When I ask lawyers how they plan on building their reputations, the answers that I usually hear range from “do whatever I’m told” to “don’t screw up” to “execute my stellar marketing plan”. Of course, there’s more to it than that.
- The esteem in which you are held
- The respect people have for you
- Your perceived level of trustworthiness
- The admiration that stakeholders have for your character
Having a “good” reputation means knowing what matters to those whose opinions affect your career. It doesn’t just result in referrals and job offers. It’s also about getting bills paid faster, negotiating power and providing a safety net if a crisis strikes. But how can you assess where you stand?
Do you know what your colleagues look for in someone with a “good” reputation? Making assumptions in this regard usually leads people to a cynical view. Instead, have a conversation with a senior partner, your mentor or your sponsor and ask how you are perceived compared to their expectations.
Do you believe constructive feedback? Let’s face it, constructive feedback can sting. It might not be delivered in the nicest way, either, but it’s useful. From my experience, the lawyers whose reputations suffer most are those who scoff when they are provided with a glimpse of how others interpret their behaviour. Whether the feedback comes from an angry client or a frustrated colleague, show enough character to ask how you can do better.
Do you have a superpower and does anyone know about it? Figure out what would earn the admiration of your clients and colleagues. This usually requires creating or doing something tangible, innovative and perhaps surprising. When you share a skill in a way that lifts others up, your esteem also rises along with perceptions of your leadership skills.
Do you communicate openly and consistently? You don’t have to be a politician to let others know what you stand for, but you do have to be political. Choose a few themes that align your unique values, interests and skills with what others expect and admire. Blog, if you can. And follow the ratio of four supportive communication activities for every piece of news or advice that you share. Not lending a helpful like to your colleagues’ LinkedIn posts or tweets makes you seem tone-deaf and untrustworthy (which is not what you want to be know for, I presume).
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start. Reputations take time to build, and because there are so many external factors that change, your reputation needs to be re-examined every few years to ensure that your activities still match expectations.