As far as this is concerned, there are two types of people: those that carefully tend to the image they portray toward others and those that do not. I have always thought of myself as the type of person who doesn’t care about what others think about me. More recently, I’ve learned otherwise. I do care. I just won’t stop doing the right thing, or feel bad about myself, because others don’t believe in my decisions or because in doing the right thing, someone else doesn’t like it. I do alter my behaviors based on feedback, though, which means I care. Leaders understand this. Influencers get it. Salespeople get it.
1. Beware of the power of empathy. Empathy is one of the most powerful Leadership tools a person can attain. Being able to see the world through someone else’s perspective is indeed a powerful thing. The thing that people forget is that if you really work to be an empathetic person, it takes time. The more time you put into being empathetic, the more you may be swayed to forget that you are doing it to understand the other person, not necessarily to agree with them. Once you agree without consciously deciding to do so you lose your own perspective. In doing so, people watching you, including the person you are empathizing with, may become uncomfortable with your decisions and actions. Going further, when empathy turns to sympathy, you are at the extreme and may have a difficult time managing who you are in the eyes of others. This pitfall is all about over-empathizing with people at the expense of having a true perspective of the world around you.
2. Without authenticity, relationships are built on shoddy foundations. A person should be real about one’s self before trying to be real with anyone else. We’ve got to stop and know truly how we feel about situations and people—and why we feel that way—before we can honestly share with others. And, when we do share with others, what do we share? Our sincere beliefs and feelings. Authenticity truly let’s others respect and like us exactly for who we are. How can I truly expect others to follow me through the thickest of issues if they do not know who I am and what I stand for as we encounter hard situations? People know us by what we reveal (or don’t reveal) to them. Our reputation is built on our own choices then and the pitfall here is building relationships on less than authentic foundations.
3. Know your relationships. Because I am authentic, I tend to treat people I consider friends as I would any of my friends. With my work, I tend to be very professional and people I know through work tend to receive the appropriately filtered, professional version of me. There are some who see both. I have work relationships that have blossomed into true friendships, so those people will see the professional side when it is appropriate and the silly, engaging side when it is appropriate. I have made the mistake of misreading a work relationship or two in my career. This mistake can be costly. Fortunately for me, it never has been, but I’ve seen it cost others a lot. By believing that you can drop major professional-level filters, even in “off the clock” situations, you run the risk of losing control of your image. Be careful of this pitfall because it affects trust, loyalty and commitment.
4. When your intentions are misunderstood. Situations where outcomes and results are much different than you intended happen to everyone. It’s especially tough when the outcome you don’t like is about your reputation or character. If someone believes that you are someone you are not, it can hurt—especially if you care about how people see you. First, realize that if you are victim to this pitfall, you did make a mistake along the way. You allowed, through your actions and decisions (or inactions and indecision) for this situation to form. Take accountability for this part. Next, know that fixing this may take some time. It is important, however, if you cannot avoid this pitfall, to take decisive actions to start the process of repair. First, make a statement admitting your mistake, your part in letting this occur, and apologize for it. Then, make a clear declaration of the person you intend to be to them. Finally, follow up with explicit behaviors that reinforce the image of the person you intend to be to them.
5. Don’t be someone you are not. Don’t be fake. There are many excuses for phonies: it’s easier to tell people what they want to hear; if I said what I believed, people would hold me accountable to that standard; everybody else cuts corners. Understanding yourself and then being yourself makes your life easier in the long run. This pitfall is all about succumbing to the easy way—and having instant gratification or avoidance of discomfort—instead of committing to what would make things easier in the long term.
Our reputation affects the respect level that we see from others, our ability to get things done, what people say about us, and, in many cases, the quality and quantity of problems we have to deal with over time. Take these five lessons and make them work for you.