Your Reputation Precedes You

I think I’ve written before about the fact that I attended a Military High School. It would be a bit of an understatement (okay, a huge understatement) to say that they took their discipline very seriously there. When a student messed up they paid a hefty price. Discipline came quickly and it was, at least in my opinion, often disproportionate when compared to the offense. 

 

But it worked. 

 

In my Freshman and Sophomore years I decided to “test” the system. Though the rules were very clear regarding attendance I decided to skip a class or two, well maybe three, here and there. I was caught every time and the punishment grew with each infraction. After my third attempt to beat the system I found myself in detention everyday after school for a month. 

 

I found a better way to beat the system in my Sophomore year but sadly, it wasn’t really good enough to get away with it. I fought the law and the law won. Once again I spent the last month of the school year in detention everyday after classes had ended.

 

By my Junior year I had learned my lesson. I was promoted to officer which was considered a big accomplishment for a Junior and I didn’t even consider skipping a class.

 

So imagine my surprise when I was called to the Principal’s office with about a month left in the school year and told I was being given detention for the rest of the semester. I protested and was told they “knew” I was skipping classes but had obviously finally figured out a way to get away with it. 

 

I was offered “amnesty” if I spilled the beans on how to get past their vaunted attendance process. Since I wasn’t skipping classes and hadn’t figured out how to beat the system I couldn’t  “accept” the amnesty. 

 

So off to detention I went. The good news is that since I was the only officer in detention I was now in charge of the other cadets in detention. Since I was wrongly accused and darn unhappy about it those poor souls probably had the worst time in detention in the history of detention. To be sure it wasn’t as brutal as flying on United Airlines but it was pretty rough. Such is life at a military school. 

 

That was the year when I learned about the concept of “your reputation precedes you.” 

 

In the business world you are what people think you are. Now I wouldn’t advise stressing over that too much but you do need to realize that it impacts how people perceive you. Their perception of you will change how you’re treated, whether or not you’re trusted, and whether or not you’re considered for advancement.

 

Now here’s the hard part that you may not like to hear; you earn your reputation. Even if you’re certain they are wrong about you that misperception likely came from somewhere. You can’t simply dismiss it without considering if there is any hint of truth to it. 

 

While it may not have been easy for me to accept at the time people thought I skipped classes because I was known to skip classes. The fact that I wasn’t skipping classes didn’t change the fact that I had. I earned that reputation. 


You’re creating history everyday…it’s your history. It’s also your responsibility to make it a history that you can be proud of. Never blame others for what they think of you without considering your role in creating that perception. 

 

By the way, despite perfect attendance in my Senior year I spent my final month of High School in detention after school. Once again I was in charge of the younger and lower ranking cadets. This time however I tried to help the cadets understand the benefits of conforming to requirements. I helped them grow, I probably didn’t do a very good job of it but I tried to help them become leaders. 


It was part of my effort to change some perceptions about me and it also happened to be the right thing to do. 

Your Reputation Precedes You

I try not to prejudge people. I do my best not to listen to gossip about people and I really, really try not to form an opinion about someone based on somebody else’s experience with the person. 

I absolutely hate it when someone else forms an opinion about me based on something they “heard” from somebody else. They have never met me but they think they know me. I’d be willing to bet that you don’t like that either. 

Yet it happens every day. It happens because like it or not, your reputation precedes you. 

Everything you do, everything you say, every commitment you keep and every one you don’t, they all count. They all matter! They all build up or tear down your reputation. 

That might not be fair, it might not be right, but that’s the way it is. That’s good news for some people and terrible news for others.

You have a credibility bank, it’s an incredibly valuable asset yet many people seldom even think about checking their bank statement. Every time you do what you say you will you make a small deposit into your credibility bank. Every time you fail to keep a commitment you make a very large withdrawal from your bank. That might not be fair either but that too is just how it goes.

When you gossip about people you’re actually making a withdrawal from your credibility bank. The surprising thing is that your hurting your reputation with the very person you’re gossiping with. Always keep this interesting fact in mind: the person you’re gossiping with today will likely be gossiping about you tomorrow. 

When your reputation includes being a gossip then your credibility bank takes a big hit. 

Sometimes we hate saying no so much that we say yes to doing something that we know darn well we either won’t or can’t do. That hurts your credibility. You can have no finer reputation than that of a person whose word is known as gold. When you say you’re going to do something then do it or say no right up front. A courageous no will beat a meek and insincere yes every time.

You can’t control whether or not people talk about you behind your back. You also can’t control what they say so don’t waste a lot of time worrying about it. Instead work to build a strong reputation and know that your efforts will result in a credibility bank loaded with positive examples of you being a person known as a trusted resource who can be counted on no matter what! 

That’s the kind of reputation that you want to precede you!