Integrity is poorly understood, rues Bagchi. "Our education system fails to provide an understanding of the idea of professionalism.

Posters, wallpapers, and first-day assimilation at work during which the HR (human resource) department dins in the corporate rah-rah, all these do not work any more, says Subroto Bagchi in ‘The Professional’ (www.penguinbooksindia.com). The only option for all leaders is to walk the talk and talk the walk, he adds. “Leaders in every profession need to demonstrate high personal integrity and then personally deliver the message to their organisations.”

But integrity is poorly understood, rues Bagchi. “Our education system fails to provide an understanding of the idea of professionalism. There is little content on the concept of professional ethics as part of technical or professional curricula. And there is no conversation.” In the absence of all that grounding, he finds that despite professional qualifications, most young people come into the workplace as novices.

Authenticity is not old-fashioned, assures the author. To him, a true professional is one who has no need for unnecessary embellishments of experience, or the name-dropping of ‘connections’. Being authentic might sometimes get us a ‘no,’ but that is better than the ignominy of being unmasked, he instructs, “because we live in a small world where everything is connected, and the hollowness of our insincerity will eventually be revealed.”

To successful mid-career professionals, who tend to suffer from a sense of emptiness and therefore wish to ‘make a difference to society,’ Bagchi’s prescription is simple: “Do small things on a sustained basis; do things for your own profession; do not worry about changing the world.”

Some of the ‘small things’ he suggests are to go and spend time with a bunch of newcomers, helping an intern with work, writing a series of ‘how-to’ articles based on experiences, taking on pro-bono work for the industry association. “See how the pitcher of emptiness begins to fill again,” cheers Bagchi.

He cautions professional to watch out for signs of decay, which can include an inability to use the keyboard because you have started dictating your notes; or the dependence on an assistant to change the slides for the presentations because you have become ‘too big’.

A professional, Bagchi advises, should not let go of the basic ability to work because “it is like losing your fingers. There are some things you must continue to do at any stage of your career. Not just the cerebral strategising, but the actual work. For the chef, it’s not about the presentation of the dish, but about how to handle the kitchen knife to make the perfect cut.” Sometimes, the most profound ideas come not when you are in the boardroom but when you are washing dishes, he invites.

Towards the end of the book is a chapter titled ‘the unprofessional,’ with a list of ten markers of unprofessional conduct, such as: Missing a deadline, non-escalation of issues on time, non-disclosure, not respecting privacy of information, plagiarism, passing on the blame, overstating qualifications and experience, and mindless job-hopping. And the opposite is ‘the professional’s professional,’ a chapter with top ten attributes of a professional.

We live in an age of just-in-time learning, and so it is not about how much you already know but how rapidly you can syndicate the knowledge required to solve a problem, Bagchi writes. “And that requires commitment, ownership and action orientation. Planning, organising, punctuality and quality of work have to be delivered with a great attitude, otherwise a client will in all probability not like to do business with you a second time.”