Reputation: manage your personal PR, or someone else will



an ebook


Ciarán Fenton

How small changes in behaviour have a big impact on how we work, lead or follow

That’s the title of an ebook I wrote in early 2020, initially, as a series of 50 short blogs – index here – and as a framework for a longer book.


Section 1.10 Reputation: manage your personal PR, or someone else will

your-career-equity pr

Your reputation is the third and final component of career equity in my model.

I call your reputation “your PR” as in the “public relations” of the business of your career, since your career is a unique business.

Do you know what your reputation is?

When I ask clients this question a surprising number, to me at least, don’t know what the reputational consensus of third parties is about them.

Does it matter what others feel about you?

Some people don’t care. Famously, according to some historians, Margaret Thatcher lost her beloved job as PM, tearfully, in part because she failed to care what her MPs felt “in the tea rooms”.

In a BBC documentary on former UK Prime Minister Theresa May, one of her close advisers said: “What people don’t understand about Theresa is that she genuinely doesn’t care whether you like her or not”.

So many people do very well indeed by not caring about their reputation, but only up to a point.

For most of us, however, we have to care and indeed at an ethical level, we should care. We live in a society and to function in it we need to understand the impact we are having on it.

In career terms, therefore, if you don’t know what your reputation is, then it’s in your interests to find out.

It’s easy: just ask enough colleagues what people say about you behind your back until you are clear on the consensus.

Usually, you’ll find they are saying something like “you are great at x, y and z but…”

What’s your “but”? It will be behavioural and you need to know. But your not stuck with it, unless you choose to stick yourself with it. By that I mean you can change your “but” if you wish by making small changes in your behaviour.

It a source of great satisfaction to me in my work to witness clients make small changes in their behaviour and consequently cause an unexpected and positive shift in their own reputation and in the behaviour of others.

For example one client, one day, stood up to their bullying boss in such an unexpectedly calm and clear way that their boss was taken aback and shifted their behaviour. Not a lot, but enough. That’s all you need in behavioural change. Just enough to make a difference.

However reputation is not just about the “bad stuff”. It’s about also about what you are deemed to be good at or not good at by everyone else and how this language can be exaggerated, either way. Take two examples:

  • “He’s phenomenally bright.” [Phenomenally? Really? Not just bright? Often, though not always, this is virtue signalling by the speaker keen to assert their expertise in judging who is phenomenally bright or not meaning by, implication, that they are more than phenomenally bright, if such brightness were possible. If you have a reputation of being “bright” rest assured it’s being overstated by others. For bright you can substitute: strategic, inspirational and talented etc. provided at all times these adjectives are accompanied by an over the top adverb: phenomenally, incredibly, hugely.
  • “She’s hopeless on her feet” [Hopeless? Really? Not remedial in any way? Just because someone is a nervous speaker or less confident on their feet than others doesn’t mean that they are stuck with that fear. Stories about people overcoming their fear of public speaking are as ubiquitous as they are heart-warming. I used to get palpitations before speaking even in a small group as a teenager and now happily – if not entirely free of nerves – speak to large audiences. It takes practice and encouragement from others.

You are not your reputation, unless you choose to be.

Ciaran Fenton

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