If attitude reflects the intangible choices that you make regarding people and situations, behavior reflects the tangible choices you make which influence your reputation.
Behavior is easier to define than attitude, as we can see behavior more readily. While you can see some aspects of attitude (i.e., a smile on an optimistic colleague or a look of exasperation by a negative co-worker), behavior is where the “rubber hits the road.”
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Attitude is one of those human characteristics that is very hard to describe.
You don’t think a lot about the definition of attitude until you are asked to share an opinion regarding a colleague. As you think about your colleague, one of the defining characteristics on which you will reflect is his attitude. It is very common to hear something similar to one of the following statements when you are thinking about one of your colleagues:
“I love Carol! She has a great attitude and always gets her work done with a smile.”
“David? Ugh. That guy has such a bad attitude. I stay away from him as much as I can.”
“Mark is a real go-to guy. I can really depend on him to deliver.”
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I have observed that reputations are influenced by four areas – articulation, attitude, behavior, and production. First, a look at articulation.
When it comes to your reputation, your colleagues are going to think what they want to think and say what they want to say. Since the reputation you have exists in the thoughts and words of your colleagues (especially when you are not present), the focus of your time and energy is to influence those thoughts and words.
The first step to identifying the reputation you want to have starts with your ability to articulate it. You can’t expect others to think and speak about you in the ways that you want them to think and speak about you, if you can’t describe your reputation yourself. It would be like driving from New York City to San Francisco without knowing how to get there. Who knows where you will end up?
If you want people to think about you and describe you in a certain way when you are not present, you need to be the first one to articulate your reputation the way you would want others to articulate it.
When was the last time you took a few moments to think about the reputation you want to have? How do you know if the choices you are making support the reputation you want to have? If you are like the majority of the busy business professionals with whom I work, you have never spent time seriously thinking about the reputation you want to have. You have never spent time considering the importance of influencing the thoughts and words of your colleagues when they speak about you when you are not present. No doubt you have expected that your “nose-to-the-grindstone” work ethic would ensure rapturous thoughts and words about you after you had left the room.
Your reputation is built on a never ending series of choices that you make, every minute of every day. And in today’s transparent and frenetic organizations, your choices are seen by more of your colleagues, and faster, than ever before.
Today’s ever-changing organizations demand that you be in charge of your reputation. Every Facebook post you choose to generate, sound bite you choose to create, and decision you choose to make will potentially be seen or heard by thousands of colleagues in your organization and industry. Your choices are your reputation. In my work with my clients and during my career, I have observed that reputations are influenced by four areas – articulation, attitude, behavior, and production.
There are certainly things you cannot choose. You can’t choose not to get multiple sclerosis. You can’t choose to win a million dollars in a lottery. You can’t choose someone to love you. However, if you were to list all of the experiences in your life and weigh each of them equally, you would find over 98% of your experiences result from a choice you made.
At first, you probably don’t feel that 98% of your activities were the result of a choice. This is because you do not realize how many choices you make every day, but by the time you have left your home each morning, you are a choice-making machine.
You make so many choices, you may not even realize that some things that you did today were a choice. Or you may believe that a decision you made today was not up to you. Many of my clients find themselves in a state commonly called “victim mode.” They believe that the outcome to a situation in which they had a voice was not up to them. When you are in “victim mode,” you abdicate your ability to make a choice. Whatever the reason, you believe that you did not have a choice when, in fact, you did.
The nexus of the growth in the ways that you can share information about yourself and the number of opinions that can be developed about you is exploding. While you are working your life away in Dubuque, Iowa, a colleague from another city is reading a blog you wrote. While you are snoring away in Jakarta, India, someone in another time zone is taking a peek at your Facebook page. While you’re stuck in another late night meeting in Paris, France, wondering, “What am I doing here?” a recruiter is starting his day by reading your LinkedIn profile.
Unless you are Superman or Superwoman, you cannot be everywhere at once. In your absence, at some point during the day, someone is thinking and speaking about you. Perhaps you finished a presentation and a few of your colleagues stayed behind to chat about next steps. In the midst of that conversation, comments about you surfaced. Perhaps a group of senior executives is discussing candidates to fill a key vacancy in the organization and you are one of those candidates. Perhaps you are on your way to get a cup of coffee and you hear colleagues speaking about you in a conference room. This “echo” of you that exists in the thoughts and words of your colleagues is your reputation.
You may be wondering, “Can I choose my reputation or is my reputation chosen for me by others?” More on that soon.
Imagine a situation where you are attempting to be a “work-in-progress” in an environment that is always changing. It’s like learning to play golf in the midst of a hurricane. Learning to play golf is hard, even on a beautiful day. Surviving a hurricane is hard, even with tremendous preparation. Mesh golf lessons (always being in “beta”) and a hurricane (your fast-changing environment) together and chaos will reign.
At the same time, the proliferation of professional transparency is creating new ways for individuals to develop an opinion about you. You can now share information about yourself in endless ways (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogging), most of which do not even require you to be physically present. Individuals that you have never met, and may never meet, can find information about you faster than the time it took you to read this sentence.
Additionally, the nexus of the growth in the ways that you can share information about yourself and the number of opinions that can be developed about you is exploding. More about that to come!
While the importance of a good reputation is not new, the environment in which you are working to build a good reputation is. Twenty years ago, your reputation as a business professional was confined to the experiences of individuals with whom you interacted within your organization or shared experiences with at industry meetings. The relationships with your colleagues were as stable as your work environment – these were the same folks you had been working with or had known for years. Perhaps your reputation expanded outside of your cloistered circle of colleagues when you spoke at national industry events or published an article or research paper. Beyond that, few individuals knew who you were, let alone had an opinion about your reputation.
Today, chaos and change rule the day. The frequency and pace of change defines the “new normal” in corporations around the globe. Your ability to build strong relationships over time is becoming harder. The individuals with whom you worked yesterday are gone today. Lines of responsibility are blurring. The number of new people with whom you come in contact both physically and virtually is growing weekly.
At the same time, you are changing faster than ever. In their book, The Start-Up of You, authors Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha suggest that you need to always be in “beta” mode in order to survive and succeed in today’s fast-paced and frenetic corporate environments. They encourage you to “think of yourself as a work-in-progress” and “invest in yourself every single day.” These never-ending and fast-paced changes define the professional environments you find yourself in today. However, always being in “beta” creates its own set of challenges. Recurring ways in which you change in the midst of fast-changing environments can create risk to your reputation.