Book Review : The Professional – Defining the New Standards of Excellence at Work

Author: Subroto Bagchi
Who is a true professional ?
The author a well known business leader in Indian IT industry, redefines “professionalism”  in this book.
As per Bagchi, being professional is much more than accepting the responsibility and doing the job.
There are three fundamental qualities which defines a professional – ability to work unsupervised; ability to certify the completion of a job or task; ability to behave with integrity.
Going beyond fundamentals  a professional – is self-aware; not afraid to admit when he is wrong, does not hesitate to ask for help if needed; refuses to do something that does not align with his goals or values; takes a long term view while making decisions and building;  embraces new challenges and adapts to changes in his life, company, industry or culture; is comfortable dealing with things she was not trained for; understands the imperatives of our global economy and therefore culturally aware, connected and engaged with people around the globe.

All the above mentioned qualities have been very elegantly and precisely elaborated in this book through sixty short chapters. Examples drawn from author’s experiences and other real-life business situations clarify the ideas and concepts of professionalism even further. The writing style of the author is simple, easy to understand and very thought provoking.

A book which every professional should read and benchmark themselves against the yardstick laid out by Subroto Bagchi.

Publication Details: Published:2011; Publisher: Penguin Books India ; Hardcover: 256 pages.


Key Extracts  from The Professional : [A long , yet worthwhile reading]

Part One:  Integrity

  • A true professional works without supervision and has the  ability to self-certify the completion of his work.
  • Understanding and following the explicit and implicit code of conduct of a profession distinguishes a professionally qualified person and a professional.
  • Integrity in professional context means applying the 4 tenets
    • Follow Rules
    • Where rules do not exist, use fair judgment(voice of conscience)
    • When in doubt seek counsel
    • Faced with a difficult choice ask- can my act stand public scrutiny without embarrassment to me and my family ?
  • Do not bend or circumvent or flout the rules that do not suit professional or business interests. Contest it while following it.
  • When unethical things happen in places we hold in high regard, people begin to discount the subsequent messages they receive from them.
  • Value clarification is most needed when things are going wrong. People do not appreciate values when everything is going well.
  • Leaders need to talk the talk and walk the walk. They need to be transparent and explain to others what transparency means and why it is good.
  • Once people falter and begin looking at professional misconduct not in black and white but in shades of gray, value clarification takes a backseat.
  • An organization needs to articulate its position on integrity and publish the process for dealing with how a breach is reported and handled.
  • Investigate issues without fear or favor and irrespective of who is involved and what business implications could be. Speed is critical.
  • Clarity with which management thinks and the speed with which it acts determine the consequent social memory that guides the vast majority of employees and eventually makes the organization’s values tangible.
  • Following definitive action, the next step is communication. What to communicate and how to communicate is not always easy. Do not focus on getting the ‘right answers’ to these questions. The bigger question is whether or not an organization encourages conversation and has an existing framework to deal with such issues.
  • The responsibility of management does not end with handling a breach with speed and fairness. It must be sensitive to emotional fallouts in the rest of the organization and deal with them.

