Sometime back I posted this on LinkedIn, on the topic of leadership.
In response to this post many responded with a popular John Wooden quote;
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
I would like to pull this apart in a little detail because I feel for some it might add some significant value in their personal and professional growth.
Now I openly admit that John Wooden is a smarter guy than me, and he has raised an important point about the importance of one’s character as a significant precursor to developing a good reputation. In essence, Wooden is saying that by consistently adhering to strong personal values one can focus on the things that create a good reputation. To this end, you will get no objection from me, the maths adds up.
But there is something missing… Objectivity.
Forbes defines leadership in the following way:
“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. Notice key elements of this definition: Leadership stems from social influence, not authority or power. Leadership requires others, and that implies they don’t need to be “direct reports”.
I personally think that this is one of the most astute definitions of Leadership that I have read in a long time. It speaks of service to others, of influence, and a lack of reliance on formal structures and authorities.
So, if we agree that a Leader needs positive influence over others in order to be considered a leader then surely our reputation is an incredibly important indicator of how we are tracking. One could reasonably argue that our reputation is a social litmus test which gives us a reading on whether:
- Our communication is landing effectively with others
- People align with our values and intent
- Our teams want to work for, and with us
- We are adequately explaining the context behind our initiatives and proposed changes
- We are suitably prepared for progression into ever increasingly complex situations and problem-sets.
Now I will concede that people often develop reputations that are not aligned with their personal intent or values.
These people might have initially approached situations with a personal strategy that was misaligned with the organisation’s culture or strategy. On occasions, this has potentially resulted in people developing a poor reputation that is not accurate with their true character.
But looking at this objectively, I am sure we can all agree that their reputation, in this case, is still indicative of a problem, or breakdown, somewhere along the line. This problem might be due to:
- A breakdown in communication
- Joining an organisation that had a misalignment of values in the first place
- Making decisions that were not understood by others
- A lack of personal accountability
The specifics of our reputations might be factually incorrect, but the indication that something is wrong is 100% accurate. It is our job to find out what it is and fix it.
Personally, I believe I am fortunate to have worked alongside some of the most amazing and influential leaders in the world. Every one of these leaders held amazingly positive reputations – even when they had made decisions that others had professionally disagreed with, they were still respected.
People respected these leaders due to their consistency and authenticity, enough so, that others would give them benefit of the doubt and remain loyal and avid followers in pursuit of supporting a higher team purpose. These leaders were an incredibly valuable resource, particularly in environments characterised by uncertainty, confusion, and complexity. They were often dragged from one problem to the next, leaving a positive legacy wherever they went.
With this as context, this is what is meant by ‘your reputation is your real business card’.
It is also important to note that these leaders were very well represented in forums where they could not represent themselves. Simply put, they had people covering their backs and supporting their messaging, even when they were not being watched. This is the power of positive reputation and influence! People want to help your teams, even when you are not watching or listening to them.
One of my personal life goals is to leave a positive legacy and be remembered for being a ‘good person’. I will measure this on the day of my death bed, with the people that surround and support me, and the stories of positive (or negative) legacy I leave behind.
My reputation is critical for me to measure my success as a leader in my family, my friends, and my teams. I cannot conveniently discount its importance or its messaging throughout the course of my life.
I personally believe that the best leaders are those that are committed in the pursuit of truth.
The truth about themselves, their performance, their teams, and their impacts.
As leaders, we cannot be so quick to discount the importance of one’s reputation. It is the universe’s way of telling you that something is right or wrong in the way you are delivering your messages and interacting with others. This is valuable information for those that are genuinely wishing to improve the way they lead others.