What does it mean to conduct oneself as a professional?
Someone that is consummate professional in their career and in their life is essentially a strong leader. Years ago I was the drum major for my high school band (Yes, I know my geek quotient just went up but I wear it proudly). In preparation for that role I was sent to a week-long camp to essentially learn how to be a drum major. While there, I learned many valuable lessons during leadership training. In fact, I kept the Leadership Seminar packet and will now offer its list of Quality Leadership Traits:
- A sense of humor
- A passionate interest in more than one thing
- High energy levels
- Tolerance of changing moods
- Knows how to listen
- Realizes that touch is important in communication
- Exudes self-confidence
- Appreciates successes and sympathetic to failures
- A keen sense of justice and injustice
- Sensitive to the needs of others
- Takes risks
- An air of mystery
- Does not belittle or make fun of others
- Offers love and gives of themselves unselfishly
- Has a presence around which others find they like themselves more
The list may not be totally complete, but I think it offers some interesting tidbits. There are a few things that I would like to add. Some are directly related to the above and others are not, but they are all essential to succeeding in dance.
Someone that has a positive attitude does not complain (click the link for one instance of how complaining can affect others). To complain, by definition, is to express dissatisfaction, pain, uneasiness, censure, resentment, or grief, both informally and formally. When I say that someone who is a professional does not complain, I mean in the informal sense. Professionals seek to be constructive not destructive and complaining (or whining, whinging, grumbling, if you will) is not constructive, particularly if it is out loud to anyone that has ears.
Everyone has moments when they complain. It is human nature to want to get things off one’s chest in that way. “One time at band camp…” Yes, another band geek story. Band camp was always in early August which, even in Pennsylvania where I grew up, is HOT. We were never allowed to utter the words “It’s hot” (or any variation of this) without consequences. Sounds like a stupid rule, so why? Because everyone already knew it was hot! Voicing it only reminded everyone in earshot how miserable they were feeling, too. Don’t think so? When your dance teacher says something like “Feet!” what happens? Everyone immediately thinks about what they might be doing wrong with their feet. In the same way, when it is 90-plus degrees (Fahrenheit) outside, it is almost impossible not to zero-in on how hot you are when someone else says they’re hot. The collective energy spent focusing on the complaint is just better spent on the task(s) at hand.
A positive attitude is also exhibited through optimism, generosity, kindness, enthusiasm, and humor (even in humorless situations). Someone that is positive does not display negative feelings toward themselves or toward others. Even when someone is simply not doing his best, and even if it is negatively impacting you or others, it is still not appropriate for a professional to publicly point this out to others. It’s not nice! No one can truly walk in another person’s shoes, therefore it is always best to remember the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Suppose you’ve had a rough day, you are choreographing something that is just not working and you don’t know how to fix it. All of your dancers are standing before you and probably each one of them has their own ideas about what you should do. You are beginning to feel you are wasting their time. Then, a frustrated dancer in the back grumbles under her breath. Soon her dissatisfaction spreads like a virus and you know the rest of the rehearsal will be a waste unless you come up with something quick. No pressure! Maybe the dancers in this situation have a right to feel annoyed at their director, but negativity is infectious and rots every situation. Knowing this, professionals resist the urge to be negative, grumble, and complain. They don’t sweat the small stuff either. Instead, if a problem has become serious or too often repeated, if someone is being hurt or an injustice is being done, they find an appropriate time to meet with those who have the power to improve the situation. And true leaders use their energy to solve problems, not just identify them. Therefore, it is a true leader that will, rather than just offer a formal complaint, approach someone with possible solutions to the issue at hand.
A professional has a strong work ethic. They anticipate the needs of others or what needs to be done and they do it. They do it even before someone asks or they ask permission before going forward. Anticipating a need sometimes means that you must humble yourself and do what is best for the group or someone else over what is best for you as an individual. When something is asked of her, a professional does not question out loud. Again, finding an appropriate time for questions is important. Unless you truly do not understand the directions given or you are instructed to do something which is against your core beliefs, adhere to the request and later find a private moment to question if necessary.
Professionals are also prompt, or on time. There is a saying that states, “To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late.” In other words, starting “on time” means that you and others are ready to go the very moment the class, rehearsal, or meeting is supposed to start. Being early ensures this. Arriving at the start time will put you and everyone else behind because inevitably there is something that needs to be done just before beginning and it is unprofessional to waste another person’s time if it can be avoided. Dancers in particular require a warm-up before moving. Every body is different and sometimes the warm-up in class does not meet the needs of all. Professionals get there well ahead of time to do what they know they need to.
Professionals don’t make excuses. If they are offered ways in which they could improve or are reprimanded for inappropriate behavior, a professional accepts the correction (whether they agree or not), tries to apply the suggestion or do better next time, and then moves on. They do not blame unfortunate circumstances or other people for their mistakes. I am reminded of a segment I saw in, I believe it was, last season’s So You Think You Can Dance during early eliminations. A dancer, who had appeared before the judges in a prior season, completed her presentation and the judges complimented her improvement. When they moved on to some areas that could still use work she began making excuses. In my head I was thinking “Shut up, shut up!” but her mouth continued to get her in trouble as the judges became annoyed and wanted nothing more to do with her after that. This is probably not someone who could have made it all the way but she may have at least made it another round. And just think how much more she could accomplish if she could just learn to stop making excuses for herself!
As I write, I find there is more to say on this topic. Stay tuned for Part II and consider the importance of a generous spirit in professionalism.