Part Two:  Self Awareness

  • Self-awareness is the streak that divides millions of professionally qualified people from the few hundreds who inspire professional respect.
  • Without self-awareness we may end up making wrong professional choices.
  • Self-aware people understand what their true strengths are; they know how much of their success is because of their inherent strength and how much is situational. Believing that any consequent success is only due to one’s inherent capacity is dangerously wrong.
  • A true professional has no need to embellish, name-drop, or pretend to be something he’s not. Being authentic might not always get us what we want, but that is better than the ignominy of being unmasked.
  • Self-aware person is conscious that there is bound to be some gap in his knowledge, knows that he may never bridge this gap and, most important, feels comfortable with this fact.
  • Actively seeking to bridge that gap is next important step in becoming self-aware. It is often achieved by seeking help from others. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness.
  • It is futile to make false comparisons with other person. They cause unnecessary pain and are certainly devoid of an understanding of other person’s journey to reach that position.
  • Professionals are in command of the situation even as they face the indeterminate challenges of the future. This comes from the ability to build a view of the future. This ability requires acknowledgement of the ground reality, a statement of intent in the overall direction, and sometimes a clear destination or purpose.
  • A professional who sees his work primarily as a means of earning money runs out of meaning very soon.
  • At a certain stage in one’s career, it is peer recognition that sustains us. But beyond it all, the ones who last the longest in the race are those who have given back to their professions. There is no sustenance bigger than the power to build and intellectual and emotional inheritance.
  • Watch yourself as you think, as you work and interact with others. You will be amazed how much you will learn about yourself, and this will help you move forward.
  • In extremely high-pressure situations, often the best emotion to express is control. And a true professional has a calibrated thermostat that prompts the degree of reaction and control required in any given situation.
  • A professional craves real feedback. The ability to freely seek feedback, and more important to take feedback and act on it, is something that can only be learned over time. And it requires constant effort to master.
  • Flirting with false attractions makes us lose affection for what is on hand. If you do not have a serious need for the offered job or assignment, do the professional thing and resist the temptation.
  • A professional does not let go of the basic ability to work. There are some things you must continue to do at any stage of your career. Not just the cerebral strategizing, but the actual work. Doing what are often thought of as menial tasks has a calming effect on us. Sometimes, the most profound ideas come not when you are in the board room but when you are washing dishes.
  •  A proactive person is self-confident about where a conversation could lead. He is genuinely interested in the well-being and welfare of the other persons. Not worried about creating work for themselves as an unwanted consequence of reaching out. They think on behalf of others and sometimes also thinking ahead of others, followed up by thoughtful preparation.
  • Power is never seized. It is always generated from within. To have the confidence to take charge in the most difficult and potentially dangerous of situations, is the hallmark of a true professional.
  • Professionals must know that humility is critical to enduring success. It is important not only to have humility but to have an appreciation for the potential in people below us – to recognize and nurture that special someone who right now is not quite there but may go further than you have.
  • Generosity, grace and courtesy become truly valuable only when shown to others at the height of your professional career.
  • Only the big picture, the context in which we live and work, makes the facts relevant. And it is only when we understand and actively look at the big picture that we will develop into grounded professionals.

Part Three:  Professional Qualities

  • One cannot be a great professional unless one has self-discipline and masters time. Time management requires a good health and the key to ensure health is eat, sleep, exercise and unwind in the right manner.
  • Doing more does not mean you are achieving more. As a professional, the trick is to do more by doing less. To do this, you have to disengage from doing too many things at the same time and prioritize based on where you can make a larger impact. A way to disengage from multiplicity is to learn or do something new that regenerates you and revives the spirit of curiosity and learning in you.
  • Use a to-do list to set small day-to-day goals that we have to get through on our way to achieving our vision. Goals have a powerful ability to shape our behavior, motivate us, create energy. The issue some people face is not the absence of a goal, but rather the presence of too many and the lack of prioritization.
  • Inability to say no results in time wasting, poor prioritization and the feeling of always been rushed and behind on deadlines. When you learn to say no to unimportant things, you have the time to take on a task in whose outcome you have a serious stake and in which you believe.
  • A professional realizes that work is a blessing. If you complain that you are bored with the routine work, remember routine things done well make life livable.
  • If there are genuine problem in the workplace the way out is in facing up to the problem and not in whining. Whining does not help. It is never too late to find out what you are cut out for and realign your job, rather than remain stuck and complain.
  • When you outgrow your work ask for more responsibilities and build into your work elements of service.
  • One must take a long term view  in building any professional relationship. Treat every small engagement with your suppliers, customers, industry associates and other stakeholders with all seriousness, as if life depends on it.
  • A good network, cultivated wisely and used well is a great expander of time. To make it work for you, you need to know two things: First, you have to contribute value to a network before you can get value from it. Second, it needs to be cultivated with a long view of time.
  • The professional network consists of mavens, connectors and evangelists. A maven produces, consumes and trades knowledge. A group of mavens is connected to an expert called connector. Connector provides clarification, assistance and linkages to other connectors. A group of connectors may link up to an evangelist, who is the last word in a particular field of knowledge. In the world of information overload these people can substantially cut down research and consulting time. Interaction with them is governed by the principle of mutual respect and affection which is built over years.
  • We must be aware of the amount of time we spend on doing unproductive things. Productive senior professionals do four things well – they get briefed; they seek help;they use commute time effectively; they periodically take mental shutdown.
  • A great job in an organization that does not align with your values is a waste of your time.
  • In a new job try to blend in and not blend out in the initial days. Build value before seeking recognition. Do not make comparisons with your previous job.
  • Always take the goodwill of everyone with you when you leave an organization.

