Second Hand Opinions

I’ve heard a lot of things about a lot of people that weren’t exactly true. I’ve heard even more things about myself that weren’t at all true. 

People like to talk and an absence of facts is no reason to keep most people from talking. Some people just don’t hit it off. Something about a person turns them off and then they share that “fact” with someone else and it takes off from there. 

That’s why it’s important that you don’t use second hand opinions to make your first impressions. Never decide on a person’s character based on the opinions of other people. 

Several years ago a rumor started spreading around my workplace that I had a severe drinking problem. I apparently was pretty much hammered all the time. I heard about it from a few people and mostly laughed. It was easy to ignore because in all the time I had worked there I had maybe started 3 or 4 beers but never finished one. 

My wife and I had quit drinking alcohol many years before when someone very close to us was struggling with drugs and alcohol. Their counselor had recommended to us that we quit as a way of supporting the person and we did. Before you start thinking we made any great sacrifice you should know that at that time I could polish off a case of beer in maybe a few months. We weren’t exactly big drinkers. It was not a big deal to us to quit but it did send a powerful message to the person we were supporting. We still don’t drink today. 

So I wasn’t all that concerned with the rumor; it was so far off base that it was laughable. Except that some people believed it. After all this time and despite vast evidence to the contrary, some people still do. 

I was forced to try and put a stop to it when a senior person in the company “confided” to a customer, who was a long-time friend of mine, that I had a real problem with alcohol. It was somehow less funny when the rumor got out into the wild where it could take on a life of it’s own. 

But even then it’s was only my reputation they were talking about…not my character. I’m far more concerned about my character than my reputation because my character is who I really am, my reputation is only who people think I am. 

That’s why when I talk with one of my mentors I have never asked about what other people may think of me. I do however always ask if they see me living my values because my character is value based. 

How do you form opinions about other people? Do you listen to rumors or do you listen and watch the person for yourself? Do you let other people tell you what to think of someone or do you decide for yourself, based on YOUR experience with that person? 

Second hand opinions are very often inaccurate. If you doubt that I’d encourage you to think about all the things that people “know” about you that just ain’t so. Those people are forming opinions about you with a distorted view of who you are. 

I’ll bet you’re not exactly happy about that. So don’t do the same thing to other people. Withhold any judgment until you have firsthand information. Only then can you make a “self informed” assessment of that person’s true character. 

It’s one of those “do unto others” things. It’s also one of those things that separate an Authentic Leader from someone pretending to be a leader. Don’t pretend, never form your “own” opinion about someone with somebody else’s “facts.”

Are You Too Concerned With Your Reputation?

I played hockey from about the time I could walk up until… well I’d play now if I could find the time and a sheet of ice. I played with a friend from Peewees right through high school. He was quite the character, whenever he would score a goal, even at 12 years old, he would yell bingo. So we called him Bingo.

We still call him Bingo today. Being a “character” tends to stay with you. So does actually having character. But only having character truly defines you. 

Lots of people, I’d say most people, are far more concerned with their reputation than they are their character. That’s a mistake. 

Here’s why.

Have you ever heard it said of someone “their reputation precedes them?” That’s often considered a compliment. Then when you meet them you’re surprised that they are not at all what you expected. It turned out their reputation was more mirage than fact. It’s not that their reputation was wrong, it was simply a representation of “what” people think they do, not “who” they are. 

Remember this, your reputation may precede you but your character is always attached to you. 

Your reputation can be more valuable than money, there’s no question about that. I suppose that’s why people focus so much on their reputation. What they don’t realize is that their reputation is built upon the foundation of their character. 

The words they speak and the actions they take come straight out of their character. Reputation is who people think you are, character is who you really are. You may be able to hide behind a good reputation for a while but your true character will eventually show itself.

People of good character have no need to hide any part of their life. They take care of their character and their reputation takes care of itself. Your character is reflective of the core values you hold. 

Character is within you. It is even more important than other factors like race, religion, age, and personality in determining how you react during life’s tougher circumstances. Your experiences in life may influence the character traits you have—but it is your character itself that determines how you act.

People can “know” your reputation without really knowing you. Character traits like integrity, courage, honesty, loyalty, and perseverance can only be seen by those who truly want to know you. 

Even people of good character can have a less than stellar reputation because other people’s opinions of you and their biases for you and against you can shape your reputation. That’s how reputations become a mirage, they are often made of opinions. Character is based upon actions.

So which are you more concerned with…your reputation or your character? Focus on the long term by focusing on your character. Your character will eventually build a solid reputation made from facts, not opinions. 

Are you a Trusted Leader?

Emerson said, “Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man. Their character determines the character of the organization.” (today we would say “person” instead of man but the point remains the same) 

 

So how would you answer the following two questions? Are you the person in your organization that Emerson was talking about? If you are then is your integrity always above reproach? By the way, I should probably point out that you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity at any time. Integrity is not a part time job.

     

If your integrity is indeed above reproach then you have the opportunity to lead others, really lead. Maybe before you answer those two questions you should consider a little research: Only 45% of 400 managers in a Carnegie-Mellon survey believed their top management was always truthful; a third distrusted their immediate bosses. Current research says that 85% of employees across all businesses and industries are actually demotivated by their “leader.” 

 

What does that survey have to do with you?  Maybe nothing, but maybe, just maybe, you could consider it a wake-up call. A call telling you that you must be especially diligent in making certain that you live by the high standards that you expect from those who you hope to lead. Perhaps the survey results can serve to remind you that you have to work every day to earn the trust and respect of your people. You should never lose awareness that your people are always watching to see if your words match your actions. 

     

Consider as well this fact: Integrity results in a solid reputation, not just an image! Before you answer the questions above, ask yourself these questions: Are you the same person no matter who you are with? Do you make decisions that are best for others when another choice would benefit you? Are you quick to recognize others for their efforts and contributions to your success? (In writing?) 

     

You see, image is what people think you are, integrity is what, and who, you really are. Asking yourself these three questions can help keep you on track and ensure that your image reflects who you truly are.

     

Here is one reason integrity is so important for a leader: Integrity has high influence value, if you have the ability to influence others than your ability to lead is unlimited. Integrity helps a leader be credible, not just clever. Effective leadership is not based on being clever; it is based on being consistent. No one can fool all of the people of all of the time, insincerity can’t be covered up. Leaders who are sincere don’t have to advertise the fact.

   

Integrity is a hard-won achievement, it takes a long time to establish it with your team and you never fully complete the task. Your team expects four things from you on a consistent basis: honesty, competence, vision and inspiration. Those areas all impact your integrity. 

     

Ask something who knows you well what areas of your life they see as consistent (you do what you say) and what areas they see as inconsistent (you say but don’t always live.) If you don’t like their answer remember, you can change, you can become the leader you want to be, but also remember, you will only become what you are becoming right now.

    

So, now it’s time. Go ahead, answer the two questions in the first paragraph and then do whatever it takes to be certain your answer is always, always, yes.