Building a Great Reputation: a Necessary Component of Success

By Denise Miller Holmes, Director

In the book The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, Greene has a full chapter called, “So Much Depends on Reputation—Guard It with Your Life.”

In that chapter, he uses the example of P.T. Barnum, of Circus fame, and his quest to buy The American Museum in Manhattan. The seller of the museum had another buyer to consider, however. His name was Mr. Peale, and, as it turns out, Peal had a great and winning reputation.

Barnum’s rep. was thin as he was an unknown. With no track record, his reputation paled in comparison to Peale’s. So, the seller decided to give Peale the deal instead of Barnum.

I can’t recommend you do what Barnum did to even the playing field (he started a smear campaign against Peale so he would lose his good reputation), but the story illustrates the power of and the need for a good reputation, and, therefore, the value of building one.

Here are some ways that I found in my research and experience to gain a solidly good reputation:

One thing I learned early on is to get your audience’s (or customers’, or boss’s) trust.  With that in mind, the axiom “under-promise and over-deliver” (UPOD) is gold. 

For instance, I used the UPOD axiom when naming this newsletter. I could have called it the “Laugh Your Butt Off” Newsletter, but I could not guarantee that this would be a laugh-a-minute newsletter for everyone who read it. Instead, I only promised a smile. I was sure I could do that—make you smile.

Now and then, you’ll run into something here that will make you laugh, that’s the “over-deliver” perk. But, most of the time, you’ll simply smile.

2. Excellence
There is a lot of shoddy work out there. Be the one who refuses to follow Boeing’s lead. Instead, be the one who does his work well, even great, and you’ll stand out from the crowd.

Too few companies, artisans, entrepreneurs, and leaders are desirous of Excellence. Most believe that good is good enough.

According to Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, people tend to stop improving once they become good at something. Being good feels great because you’re making money, you have a good enough reputation, etc. There are many of your competitors that have good performance, but few are excellent. Collins challenges all of us to go beyond merely good.

Aim, instead, for GREAT.

Achievement of good-to-great does not come quickly, but, instead, requires a commitment to consistent improvement in your processes, customer relations, product performance, etc. This helps you go from average, to good, to great. It’s the commitment to improvement that gets companies to great and helps them stay there.

According to Collins, that excellence doesn’t just happen by luck. “Greatness
. . . is largely a matter of conscious choice.” This means that you’re going to have to try to be excellent; in fact, you may have to try very hard.

Darn it. We keep running into the “it isn’t easy” mantra, don’t we? [heavy sigh]

3. Consistency
Whatever excellence you develop, performing excellently consistently is key to building a powerful reputation. If you are hit-or-miss, you will find you break people’s trust. So, whatever you do, work to have high performance as the standard. People can’t refer people to you or use your idea, product, or service if your performance is not reliable.

A good example of letting people down is the disaster that befell Boeing. I mentioned the airplane manufacturer earlier in this article, and it is now a storied company for turning from a culture of quality, to a culture of shoddy workmanship and profits first.

Up until the recent deadly crashes, Boeing had a reputation for safety that couldn’t be rivaled. This reputation was solid for almost a hundred years. But a big change toward profit-first resulted in poor quality which then caused two disastrous crashes, which further caused their good reputation to melt almost instantly.

Boeing’s story demonstrates two big things: 1) never stop caring about excellence (and the customer experience) and 2) you must be consistent or you’ll have to fix and rebuild your reputation. And, as in the case of Boeing, it may never come back the way it was.

Be consistent.

Further Reading and Other Helps
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Green. If you’re reading this for yourself, please take it with a grain of salt. It has some good suggestions and some evil ones. However, because of its glimpse into evil, it makes a great book to figure out what our politicians are doing and even what others are doing to you. It is also a great source of stories that explain what villains do, and therefore if you are a writer, you can use it as a source to pull from to design villains and their evil deeds in your juicy novel.

Build Your Reputation: Grow Your Personal Brand for Career and Business, by Rob Brown. I’m currently reading this one. It’s what inspired this article.

If you’re being smeared: Go to Amazon and search for “crisis management,” or “crisis communication.” If there is a campaign against you online, try the website

Understand that I’m not legally responsible for negative things that may happen to you as a result of looking into these helps. I’m merely giving you information for you to use at your own discretion.

Happy achieving!

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