Friday, August 29, 2008

Reputation

You have a reputation. In your team, in your company, in everyone you've worked with. You have nothing more valuable than that reputation.

Your reputation is basically you... as you exist in the minds of others.

So if you're not even there (and you're not actually in someone's mind), why do you care about your reputation and what can you do about it?

What Is My Reputation?
Your reputation is the composite of many things:
  • what you've done
  • what you haven't done (sometimes this can really make you look good! Choosing not to do something can have great value and be the harder choice.)
  • what other people say about you
  • what you said, or more precisely what other people heard you say
  • what you've written (Ever Google yourself? Do it now; you won't be the first person to Google you)
  • who you know
Why Do I Care?
Your reputation is your calling card. It colors every interaction other people have with you. If you have a reputation for competence, people will forgive mistakes you make as aberrations. If you have a reputation for incompetence, people will take every mistake you make as further proof that you just can't do anything right. (And we all know that we will make mistakes.) It's a hugely different reaction, just because of your reputation.

How Do I Control My Reputation?
A lot of us have a lot of control. We're well-paid professionals who work effectively and control many decisions throughout each day. That's great. But your reputation is something you don't get to control directly.

Instead, reputation is something you control indirectly. However, you can still control it, or more precisely, you can influence it.

A reputation is built on some fundamental principles:
  • Consistency. It's easier for people to remember repetitive things. It's harder for people to reconcile conflicting information. Make life easy - act consistently and you'll color your reputation toward those acts.
  • You're Always Being Watched. Your reputation is built on what people see, even when you don't know you're looking. And everything you do leaves a trail, so don't assume private is really private.
  • Honesty. It's just too exhausting to be dishonest. Please don't bother. It'll catch up to you, and then your reputation becomes only about your dishonesty - not really what you're going to want your reputation to be.
  • People Talk. Any community is ultimately fairly small and chatty. People will talk about you, and someone from your past can determine your future success - with contracts, jobs, etc. You never know when you'll run into someone who knows someone - and they've met your reputation before they've met you.
So whatever your reputation is, be aware that it affects of what it is now and of what you want it to be. Use your behavior, your writings, your actions to influence it in the ways you want. Your reputation will affect your life; make sure the you that exists in the minds of others is helping the you that exists in the real world.

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