Build character, guard reputation

Many years ago, I played the role of Cassio in the Shakespeare play, Othello.

My performance was fair but I was outshone by some brilliant actors.

Cassio was the faithful lieutenant of Othello but loses his position after a drunken brawl.

He is left worrying about the loss of his reputation, which is tied up in his military service and his public behaviour.

Cassio feels that without his reputation as an upstanding soldier, he’s nothing more than a “beast”. He cries out: “Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.”

How important is your reputation? Or the reputation of the organisation you represent? Or the ideal you stand for?

These past few months have seen the reputation of sports stars, politicians, high profile people and others, all come under attack in this area.

The problem is that trying to regain lost ground takes up masses of time, emotional focus and money.

Consider these three quotes on reputation:

“A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was,” said writer Joseph Hall.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently,” said American businessman Warren Buffett.

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing,” said American statesman Abraham Lincoln.

So if reputation is the shadow, and character is the real thing, what is character?

On its face, “character” is a morally neutral term. Every person, from well-known scoundrels to saints, have a character. We use the term character to describe a person’s most prominent attributes; it is the sum total of the features and traits that form an individuals’ nature.

When we say someone has good character we are expressing the opinion that his or her nature is defined by worthy traits like integrity, courage and compassion. People of good character are guided by ethical principles even when it’s detrimental to their careers, social standing or economic well-being.

They do the right thing even when they stand to lose substantially. No one is born with good character; it’s not a hereditary trait. And it isn’t determined by a single noble act.

Remember that character is developed over time. Every day, your character is being tested by the tough choices life brings you. It’s tested when you’re placed under pressure.

Depending on the choices you make, your character is either being built or broken. Wise choices build; unwise ones break.

Character always reveals itself. Your character is defined by who you are at your core. It’s easy to put up a front and to wear a mask, but in the long run, who you really are is always revealed.

If you have a poor character, sooner or later, it’ll show.

Conversely, if you have a strong character, people may not notice it at first, but sooner or later, it’ll show.

Here are seven focus areas to build strong character and a consistent reputation:

Honour your commitments

If you have committed to delivering a product or service to a client, then accept no excuses from yourself in delivering on that contract. That commitment can imbed your reliability and consistency.

Own your mistakes

Choose to be high in responsibility and own up to your mistakes. People will respect you.

Never try to lift yourself up by bringing someone else down

“Isn’t it kind of silly to think that tearing someone else down builds you up?” asks author Sean Covey.

Resist taking shortcuts

Remember the adage “under promise and over deliver” and commit to living out this value.

Don’t gossip

Former American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, said: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” If one does speak, focus on ideas.

Never break confidentiality

Confidentiality is a prime example of integrity in the workplace.

Employers have an obligation to keep certain information private.

Violation of privacy policies could lead to fines, penalties and possible lawsuits. Confidentiality instils trust and encourages sincere consideration of the privacy of others.

Tell the truth

Honesty is an optimal example of integrity in the workplace.

Honesty encourages open communication between employers, employees and co-workers. It leads to effective relationships in an organisation.

When workers are honest about the various aspects of their jobs that need improvement, employers can take action and help.

Telling the truth is the very best palliative for a stressful entrepreneurial life.

Finally, Peter Drucker says the only event that is inevitable in leadership is the “unexpected crisis”.

Only when you encounter a setback, an obstacle, a difficulty, or the inevitable crisis, do you demonstrate the kind of person you really are. It is not what you say, wish, hope, or intend that reveals your character. It is only your actions, especially your actions in the face of adversity and possible setbacks or losses.

The City of Cape Town has launched its #YouthStartCT competition and is calling for entries. The #YouthStartCT Challenge serves as an accelerator programme for start-up entrepreneurs aged from 18 to 35. The main aim of the competition is to contribute to business skills development, innovation and the growth of entrepreneurs.

You can read more about it here

Steve Reid is the manager of the Centre for Entrepreneurship at False Bay College. Email or visit for more about the CFE.