If you needed to select an attorney, a new CPA, a different supplier, or perhaps a new janitorial service for your office, how would you go about evaluating possible candidates? Looking through phone books or online listings would not be very helpful, since they provide only limited information. So we might consult with friends and trusted associates, taking the “satisfied customer” approach. Or we could get a report from the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been registered against persons or companies we are considering.
Often in hiring new employees we employ a similar strategy: We contact references they provide to ask their opinions, or call previous employers to ask for information – to the extent the law permits. Whether looking for new services or to hire new staff, we want to know what kind of reputation they have.
But is reputation always a true indicator of what we can expect? We all have heard about business and professional leaders, along with elected officials, who once had flawless reputations only to have them destroyed when secrets of moral or ethical failures were revealed. Why is this?
Recently I heard someone make an important distinction. He said, “Character is who you really are. Reputation is who people think you are.” In other words, what you see externally is not always what you get. For instance, I can think of public speakers I appreciated, imagining how enjoyable it would be to have them as friends. On several occasions, however, I discovered that although those individuals were excellent in speaking publicly, privately their personalities and behavior were very different.
In the workplace, this distinction between character and reputation is important. In marketing, image is emphasized. Sometimes we refer to it as the “brand.” The goal is to convince consumers, customers and clients we are who we want them to think we are. Unfortunately, sometimes people wear masks, disguising themselves and concealing what they truly are inside.
There might be valid reasons for this: shame, embarrassment, feelings of not being “good enough.” But if our “masks” are deliberate attempts to deceive, the problem is serious – and usually the truth becomes evident over time. Good character almost always results in a good reputation, but a good reputation does not always ensure good character, individually or corporately. Consider what the Bible says:
Be wary of outward appearances. We tend to judge people according to perceptions – what we see and hear. What we perceive, however, can be inaccurate. In 1 Samuel 16:7 we’re told, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Proverbs 16:3 adds, “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.”
Guard your own motivations. We can be guilty ourselves of attempting to deceive, misrepresenting who we are. But if we are to be people of integrity, that includes being honest about the image we project. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
The ideal individual has a good reputation – built on a foundation of good character. The apostle John described such a person. “Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself” (3 John 12).
Robert J. Tamasy is vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. A veteran journalist, he has written Tufting Legacies (iUniverse); Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace (River City Press); and has coauthored with David A. Stoddard, The Heart of Mentoring (NavPress). For more information, see www.leaderslegacy.com or his blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.comand www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com.
1. When trying to find someone to perform specific services, such as legal work or consulting, how important to you is the reputation of the individual or company in the selection process?
2. Do you agree with the assertion that reputation and character can be very different things? Why or why not?
3. Have you ever had the experience of discovering that what you had initially perceived about someone was very inaccurate, once you had an opportunity to truly get to know the person? Explain what that experience was like for you.
4. What practical steps might you take to ensure not only that the people you hire have the right character you are looking for, but also that when people decide to work with you, that you also have the kind of character they expected you to have?
NOTE: If you have a Bible and would like to review additional passages that relate to this topic, consider the following verses:
Proverbs 16:5,7,9, 17:3, 20:9,27, 21:2, 22:11; Matthew 5:8, 12:34-37; Mark 7:1-7