“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
– Abraham Lincoln
“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”
– Benjamin Franklin
I ran across these two quotes recently in an article about corporate branding in the February 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review and thought they shed a lot of light on personal branding.
The fact is that our reputation is a key part of our personal brand. Our ticket to fame or blame, our reputation is how we’re perceived. And just as a reputation can make or break a company, it can make or break a career. The HBR article refers to a “reputation-reality gap,” or what we might call a perception problem. It’s where our reputation doesn’t match reality. On the corporate side, think Enron and WorldCom, both of whom once had excellent reputations but then got into trouble when they fraudulently tried to maintain those reputations.
On the personal branding side, we have only to look at any politician who promises straight talk and morality and then is found lying or cheating or consorting with folks he or she shouldn’t.
On the other side of the equation are companies and people who once had a sullied reputation but then change and nothing happens. They are still seen through the old, dirty lens. Think US auto companies that have closed the quality gap between their vehicles and Japanese cars but are still viewed as inferior. On the personal branding side, think John Kerry. What will it take for him not to be perceived as a flip flopper? All are good reminders that once a reputation is stained, it is a tough job to scrub it clean.
What can we do as personal branders to insure that we don’t have a reputation-reality gap?
• For one we need to regularly take stock of our reputation. What do people truly think of us? If we have our own business, we can ask our clients or customers for feedback through surveys and word of mouth. If we work for someone, we need to cultivate a loyal mentor or peer who can give us feedback along with asking our boss for his or her assessment, if we’re not being given regular reviews.
• Second, we need to see how our reputation stands up to reality. Are we perceived as a slacker when we’re working very hard but no one seems to know? Are we seen as difficult to get along with when we’re really just shy loners?
Are we in fact just not working up to snuff?
• Third, we need to do damage control. Once we know how we’re perceived , what can we do differently to insure a positive reputation? Do we need to work harder, smarter, differently?
• Lastly, we need to do all of this regularly. Don’t wait till your reputation is so far gone that it would take an act of God to change it.
Wendy Marx • Public Relations/Marketing Communications • President, Marx Communications
www. marxcommunications.com, firstname.lastname@example.org