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Has Professionalism Become Passé?


Over the past several years, a focus on authenticity has touched nearly every aspect of life. At work and at home, we try to ‘keep it real.’ In customer and employee interactions, we’re encouraged to remain genuine. Open, frank conversation is sought after and candor is valued.

But has the pendulum swung too far?

A case in point: When a recent cross-country flight sat for a half-hour on the tarmac, the pilot shared over the PA system that the delay was not their fault and that if we passengers were as frustrated as they were, we should leave a message on the airline’s website.  He went on to explain that he and his co-pilot ‘don’t get paid for sitting around like this.’

Another case in point: When I called Dr. K, a family member’s primary care physician following surgery conducted by another practitioner, Dr. K shared in no uncertain terms that the surgeon had not informed him of this procedure and the he never informs other general practitioners when he works on their patients.

In both cases, highly educated individuals who hold positions of tremendous responsibility with extensive experience under their belts were being authentic, transparent, and candid. The information they shared was likely true.

And unnerving.

I want people who are flying my airplanes and taking care of my loved ones to be professional. I want them to demonstrate emotional intelligence. I want them to use good judgment and share what I need to know – not what they need to get off their chests.

And employees feel the same way about their leaders. During a recent focus group, service workers shared the following comments:

  • “I wish my supervisor tried to be more of a boss and less of a friend.”
  • “The busier I get, the less extraneous information I need.”
  • “He’s just trying to connect with the troops, but when he bad-mouths the company, it makes me feel bad.”
  • “I don’t need to know all the battles my boss is fighting with his peers and the organization.”

As leaders, we owe it to our employees to be authentic and transparent… but there’s a clear line when this becomes unproductive and shifts into abdicating responsibility, complaining, and blaming others.  When we don’t honor this line, we undermine the employee’s engagement and connection to the organization and we seriously compromise our own credibility.

So, before you are tempted to be completely transparent and authentic, ask yourself:

  • Is this information others need to get the job done?
  • What is my motivation in sharing this information?
  • Can I frame the information in a constructive rather than destructive fashion?

In the case of the airline pilot, his frustration was valid. And there’s no reason for him to take personal responsibility for something beyond his control. But, I would have had a lot more confidence in him as a person and in his airline if he has instead said something like: “We’re sorry for the delay. And my co-pilot and I just love to fly… so we promise to take off just as soon as we can.”

Professionalism and authenticity are not mutually exclusive. And successful leaders find a way to integrate the two – serving their employees, organizations, and themselves.


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