How do CEOs learn professionalism for the first time

Toxic professionalism: weaknesses and mistakes are part of the job

Be as perfect as possible, make no mistakes, leave private worries at home: the traditional image of professional behavior still ignores human traits.

That has to change, says Anja-Simone Michalski, program manager at De Gruyter-Verlag. The desire for professionalism is often just an attempt to control something that cannot - or should not - always be controlled.

Michalski proposes a new professionalism in which people with all their facets and weaknesses can be seen at work. This creates a new error culture and also makes it easier for young professionals to get started.

Professional behavior is the ticket to the dream job, that's how young adults learn. Professionalism can act like a protective shield that covers up the supposedly flawed humanity. Employees are not happy this way, criticizes Anja-Simone Michalski, program manager at De Gruyter-Verlag. And the professional mask does not serve companies either: Errors remain undetected, missing qualifications are hidden and therefore not even developed. In this way, toxic professionalism becomes a threat to teamwork and the success of the company.

Michalski proposes a new professionalism, a more modern one that better suits the people. And from which employees and organizations benefit equally. In an interview with Business Insider, she explains what she means by that.

Ms. Michalski, you complain about “toxic professionalism”. What is it about?

In my first years in the business, I thought that under no circumstances should I make mistakes. Nobody should see if I am not good at something. Or that I'm insecure sometimes. In addition, there were questions from my private life: What do I actually do when I'm not doing so well? What if things aren't going well at home? What if I have a bereavement in the family? - How much of it can I bring to work? How much of it may my customers or my network be allowed to see?

How did you answer these questions?

In the beginning I tried to show as little of it as possible - even though I'm really not the type for it. But I thought that was part of being professional. The older I get, the more toxic I find it. At the beginning of our working life we ​​think we have to meet this whole catalog of requirements. But we can't do that.

What is professionalism?

For me, what “professionalism” means has changed again and again in the course of my professional life. I think a lot of people feel the same way. At the beginning of their careers, many think that professionalism means above all not showing weaknesses. But in the debate about New Work and New Work, the idea of ​​coming to work as a whole person keeps cropping up. That breaks up more traditional professionalism concepts.

They use the term #newprofessionalism. What does this new professionalism look like in your team?

As a team leader, I appreciate it when people say: “I can't do that. I need help at this point ”. Or: “I don't have a good day today. Can someone else write the log? I'm not paying enough attention today. ”Or,“ I made a mistake, can we talk about it? ”It's all so much better than when someone is constantly trying to hide difficulties. For me, this open approach to my own weaknesses is the real professional achievement. Professionalism should also include saying: “I will probably not be able to work so well for the next two weeks because the child is at home. Again, because we can't bring it to daycare because of Corona. "

Why is it so difficult for people at the beginning of their working life?

Because they are insecure. You start out in the world of work and find templates. The first template is the job profile for which you are applying. Only the role is named, the person should then fit into it. At the same time, career starters have a poor negotiating position. You want to join the company. You want to be liked. They want to seem like they are perfect candidates for the job.

Then the traditional image of professionalism also makes the hiring process more difficult for managers?

Yes. In job interviews, I often struggle to get hold of the person who is actually sitting in front of me. In the meantime, I have managed to connect with people very well. But you have to do that very actively. Otherwise, young applicants in particular are constantly busy telling what they can do - and just not admitting where things are not going so well. You want to give the impression that you can do anything to meet every requirement of the job posting. And if they are asked what their weaknesses are, then many still answer obediently: perfectionism.

These professional roles are not new. Why did they come about at all?

They fulfill a function. When people write the job profiles for applicants, then they know what they ideally need. You want to fill a gap in the team or in the company's organizational chart. Anyone who says exactly what he or she wants also says: I want to be able to rely on something.

Sounds pretty good actually.

Yes. But in reality it never works out completely. Whenever I put someone on a vacancy on a team, there is room for surprises. But we think that if we demand as much perfection as possible, then we could put control over future interactions and the development of a person in the company. It is an illusion.

What exactly happens with the toxic professionalism in the company?

Whether or not we display toxic professionalism determines, for example, how we deal with unforeseen situations. A huge project turns out to be more difficult than everyone thought. Processes come to a standstill. It happens regularly and everywhere. Anyone who then acts in a toxic professional manner, hushing up mistakes, does not take their own weaknesses into account, will not be able to solve such situations well and drive the thing up against the wall. If we move in a toxic professional system, it is more difficult to admit mistakes and excessive demands or to discuss ideas again, to take them back or to modify them.

How are you doing better?

If I don't behave in a toxic and professional manner, I can say: “Great job! That interests me - but I might need a language tandem with a colleague from the USA. ”This openness supports the organization's ability to act. And if we think of the human component, then with a new understanding of professionalism we can at best prevent people from being burned out because they have the courage to talk about their limits in good time.

How does toxic professionalism affect people?

An example: someone has a bereavement in their circle of friends. If the professionalism is misunderstood, the person might try not to show it. However, this will not increase the likelihood of staying mentally healthy for most people. This form of toxic professionalism does not make people or the companies in which they work resilient.

With the departure from classic professionalism, something changes that has been constant for a very long time. Why actually?

Today people can confidently say: Not like that. We no longer have to demand everything from ourselves. This is certainly also due to digitization and the high level of networking. And in general, a greater willingness to change jobs.

How can we change the culture of toxic professionalism?

Everyone in an organization can ask themselves how we approach our colleagues. How do we interact? When I make mistakes, am I secretly happy that thank God they didn't happen to me? Do I tact against others, do I use elbows? Or am I nice, benevolent, supportive? We can all make this decision every day and over and over again.

If someone wants to start breaking down the culture of toxic professionalism in an organization tomorrow: what is the first step?

Have lunch with the person you are most likely to feel like you are in a bad competitive relationship with. If you want to stand up for a cooperative with one another, then talk about it openly. Discuss how you can do a good job together. For the company or for a project. Managers can also provide good impulses. Make it clear: I do not honor the person who comes up using their elbows. Rewards cooperative, fair behavior. As a manager, I demand this attitude from myself - I expect the same from others.