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I’ve been asked recently if VAs shouldn’t be more professional, or display greater professionalism.

What a great topic that is, and I thought I’d take it on and see if I can help in how you’re thinking about it.

Let’s start with what professionalism is. The simple answer from me to you is, “It’s whatever you say it is.”

When it comes to your business, the only thought on the subject that means anything is yours. That’s simple enough, but the complexity falls in figuring out what it is to you (chances are, you’ve never tried to write it down or even say it out loud in a way that makes sense to you or anyone else), and then laying that out as part of your company’s culture so that it’s infused in everything you do, and every person who works with you.

What's professionalism? It's whatever you say it is.

So let’s explore that, starting with some common ground: the generally understood definition of the word.

Professionalism (n):  the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.

Clear as mud, right? Hence my original point that it’s whatever you say it is.

But it does give you a couple of categories to explore when creating the definition your company will use: conduct, aims, and qualities.

When you think of a professional, or someone who exudes professionalism:

Conduct:

  • How does she act?
  • How does she present herself? This is important whether you’re seeing her in person or you’re getting a sense of her virtually.
  • How does she compose herself?

Aims:

  • Does she have goals? Is she moving toward something?
  • Is it ok to not have goals or be moving toward something?

Qualities

  • What qualities does someone exuding professionalism have?
  • Is there a traditionalism that you think goes hand-in-hand with professionalism? Can someone who is non-traditional about her work also have professionalism?

Use those as starter questions and see where they lead you.

I know that when I look for a VA, “professionalism” isn’t a word that comes to mind for me as I think about what’s important. I looked back at a list I made, and “professionalism” didn’t end up there. But things like appropriateness, tenaciousness, discernment, attention to detail, natural graciousness, commitment, resourcefulness…those made the list.

Maybe those are things that, for me, help define professionalism, but with the definition of that word such a slippery slope heading to one hell of a hot mess, I’d rather just avoid it and talk about the attributes and qualities that I want, and look for fit in the ways we view work, relationships, and the world, than try to look for a view of professionalism that may be mine alone.  It’s awfully hard, I think, to hold a person to an imaginary bar, especially when you’re the only one who can see it.