In the early days of my career it never really occurred to me how much my reputation played a role in the type of career opportunities I was provided at work. I felt like I had a pretty good sense of how I was perceived in my organization, but I never really asked about the stories other people tell about me.
Truthfully, I probably didn’t want to know–at least at the subconscious level. Nonetheless, I finally got the courage to ask a few people I knew who would tell me the truth. I heard some nice things as well as some things I didn’t want to hear– and I definitely found out about areas I needed to work on.
After all, I concluded, if my reputation is my brand, I better start paying attention to what my brand is saying to others.
It used to be that your boss’s perception of your work was what mattered most. Today, it’s your boss and beyond. In our globally dispersed but technologically connected organization, you have interactions with a wide variety of people. Their opinions matter and the sum total of those perceptions make up your reputation. Among other things, your reputation consists partially of stories others tell about you. These stories sometimes take on a life of their own. Rumors and anecdotes that are told about you enhance or limit your career opportunities.
“The further removed people are from firsthand experience of your performance,
the more their assessment is based on your reputation.”
How do you manage perceptions that are everywhere?
You see the truth about you and your work, find an environment where you shine, and live up to your best story about yourself.
Here are four actions that help you develop your truth to reputation to personal brand and ultimately to a leverageable asset.
- Seek realistic feedback. Ask for feedback from others you interact with: your boss, peers, colleagues, etc. to learn what they think and say about you. Initiate the conversation and be open to their feedback. Develop a receiving mindset. Share insights, offer ideas, ask questions, listen, invite participation from others, and be open to their feedback.
- Compare feedback from others with your self-assessment. By comparing their view of your skills and potential with your own, you can test your self-image against reality and develop a perspective on how people view you and your work. This is a great way to get valuable information about your reputation. You can use this knowledge to enhance your skills, change performance habits, emphasize strengths, further develop your weaker areas and manage your brand.
- Consciously brand your reputation. What words or phrases describe your best work? What descriptions come to mind when co-workers think about you? Create and use words or phrases that truthfully describe your reputation. Name your strengths. Define what you do best, what sets you apart from others and what makes you different.
- Treat your reputation as an asset. In the world of high finance, the principle of financial “leverage” is generally accepted as a powerful way to build financial wealth. I like to think of one’s personal brand in the same way. I call it “reputational leverage”, with the idea being to create personal brand wealth. Build and communicate your brand through your actions. If you’re a visionary strategic leader, act on that strength. A charismatic people leader? Be one. A planning ninja? Keep it up.
Have you heard about the Dutch Admiral principle? This little-known story was shared in a leadership course I attended at Harvard years ago. I have found it to be a powerful concept.
“Not long ago, there were two junior officers in the Dutch Navy who made a pact. They decided that when they were at the various navy social functions, they would go out of their way to tell people what a great guy the other guy was. They’d appear at cocktail parties or dances and say, “What an unbelievable person Charlie is. He’s the best man in the Navy.” Or, “Did you hear about the brilliant idea Dave had?”
They revealed their pact to the public the day they were both made admirals – the two youngest admirals ever appointed in the Dutch Navy.” — Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life by Terrence E. Deal and Allan A. Kennedy.
Mutual support. You might do something like the two admirals did, or you might create a strategic, symbiotic relationship with someone who is already reaching your target customer. Remember, like it or not, you are going to earn a reputation. The only question is how you’re going to build and manage it so that it becomes an asset you can leverage versus a liability you constantly have to compensate for.
Written by Pat Smith, CEO of Career Systems International
The concepts in this post are adapted from Career Systems International’s CareerPower ® 3.0 offering.