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3 lessons on brand versus reputation

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Businesses spend a lot of time creating and working on their brand - their logo, value proposition, offerings to various different stakeholders, their differentiators, social media presence and voice, the "personality" of the business. In essence, businesses create the image and experience that they WANT to be known for.

Just like businesses, as an individual managing your career like a business, you have the ability to create your brand... and should be doing so.

Why? Because it gives you a greater level of control over how you want to be "seen" and what you want to be known for.

But what we WANT to be known for is not always the same as what we ARE known for.

There is a distinct difference between brand and reputation.

Brand is something you can create and control. Reputation is something that is based on the opinions and beliefs that people in general have about someone or something.

While your image or brand may remain within your control, your reputation is in the eye of the beholder...

Reputation can be made, and reputation can be damaged - sometimes by your own actions and behaviours. But it can also be informed by gossip and rumour, by misunderstandings and misinterpretation, and by the personal and individual experience of one or two people who have the ability to influence the opinions of others.

So if reputation can be as fickle as what others think of you, should you care?

I would say yes and I will tell you why I say this.

How you make people feel, is sometimes more important than your technical brilliance

A while back I worked with someone who is the most technically gifted person - he has amazing knowledge and experience, could problem solve with the best of them, but very few people wanted to work with him. I saw people resign from a project if he was on it. I saw his name come up in discussions around team composition, and a less technically qualified person being chosen for the team. Why? Because he was unpleasant to work with - he was miserable, cynical, destructive in his comments, wanted everything to be done his way and rarely found the ability to say anything complementary to his colleagues.

He developed a reputation for being unpleasant to work with, to the extent that even people who were new in the organisation and had never worked with him, knew that he was someone to avoid if at all possible.

That's reputation in action!

READ MORE: Is your communication style affecting your career?

Being trusted and respected is more important than being liked

I worked with someone for a while who was an absolute delight to be around. She was funny, she was thoughtful and generous, she always brought shortbread and cappuccinos to our meetings, she always put up her hand to help out, and you could guarantee that if someone was going to stay at work after hours to help out, it would be her.

Sounds like someone who would be a pleasure to work with, someone who would have a reputation for being dependable and trustworthy right?

Not so much! She had no appreciation for need for timeous communication. We were in the car, on the way to a meeting with a client, when she decided the time was right to tell me that the client might be very unhappy with us and was planning to have another consultant in the meeting to take over from us. That meeting was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life.

But that wasn’t why I didn't trust her. The reason I didn't trust her was that incident and a thorough debriefing on what information was critical for priority communication, she didn’t learn from the experience and on at least a few other occasions after that, only communicated critical information when we were already in a crisis.

I couldn't trust her to anticipate and plan.

And when I asked if I would recommend her to work on a project with international colleagues I declined to do so.

That's reputation in action!

And then there is an example about me and how I informed my own reputation.

Learning and development and blunt instruments do not go hand in hand

I consciously created a brand for myself around being curious, asking questions, demanding high quality work, and providing critical feedback aimed at growth and development of the people that worked with me. I consistently pushed people's boundaries, covered their reports in track-changed comments and questions, and was relentless in getting my team to get it right. I regularly had people say to me that they appreciated my feedback and approach because in the process they were learning.

But I noticed that with increasing regularity that some of my colleagues chose to skirt around me for feedback from people who not as relentless in their pursuit of excellence, who were gentle in their feedback, who didn't write comments in the margin like "Seriously???? What are you thinking here???????" (Yes that many question marks for emphasis).

My intentions were clearly good and people could see that. But my choice of instrument was a blunt object. And really, who seeks out a blunt instrument by choice? At the time I never sought to understand my reputation though. I was fixated on the brand I was trying to portray.

That's reputation in action!

So in the business of being you, think about these questions...

  • How big is the gap between the brand you are aiming to create and the reputation (opinions and beliefs that others have of you)?

  • What responsibility do you have for the extent of that gap and what is outside of your control?

  • What actions can you take to bring closer alignment between your brand and reputation?


I love conversations and would love to engage with you on your career and how you are managing yourself and your career like a business.

I believe "managing your career like a business" means having insight on where you want to go in your career, the agility and resilience to change track when necessary, competence to navigate transition points, and self-awareness to manage yourself.

I help you do that through one-on-one coaching, CV and LinkedIn profile writing, topic-specific workshops and a suite of blogs and other materials available on my website. Want more information? Drop me a message and I will get back to you asap.

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