Professionalism vs Being Human

Professionalism vs Being Human

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The bureaucratic global demand for exacting policies and procedures has become stifling. The quest for ever-greater professionalism comes with an unintended cost: the price of being human.

Large organisations and governments are increasingly driven by a desire to create consistent outcomes; so tied up in the quest for ‘perfection’ – afraid to get thing wrong – that they often lose the essential human connection with their customers. I believe this is done with the best of intentions. But I think they forget that their customers are fellow humans.

Automation, digitisation and robotics seek to eradicate human error, and this desire seems to be replicated in the design and management of organisational systems and processes meant for human conduct. When mistakes are made, the direction taken for improvement is towards greater professionalism. But leaders don’t realise that the best outcomes often come from the opposite approach – one of being human, and fallible.

In my own work, I have coached (and coaxed) well over a hundred speakers to present talks for our events TEDxStPeterPort, Thrive2020 and Journey to 100. People often say to me, “I want my talk to be really professional”. They want to make it perfect, without any mistakes. They want to do so well that it often goes against the main objective of the event, or their talk.

I don’t want them to give the perfect speech. I want them to show up as they really are: imperfections and all. Just being themselves is the best way for them to inspire others. If they’re not precisely perfect – it’s seen as possible for others. We see a fellow human, who stutters and blushes, or makes mistakes – just like us.

The most professional talks don’t resonate as profoundly as the more ‘human’ talks.The most powerful talks are from the soul. To bare your soul, you have to be willing to take risks and appear vulnerable. You touch the emotions of your listeners – evoking empathy, passion and compassion. As TED speaker Brene Brown would say, there is huge power in deeply connecting with others through showing your vulnerability. In my experience, the more human talks deliver the most impact.

There are lessons in this for everyone, at all levels.

  • For ourselves as individuals, it’s not how well we do a job that counts. It’s how much of ourselves we put into it.
  • In teams, it isn’t formality and professionalism that get the best results. It is about cohesion and trust – which come from a far deeper connection in a richer context of ‘humanity’ than is achieved by just showing one ‘businesslike’ side of yourself.
  • For organisations, it isn’t always about creating the best, most consistent services. It is about creating human experiences for the people you serve.

I’d love the world to consider that ‘being more human’ would create much better outcomes than the quest to be more professional can achieve. The two traits can coincide – I get that – but often we forget our ‘personal’, prioritise the ‘professional’, and as a result, we don’t get what we truly need.

To being human.


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  1. Alexis Autumn says

    This is so good! There is a new wave of doing business and life that doesn’t compartmentalize ourselves from being stoic and impersonal but allows our hearts and our creativity to connect with others. Welcoming innovation and messiness, is real, it’s human and it’s changing the game.

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