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Reputation Never Sleeps

By Fiona Fenwick

It has been said that the way to learn your true personal brand is to hear what people say about you when you are out of the room. It’s an interesting perspective with not just a little bit of truth to it. So how do you influence what is said behind those closed doors and why should it matter?

Building Brand You

From our most formative years, we are creating our own unique brand – a complex mix of what we are, what we value and what we believe. Our experiences along the way shape us over the course of our learning lives as we strive towards the goals and challenges we set ourselves. Fortunately, the almost universal mistakes (let’s say detours!) of youth become part of the learning process and are unlikely to define us in later life although our relations with social media are making that more of a possibility – but more on that another time.

As Tom Peters and others have said, each of us is responsible for ‘Brand You’, but there are many things in our lives and careers that are outside our control. The one thing that indisputably falls to us is our personal brand. To get ahead you need to stand out but you need to stand out for what matters to you.

When was the last time you described yourself – it may have been an elevator pitch, a network event, an introduction to new team members at work or maybe even over a drink at a party. What did you say? If you were to write it down and look at it again would it be a fair reflection of you, what you do, who you are and where your passion lies? Every interaction we have builds a picture of how the world sees us.

In Public

I go to many functions and I see people putting on their ‘game face’ – they take a deep breath and put on a smile and start to engage. This may not be their favourite past time but they know they need to be there and to be the best they can be as people will be forming opinions – some fairly quickly – which may impact on their reputation.

Now this may seem false to some, but it’s really no different to ditching the comfy sweatpants and a night huddled up with a good book for your glad rags and killer shoes and a night out with friends. We all make an effort when it comes to the public face of Brand You, but some situations will have a more direct impact on your career than others.

Now I like brand names as much as the next girl…

“A Louis Vuitton handbag, for me? Why, thank you!”… However, I believe that what you create for yourself – how the world views and, unfortunately, judges you – comes more from within you than the great bag that you carry. That’s got to be good news for the majority of us who will never carry a LV!


The key is to build an authentic brand for yourself. It’s the only sustainable way to develop a successful reputation. I may want to be as dazzling and charming as (now you must forgive my subjective bias – you can substitute any name you feel appropriate here!) Jackie Onassis or as smart and progressive as Amal Clooney, but I’m not them. However, that does not stop me aspiring to their values and what they have built and projected about themselves for the world to see.

Think of people you know. What would their reputation be if you were to describe it in a few sentences. Is it helping or hindering their career? Would they think the same about you? We are lucky that in most work situations we receive feedback – mainly on our performance versus objectives and targets –  but how many people receive feedback on how they can be the best they can be, and on how to make the most of that reputation where it counts? The lucky ones may have good coaches (and I use the term ‘good’ here wisely as it is a sound investment to look for the right coach) to challenge them and help them understand how the world sees them and what a difference that makes.

As we progress in our career, perhaps to more senior positions, leadership and maybe even governance, our reputation proceeds us. It may help or it may hinder us. It is up to each one of us to understand what we stand for, what matters and why we want the world to see us that way. Now if you’ll forgive me, I’m off to have a quick listen at that closed door…

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