women or men presents a professional image, especially for the board room. Creative types have credibility when highlighting their creative flair.

Hire an Image Consultant. If you don’t have an eye for what goes with what, then hire someone to help. Many image consultants are members of the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI). Visit their website at www.aici.org. Scroll through “Find an Image Consultant” to locate an image consultant in your geographic area.

Dress Up to Get Up in an Organization. In 1978, John T. Molloy wrote a best-selling book, Dress for Success. Molloy’s mantra, “Always dress for the job you want; not for the job you have remains powerful today. I tell people in my professional presence workshops that it’s important to observe the people ahead of and above you, to see how they dress, and use that as a guideline. What is acceptable or unacceptable?

Maintain a Clean Wardrobe. The secret to looking professional is making sure that your clothing is clean, ironed and mended. Put the Oxford shirt with frayed collars and cuffs in the rag bag. Have the gravy-laden tie dry cleaned. Hem that skirt before it completely unravels.

Practice Good Grooming Basics. I once interviewed a woman for a position. Her perfume arrived in the conference room before she did! Know the basics about personal care and hygiene. If you work with someone whose grooming habits are standing in the way of advancement in the organization, schedule that critical conversation. You can have a positive influence on that person’s professional life forever.

How you dress and groom yourself positions you in the minds of other people. When you handle yourself with grace and elegance, dress in appropriate stylish attire and become skilled in basic etiquette, people will regard you as a true professional. Isn’t that how you want others to think of you?

The Pro’s Code: Develop Your Skills

Part 13 in a series on professionalism.

Criteria 13: Highly developed skills. Has attained a certain level of expertise in a given area, and openly shares information with others.

SkillsYou have acquired certain skills and abilities throughout your life that makes you knowledgeable in certain topics or areas of interest. It’s often called your body of knowledge. But how do you become competent in those areas?

Competence comes from a deep knowledge and assimilation of a subject, enhanced by ongoing study or research. You know the topic cold, without having to reference any notes. For instance, you can be knowledgeable about the perennials in your garden. To become a competent gardener, you must know when to feed your plants, when to prune or divide them, and whether to plant them in sun or in shade. Your higher level of competency about gardening would translate into a consistently healthy garden. It takes a lot to become recognized as being competent in your field; you must add your own field experience to your education and training.

No matter what profession you choose, each offers a professional organization to join. Don’t discount what you can learn from your peers. When professional organizations host annual conferences, some of the learning takes place in the general sessions and breakout sessions. Between sessions, valuable learning happens through hallway conversations, when members can open up and exchange information and share valuable insights. Look at the associations that you belong to and ask how they are helping you to learn more, network with your peers and advance your career. You may be missing important opportunities that could heighten your level of professionalism. Joining a professional organization puts you in contact with other leaders and keeps you informed of the latest trends and innovations in your field.

The competent professional is the person who makes it to the short list every time, who people think of first, whether being considered for a higher level position at work or leading a volunteer organization, because they have developed their level of proficiency.

How would people describe your level of competence? Would they identify you as skilled, being knowledgeable, or being competent?