Protecting Zealously Your Reputation: Risks and Consequences
Felix E. De Jesus
Your reputation is the most powerful leverage you have in business and in life.
We are living in a complex world with new rules and challenges driven frequently by misinformation, half-truths, greed and politics. Operating in such an environment gives way to desperation for many, pushing them to take careless risks and with it compromising their reputations. You should be acutely aware of those facts and challenges to protect yours.
The Building of a Reputation
Building a strong reputation requires a steady, consistent and focus effort. It’s like running a marathon where endurance, not speed – wins the race. Your reputation is primarily an evaluation of your accomplishments, your character and the quality of decisions made through the years. It means being held in high esteem and well regarded by peers in a unique position to judge and have an opinion about you.
When building a reputation, we must also think that perception beats reality, meaning: that what people think is what counts! The opinion of one of the most successful and reputable business executives in the world should focus our attention on this subject: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffet
Elements of Behavior
Every decision we make in life or in business has an element of risk associated with it. Successful professionals at different stages of their careers understand that and manage risk more efficiently.
Taking excessive risks involves basic elements of human behavior like: naiveness, overconfidence and greed – pushing some people to act carelessly.
Naiveness is frequently associated with young professionals at the beginning stages of their careers. Brilliant and talented people – but some deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgement. It’s also well known that young and occasionally seasoned professionals, have the tendency to overestimate their skills, capabilities or intelligence: a phenomenon that psychologists call “optimism bias” and the rest of us call overconfidence.
But greed in business, pushes some people to do outrageous things: driven perhaps by their desires to make a “quick-buck,” or by their desperations to be successful at any cost, or to win the race of getting their careers to the finish line first and fast. Those impulses could be strong! It is for some of them, if you wish, a way to overcompensate for the lack of experience as it relates to the complexities and the issues behind doing busines in a highly competitive environment.
Although extensive research has been done about the human elements of behavior – little attention has been given to the concept of “Scotomas,” the Greek name for “Blind Spots.” A scotoma is a sensory locking out of one’s environment, where we can look at something that others clearly see – and not see it!
In a highly effective management seminar in the 1980s “The Fundamental of Excellence,” I learned from the late Dr. Louis Tice, Co-Founder of The Pacific Institute, about the concept of scotomas and the powerful effect it has in the way we understand facts, evaluate issues and make decisions.
According to Louis Tice: “we don’t necessarily act according to the truth; you and I, act according to the truth as we have come to believe it.” Our experiences, teachings, learnings and indoctrinations through the years, have conditioned our thinking, shaped our believes and our perceptions of life. So, when somebody is trying to change our minds about something, and our conditions don’t match what we’re looking at: we build a scotoma to it and, not see it!
You can have scotomas: to conversations, scotomas to information that people are trying to tell us, and people have scotomas about the information we’re trying to tell them. Marriages break up over scotomas, nations go to war over scotomas, careers are ruing over scotomas.
Although the elements of human behavior are the most common driving forces behind taking excessive risks: scotomas could also inflict extensive damage to reputations, when professionals or business executives alike get involved in the world of politics.
Politics & Reputations
Many professionals don’t realize the value and the importance of their reputations. Rob Brown, the British Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Networking Coaching Academy, and author of Build Your Reputation, makes a simple but powerful statement in his book. “You may not have seen reputation as a career weapon or leadership platform, but trust me – it is!”
Your professional reputation is a critical business asset for you personally, and for the company that you have been entrusted to lead. It is sad to see how some very reputable leaders have ruined their hard-earned reputations by associating themselves publicly to a political cause. We are not talking here about making a monetary contribution to a campaign; we are talking about putting their names and persona directly in the middle of political campaigns.
Some unscrupulous politicians are very clever at working on other people’s scotomas to persuade them to do things on their behalf. We have seen it in the media: how in the 2016 and 2020 political campaigns several CEOs of prestigious corporations and many elite professionals were enticed to get involved.
Political campaigns like to attract these individuals, to take advantage of their names, fames and abilities to influence people, so they can help them disseminate political messages. These individuals were intentionally or perhaps unintentionally, blinded from seeing or assessing the excessive risks they were taking as professionals. They just did not see it!
Others knew the risk that they were taking; but saw a unique opportunity to elevate their professional careers and fortunes driven primarily by greed. But regardless of what would have motivated these individuals to take the risk: they probably didn’t think for a second about their reputations being severely compromised – a decision-making blunder!
We must keep in mind that when taking excessive risk to get a career competitive advantage driven by either overconfidence, greed or politics: if unsuccessful – the reputations of individuals and/or businesses could be severely damaged.
Therefore, when CEOs or respected professionals in many fields get involved in politics – they could severely damage their personal images, the names of their corporations and the brands they represent. Because either members of their customer bases, or the public in general following the political opponent; will forever associate the leaders and the institution they represent, with the candidate they decided to support – even if they haven’t done anything wrong. They need to understand that in the public’s eyes, trust and credibility have been jeopardized and their ability to lead and make decisions would now be forever second-guessed, because of it.
A steep price to pay by professionals for dangerous adventures!
The Difficult Path Back to Glory
When we revisit the words of wisdom of an Icon, Warren Buffet: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it,” we clearly now understand the value and the importance of maintaining our good professional reputations. Because regardless if you already are a successful leader, or an influencer, or a career progression seeker: the difficult path back to glory will once again be, “like running a marathon where endurance, not speed – will win the race.”
Felix E. De Jesus is an Adjunct Professor of Global Management at th Management & Leadership Department of Leon Hess Business School, Monmouth University.