What’s your reputation? When people see you, what do they think? When they hear your name, what comes to their mind? Whatever the answer is to those questions… that’s your brand.
You may not think you have a brand, but you do.
When you see a McDonald’s, what are your thoughts? McDonald’s has an identity — a reputation. And it’s a reputation that, at this point, is fixed in the minds of hundreds of millions of consumers around the world. This is called a “brand.”
You can think about any company or product — and they all have a “brand,” an identity or reputation that they are trying to emphasize, shape, or change.
Major companies invest millions of dollars to cultivate a compelling and consistent brand. Why? Because a consumer will decide whether to invest money in that company’s products or services, based on how he or she feels about that company.
Companies with a positive reputation have a superior advantage in the marketplace.
As a consumer, you understand this principle. You do business with a company with whom you have a positive connection — a company you appreciate and trust.
Many factors go into your level of trust or appreciation, including your past experience with that company, input from people you know, advertising, and more.
The same is true with people. People have identities and reputations. They have brands. And that means… YOU have a brand.
People will interact with you and think about you, according to your brand.
Your reputation — your brand — is perhaps the single most important factor in determining your success.
Your reputation will govern your relationships and your career. You can either let your reputation rule you, or you can rule your reputation.
Let’s look at three ways we can shape your brand in the best way possible.
Choose your friends wisely
Your reputation and attitude will be deeply influenced by your friends. And those things determine the quality and direction of your life.
There are two popular sayings that speak to this:
- “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
- “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.”
The first quote has been attributed most often to the late motivational speaker and author Jim Rohn, and the latter has been said frequently by wealth guru Dan Pena. But I’ve heard variations of the above from multiple others, so whether the above nuggets of wisdom originated with Rohn and Pena respectively, I cannot say.
Regardless of where the above wisdom originated, these quotes reflect reality. Your friends matter.
Who you choose to associate with on a regular basis has a lot to do with who you are and how you are perceived by others.
Examine your friendships. Are they helping you or hindering you? Are they building you up or tearing you down? Are they moving you forward or holding you back?
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Staying mentally and emotionally healthy requires wisdom and boundaries
I don’t mean to suggest that you should be selfish in your friendships. In fact, you should ask yourself the same questions in terms of how you contribute to their lives. But the truth is that your friendships have a lot to do with where you are in life right now — and whether you’ll get where you want to go.
I’m also not suggesting that you heartlessly dump all your friends and start fresh — unless, that is, your friends are all dangerous or hopelessly toxic.
You can, however, ask which of your friends are adding value to your life and helping you become a better person. You can establish some goals in your life, priorities for your schedule, and appropriate boundaries to keep yourself healthy and on track.
There are nice ways to ease back from negative friendships and transition yourself into social circles that will affirm you personally and move you toward your individual and professional goals.
When I was in college, my two closest friends started to go places and do things that I wasn’t comfortable with and that frankly wasn’t going to help me spiritually, personally, or professionally. So, I cut back on the time I spent with them and invested myself in other activities and in other social circles.
I didn’t renounce my friends, and in fact, we’re still friends today. And one of them has since gotten back on the right track, and he and I are back to being solid and close.
The point is that I recognized I needed to be intentional and proactive in my friendships. My hope is that you will realize this as well.
Guard what you say (and write)
There’s a great saying found over at IdleHearts.com: “A human slips more by his tongue than by his foot.” That’s a piece of wisdom we should not forget.
Look around and you’ll see numerous examples of people who have destroyed relationships, lost jobs, ruined their careers, and decimated their reputations all because of something they said.
I strongly support the freedom of speech and generally oppose censorship. Count me among those who believe that, in a democratic society, people should (as a general rule) allow for open discussion and disagreement — and extend grace, civility, and tolerance to one another when it comes to differences of opinion.
Nevertheless, tone matters. And your word choice matters.
The reality is that there are (and will always be) social and sometimes economic consequences to what we say.
People will evaluate you based on the quantity and quality of your words.
Do you want to be perceived as intelligent and thoughtful? Then listen more and talk less.
Do you want to be thought of as reflective? Then think (and think well) before you speak (or write).
Do you want to be seen as kind? Then be kind in your words.
Do you want to be seen as credible? Then tell the truth. Be honest.
Do you want to be seen as responsible? Then steer clear of finger-pointing, blame-shifting, and making excuses. Be willing to admit when you messed up or fell short.
If you care about your reputation, think before you speak and make sure your words reflect the image and brand you wish to cultivate.
Be a person of substance
The key to establishing a positive brand is to have substance backing it. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree, and reputation is like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
There are a lot of people in our world who are obsessed with their image, but not so much with their character or soul. They want people to think of them in a positive light (and that’s fine), but they don’t always attend to those things which actually shape what people think.
You may be able to temporarily distract people from your flaws with bluff and bravado, but that will only last so long. Eventually, people will start to see the real you. Rather than hide from reality, work on the reality.
What are you doing to improve yourself? What are you doing to address your shortcomings? What are you doing to move forward in your life?
No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall short. But let’s make sure we’re headed in the right direction. We can’t honestly say we’re a “work in progress,” if we’re not actually making progress.
Early in my career, I was very insecure. I was more preoccupied with appearing knowledgeable than actually being knowledgeable.
I remember one meeting where I was asked a question. Rather than admit I didn’t know, I guessed at the answer. Fortunately, my boss was there to correct me.
Actually, it was my boss’s boss.
And I say “fortunately” for the sake of the organization for which I worked and for the person who asked the question. But it wasn’t “fortunate” for me — not in the short term.
It was embarrassing. Frankly, it was humiliating.
The incident not only revealed my utter lack of preparation for the meeting, but it also showed a poor sense of personal responsibility and integrity on my part.
But the incident started me on a turnaround in my career. I began to pursue substance over image. What mattered wasn’t what people thought of me. What mattered is how well I served the people I was supposed to help.
That comes down to substance and character. And that really must be at the center of your brand.
Don’t cultivate a shallow and inauthentic brand. Make it real and live it for real. Be a person of substance — the genuine article.
By being a person of substance, guarding what you say, and wisely choosing your circle of key friends, you can effectively fashion a reputation — a brand — that will help you achieve the life you want.