By Sara Canaday
“Reputation” is not a line item on a corporate income statement, but it should be. Instead, it lurks pervasively below the surface of carefully calculated revenues and expenses. The accountants can’t assign a specific number to it. Think about that for a moment. Companies can leverage the incalculable perceptions of a great reputation into bottom-line success and a very real corporate advantage. Sadly, there’s also the flip side: a negative reputation can cause them to crash and burn— despite solid product offerings.
Perceptions may be unquantifiable, but they are powerful. And, as we’ve all heard, perception is reality. Having the best of intentions isn’t enough to get us the new job, the big raise, or the highly coveted promotion. Our professional reputations are defined through the perceptual lens of our colleagues, co-workers, and clients— and those reputations determine the path and the pace of our careers (for better or worse).
We all have blind spots in some area. Here are a few examples that you may have noticed in yourself or others:
|People who feel they are:
||But others perceive them as:
|Highly productive and innovative
||Rebellious and uncooperative
|Intelligent and well-qualified
||Condescending and elitist
|Decisive and candid
||Abrupt and insensitive
|Extremely energetic and driven
||Relentless and unrealistic
|Composed and steady
||Robotic and indifferent
|Remarkably reliable and high performing
||One-dimensional and over-functioning
|Spirited and passionate
||Intense and overzealous
|Methodical and compliant
||Inflexible and overly cautious
|Assertive and enthusiastic
||Self-serving and inappropriate
No one is so perfectly self-aware that he or she can eliminate every potential perception disconnect before it occurs. Those who are most successful have learned how to read the diverse people and situations they encounter and respond appropriately. Sure, they are savvy enough to avoid the obvious perception landmines. But they have also mastered a skill that could be even more important: recognizing an inadvertent “hit” and diving in quickly for effective damage control.
Insight to Action
The world’s strongest leaders know how to take insight to action, to effectively manage the perception gaps that are inevitable in our fast-paced, technology-fueled, global business environment. Here are some suggested steps that I’ve found valuable:
1. Increase your self-awareness.
Before you can determine whether other people define your professional reputation in the manner you’d prefer, you need to understand your own goals and intentions. How would you like to be perceived? What is your ideal reputation? To find those answers, you’ll need to increase your own self-awareness. Seriously consider the following questions and jot down your thoughts for reference:
- What are your strongest and most developed skills?
- How do people benefit from working with you?
- What are the results of your communications and interactions with others?
- How do you make others feel?
- How would you ideally like to be described by the people who work with you?
- Is your ideal reputation realistic and attainable?
- How could that reputation impact your opportunities for advancement?
2. Seek out candid feedback.
Regardless of your goals and ideals, what is your actual reputation in the workplace? Uncomfortable or not, you need to know how you’re perceived. And that means you have to ask! While this conclusion might seem obvious, many people think that making an educated guess is good enough. Not true. To get an accurate picture of our blind spots, we must gather feedback from those who have experience interacting with us. Ideally, you’ll want to get input from people who have observed your behaviors and communication styles for a minimum of six months.
- Managers, directors, supervisors and bosses (current and former)
- Peers, co-workers, and colleagues (across departments and teams)
- Staff, subordinates, and employees
- Members of common committees or organizations (professional or civic/community)
- Advisors and friends
- Family members
Choose people you respect and whom you feel confident have your best interests in mind. Select people you trust to give you candid and specific information. A glowing review with exclusively positive remarks might warm your heart, but it won’t help you get an accurate picture of any lurking perception gaps. Sometimes the best person to approach is one with whom you have experienced some difficulties in the past. They are likely to shed light on a few issues you have trouble recognizing, which is precisely the goal of the exercise.
Once you figure out which people to approach, you can determine how to start the process. Luckily, there are plenty of options to make that happen:
- Official 360-degree assessments and evaluations (available from many leadership and industrial/organizational psychology institutes)
- Self-designed questionnaires distributed in person or online with sites like Survey Monkey
- Formal performance reviews from supervisors
- Candid conversations with mentors or advisors
- Informal dialog with trusted colleagues
- Casual comments from co-workers (sometimes disguised as humor)
The Power of Applied Self-AwarenessTM
Simply knowing that a problem exists doesn’t fix it. Likewise, becoming aware of our reputations is only useful if we do something to make improvements. While the term “self-awareness” seems to imply a passive state of knowledge, I prefer to focus on the process of applied self-awareness TM, an active, ongoing brand of perception management that is truly the heart and soul of a stellar reputation. You have to change your behavior to change the end result for yourself and to help drive better results for the people around you.
Applied self-awareness moves us from insight to action. In its very simplest form, successfully managing our reputations involves a strategic approach with two basic steps:
1. Self-Awareness: Identifying the gaps between how our words and actions are perceived, versus how we intended them.
2. Applied Self-Awareness: Using that information to adjust our behavior and close the gaps.
When we deliberately change our behavior in a way that allows our words and actions to be perceived precisely as we intended them, we can then achieve the reputation and the results that we want.
About the Author(s)
Sara Canaday is a nationally recognized leadership expert, corporate speaker, and owner of Sara Canaday & Associates, a consulting firm based in Austin, TX. Her new book You. According to Them (2012) is for professionals at all levels who want to uncover the blindspots that impact their reputations and their careers. For more information, visit: www.saracanaday.com