Part Four: Managing Volume

  • Vision without action is far less noteworthy than action without vision. Vision must be acted upon; it must be externalized and articulated and encompass and include other people.
  • As a professional, bring the power of vision to your work, and act upon it. Do not be fazed by the size of your adversary; the size of your adversary determines the sized of your success.
  • The profession we are trained in and the organization we work for are the two foremost groups in which we need to invest out values and build affective regard. A value-centric view can be built only be people who are capable of emotions.
  • Values sometimes get internalized only when value transgressions take place. Through a negative set of examples people learn what is and what may not be acceptable behavior.
  • It is the duty of the top management to propagate the organization’s core values through personal behavior and demonstrate the price the organization is willing to pay to defend them.
  • The quality to do what you have said you will do, in the time you have committed to do it, must be applied to the smallest task in your life. Without it, you not only disrespect others, you disrespect yourself.
  • Without commitment we cannot achieve even small successes, much less large ones. Without commitment, we cannot give our best to our organization. And without commitment we cannot turn our vision into reality.
  • Great professionals are always prepared – for conversations, meetings and presentations. Prepared individuals project a good image of their company and of themselves, which is the first step towards making a client feel important.
  • A true professional, faced with a problem, will always question and find a root cause. While there is a clear direct linkage between professional competence and the ability to ask pertinent questions, true professionals must also ask intuitive questions.
  • Good professionals are invariably great listeners. Good listening leads to a very positive energy flowing between the two people who are in conversation. This positive energy is often a prerequisite for diagnosis, problem solving and collaboration.
  • Intent listening reduces the time required for communication, makes the other person feel at ease and builds collaboration within and outside the organization. When we listen well, we signal empathy and engagement. This in turn helps build sound judgement.
  • A professional must be empathetic, able to look at another person as a human being, to respect the other person no matter the state in which he or she appears.
  • Knowing your individual limitations and the limitations of your company, telling a client, “No, we do not have the capability you require,” is the professional thing to do.
  • Consensus in not always beneficial and can sometimes lead to disaster. This can be avoided if each professional in a group exercises his responsibility of dissent and purpose of the group’s decision making process is shifted from the urge to agree to the need to do the right thing.

