In Search of (Professional) Etiquette



I’ve often been a flattered recipient of the following question, posed by friends, colleagues, subordinates, mentees, interviewers and beyond in search of the elusive “secret” to success; What’s your secret to success?

As Publisher & Executive Editor of BIZCATALYST 360°, I’ve come to realize over time that one can skillfully edit and publish or one can skillfully write, as little time exists to do both to an acceptably high standard. However, from time to time I’ve been inspired by a series of first-hand encounters, observations (or perhaps frustration) to put my candid thoughts to paper My last Article inspired in this manner was published here: Leadership (Life) Principles: In Which Direction Does Your Compass Point – which correlates well with the essay below.


–George Bernard Shaw

WHETHER it be an opportune mix of luck, skill, being “in the right place at the right time” or simply abundant blessings, I’ve enjoyed more than my fair share of professional success. Success defined broadly as career trajectory, economic security, accelerated retirement (independence) and quite simply, the ability to choose how, where, when and with whom to spend my non-renewable time. Along the way, I’ve often been a flattered recipient of the following question, posed by friends, colleagues, subordinates, mentees, interviewers and beyond in search of the elusive “secret” to success; What’s your secret to success?

The Secret?

While most would expect a typical response along the lines of college education, hard work, long hours, etc. – all of which are important of course (although no college degree for me) the answer remains as basic, fundamental, and simple as it is surprising. And it’s one that became increasingly apparent and important to my career as the years flew by. – a characteristic that more often than not, distinguished me – and consequently my teams and business units from the rest. That characteristic? Professional Etiquette. What do I mean by that?


Professional etiquette is an unwritten code of conduct regarding the interactions among the members in a business setting. When proper professional etiquette is used, all involved are able to feel more comfortable, and things tend to flow more smoothly.


As excerpted from The Concise Oxford English & Webster’s Unabridged Dictionaries:

Professional: –> n. possessing a high degree of knowledge or skill in a particular field, ace, adept, authority, dab hand, expert, master, proficient, wizard, crack, skilled.

Etiquette: –> n. the customary code of polite behaviour in a society. The forms of practices prescribed by social convention. decorum. good form. manner. mores. proprieties. protocols. civilities, manners, usage, politeness, courtesy, gentility, good form, good taste.

Drawing from the above and factoring in the “real world” of business, I’ve compiled my enhanced definition below.
professional-etiquette-courtesyProfessional etiquette is about building thoughtful relationships with other people.CLICK TO TWEETIt is also an increasingly rare behavior and competitive distinction whereby those deemed “professionals” (as defined above) supplement and complement their qualifications by consistently displaying a high level of regard and for respect for superiors, colleagues and subordinates as follows:
    • Dress With Respect
    • Be Punctual (practice a natural sense of urgency, be on time, every time)
    • Be Present (silence all devices & eliminate distractions, without exception)
    • Show Genuine Interest (listen intentionally, maintain eye contact, engage)
    • Be Honest/Authentic (open, honest & candid)
    • Keep Company Secrets Secret
    • Respect The Chain Of Command (be a team player)
    • Be Accountable (accept responsibility, make firm commitments, follow-up, follow-through, keep your promises)
    • Always Respond (promptly & completely)
    • Acknowledge Achievements (spend praise/deflect credit generously)
    • Be Courteous & Polite (please & thank you, always)
    • Show Gratitude (give thanks wherever and whenever due)
    • Be Humble (accept success with gratitude and failure with fortitude)
    • Be Kind/Considerate
    • Think Beyond Yourself
Needless to say, the above definition presumes that you have the occupational training/skills as a foundation for your performance. And yes, certain of the above traits may extend the boundaries of “courtesy” but deservedly so.

Source Credit

Fundamental to my publishing business is the giving of credit or “attribution” where due. So where did my above definition come from? Who taught me the ins and outs, the right from wrong when it comes to Professional Etiquette? Be assured that it didn’t’ come from the plethora Leadership Books, Webinars and Seminars out there. It didn’t come from the latest Podcast or YouTube Video. To the contrary, my appreciation along with full and unreserved credit goes to “real-life” wisdom captured and catalogued by observing and working with, working for and working alongside some the very best and very worst leaders and “professionals” across many industries over many years.

Lessons Learned

I learned very early in my career that it’s not simply a matter of what you know or who you know, but equally and often more importantly – how you do what you do – irrespective of your professional expertise. Perhaps a (disappointing) function of changing times, but I’ve also learned that the behaviors listed above are not only increasingly rare, but are remarkably visible when present. Finally it’s abundantly clear that such behaviors have given me, my teams /business units an invaluable (and priceless) competitive edge both reputationally and economically (it’s not just about price).


Maya Angelou

Rocket Science?

We can all agree that everything put forth above is clearly not “rocket science.” But we can also agree that much of what I’ve defined as Professional Etiquette has indeed left the business arena. And quite frankly, many of the same behaviors have left the “personal” arena (worthy of a follow-up article unto itself).

What Do You Think?

Are your observations and experience similar? What bullet points would you add to my Definition? Have you been surprisingly disappointed or surprisingly impressed by your business encounters?

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