Part Five: Managing Complexity

  • We live in a world of unfolding complexity and unscripted events. In past, for such events the professionals were told to make decisions based on data, facts and precedence. In future we need to get under the hood, to understand how the mind that makes critical choices in difficult moments work. What is the source of such pivotal decisions ? How do minds actually “read” the big picture and yet focus on the small details at the same time ?
  • The professional in the 21st century must learn to use both sides of the brain to harmonize both fact and feeling when making decisions.
  • Professionals must be aware of each of the  nine intelligences  – logical, literary, musical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial, naturalistic, spiritual – to harness the brain, to think, to ideate, to innovate and solve problems. It is important to understand them and how each one works, because in varying degrees we are all gifted with all these intelligences to deliver better results and enjoy life more.
  • Literary intelligence – is about the capability to read and write. In the world in which we have to network and collaborate with dispersed teams, the capacity to build leadership proximity is determined by how well you express yourself through language.
  • Musical intelligence – Music is about harmony. Studies indicate that children who play an instrument learn to listen much better and grow up to be empathetic professionals.
  • Kinesthetic intelligence – Taking crucial decisions involving body and the mind on the fly, where each move is a new move. In many emergency situations life may depend on this ability. Professions of the future will need leaders with greater kinesthetic capability to reduce the gap between sense and response.
  • Interpersonal intelligence – Ability to converse naturally, make friends quickly, read other people’s emotions or solve difficult problems collaboratively. People with higher degree of interpersonal intelligence build more empathy and can work better as part of a group. In the future, the ideas of leadership, followership and situational collaboration will be extremely important.
  • Intrapersonal intelligence – Being self-aware having a realistic understanding of who we are and our true needs are.Emotionally more stable and can deal with ups and downs in life and work far better than others. This is extremely important in professionals whose decisions affect large number of other people.
  • Spatial intelligence – Navigational capacity. Mapping and charting a client organization; landing in an alien town and map it so well and become demonstrably more productive.
  • Naturalistic intelligence – As we call become more environmentally aware and sensitive to the planet,the ability to relate to the natural world will be much more in demand across professions.
  • Spiritual or Existential intelligence – connect more easily with the spiritual world and as a result better deflect anxiety, better deal with loss and better balance decisions with yardsticks of morality and self-governance. Professionals who can do the right thing the right way.
  •  Three Levels of Knowledge
    • Adaptive layer – just building  something based on handed over specifications; no innovation; no differentiation.
    • Experiential layer – getting into the shoes of the end user; build a product after understanding customer experience.
    • Existential layer – creeping into the minds of the customers.
  • Best professionals operate at the existential level of knowledge where it is about building the capacity to engage with people, problems, processes and opportunities. This requires empathy, inclusion, 360-degree thinking, recognizing the interconnected nature of things, looking for solutions outside the box, learning from unusual sources and finally cutting through complexity and doing so with empathy.
  • The Five Minds of the Future
    • Mind of Discipline – In addition to be professionally qualified, you need sustained, devoted practice over the years to know the nuances of your discipline, understand the big picture, the dependencies and the domain.
    • Mind of Synthesis – Capacity to look at any issue, any solution from a multidisciplinary viewpoint.
    • Mind of Creativity – To deal with unscripted problems. Finding best solutions on the fly using available resources.
    • Respectful Mind – Dealing others with respect.
    • Ethical Mind – Not just a morally sound mind. Understanding the larger implications of our decisions and our processes, and deriving our actions from a higher code of conduct – that of self-regulation and belief in the practice of fair dealing in every transaction.
  • The true professional has the capacity to raise incisive, difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions that become potential game changers.When we ask such critical questions, we begin to understand the interconnected nature of things and are able to build a larger systemic view.
  • Faced with a personal setback, the first thing a professional must do is to secure his or her professional position. Your commitment to your job and performing to the best of your capabilities cannot be compromised. The key is to plan, strategize, know the trade-offs, build backups and keep people informed. Return to full-time responsibilities only when you feel you can once again give your best to your organization.

Part Six: New World Imperatives

  •  To be a true rainmaker one must rise above anonymity in every function and become a critical asset in every organization.
  • A rainmaker is invariably a good spokesperson for the organization to the outside world.
  • Rainmakers understand and stay current with their organization’s key business parameters and the issues concerning them in environment; they scout for opportunities for new business, sometimes an unusual source of supply, an alliance that expands operations to a hitherto new area, and they attract high-quality talent.
  • Rainmakers are invariably visible in “alternate spaces” – organization’s website , personal blog, YouTube, Facebook and such other spaces where people may look for you before contacting your organization.
  • Organization needs to articulate its stand on Inclusion and Gender and educate people at work across genders. The crux of the matter lies in an organization’s clearly defining what is and is not acceptable behavior.
  • Gender sensitivity cannot be just an organizational priority; it is also for every individual to observe, learn, cultivate and demonstrate. Wherever adults work, there is bound to be mutual attraction, but every professional must know where consent stops and harassment begins.
  • In an increasingly global world, we have to learn cross-cultural nuances because we deal with customers, suppliers and other collaborators who are as new to us as we are to them. A professional who understands these differences and finds ways to work with them, rather than letting them work together against the organization, will be in much demand in the new world.
  • Governance literally means compliance with the laws of the land but in spirit asks for self-regulation. Most governance issues can be avoided with a culture of education and a spirit of full disclosure. When there is the slightest possibility of a conflict of interest, prenotify the relationships.
  • We must be doing not only the right thing or staying away from the wrong, but we must also be aware of perceptions sometimes created with unintended but avoidable acts.
  • With more value getting generated by the use of knowledge, it is every professional’s responsibility to acquire a basic understanding of concepts like copyrights, patents and trademarks. And it is every professional’s responsibility not to expose an organization or a client to lawsuits that could result from negligence in this area.
  • Sustainability  is no longer a fad. Issues like potable water, waste disposal, greenhouse gases and carbon emissions can be directly linked to every profession, and more significantly to how every professional makes a living.
  • Even before people take responsibility for the larger cause, the first step is to get educated on the basics of sustainability and become aware of all subsequent individual actions.
  • Professionals in the new world will need to develop a personal  context for the phrase “doing well by doing good”. Because tomorrow’s customer will seek out those who are proactive in their practice to make the planet a better place to live in.

Part Seven: The Professional’s Professional

  • Top ten attributes of a professional:
    1. Integrity
    2. Commitment and ownership
    3. Action orientation and goal seeking
    4. Continuous learning
    5. Professional knowledge/skills
    6. Communication
    7. Planning, organizing and punctuality
    8. Quality of work
    9. A positive attitude, approachability, responsiveness
    10. Being an inspiring reference to others.
  • Tomorrow’s professional must have a beaconlike presence in a world that will ask for memorability. Because being ordinary will no longer be considered professional.
  • Top ten markers of unprofessional conduct:
    1. Missing a deadline
    2. Failing to be forthright
    3. Withholding the information
    4. Not respecting the privacy of information
    5. Not respecting “need to know”
    6. Plagiarizing
    7. Passing the Blame
    8. Overstating qualifications and experience
    9. Frequently changing jobs
    10. Not taking care of your appearance
  • Ultimately being a professional is a matter of personal choice and the values we opt to live by.
  • Your profession is a platform. It is something of a springboard; a place from which you start a journey on the road to someplace else. Your purpose, on the other hand, determines how far you may go on that journey, for whom it is undertaken and how meaningful it is.
  • Low Platform, Low Purpose Professional – Vast majority that make the world a predictable, often dependable place to live, but they leave no lasting impact. People in this quadrant do not consume resources disproportionate to the impact they make; they take from life what is minimally needed; they are not overly materialistic and do not amass wealth and fortune at other people’s cost. They have a lower carbon footprint in every sense. These are people who are driven by the sheer need to exist. Existence is the driver of their being.
  • High Platform, Low Purpose Professional – Highly qualified, highly competent but leading a self- serving life. Platform is everything and defines their existence. More likely to pursue the predictable. Genuinely believe that they are indispensable.  Do not think there could be anything more significant than professional ambition. Depend on a given organizational path for success; do not create their own path. The driver of their existence is consumption.
  • Low Platform, High Purpose Professional – People who become start-up entrepreneurs; idealistic individuals who want to make a difference to society in ways other than building a business. Face challenges – personal hardship, minimalist lifestyle, working outside an established organizational framework often makes it difficult to succeed. Do not seek instant gratification; patient with the change-making process. Driving force behind is opportunity for path making.
  • High Platform, High Purpose Professional – They see their professional qualifications, experience and accomplishments as a platform to make a difference to the world. Have power of vision. Do three things right : They create a vision community to carry people along and make them feel it is a shared vision. Then they give their entire life to cause it entails and understand that there is least scope for instant gratification. Finally, they remain steadfast even in the wake of great personal sacrifices and they do not yield to distractions. The driving force is the desire to leave a legacy.
  • There is nothing right or wrong about being in any of the above category. The only opportunity for error is to not to know which category you belong to. Education and experience give us the power to make informed choices, and we need to choose where we want to be and at the same time understand the consequences.
  • A true professional knows that through his profession he has the power to make a huge difference to the world around him; he has an uplifting purpose that takes him beyond earning a living to making a difference in life.

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