When career consultant Emily Bennington started
researching her upcoming book on women’s career
success, Who Says It’s A Man’s World: The Girls
Guide To Corporate Domination, she came across
an interesting theme: If the choice is between being
respected and being liked, it’s better to err on the
side of respect. “Your reputation is everything,” Jan
Fields, a 35-year business veteran and the former
president of McDonald’s, told her.
Bennington says corporate reputations are typically
formed from a series of successive questions: Who
is she? Do I like her? Is she capable? And can she
lead a team? “When you have respect, you have
the ability to make people galvanize around an
idea,” she says.
However, while performance may help drive a
positive professional reputation, Bennington says
it’s the small day-to-day mistakes that undermine
it. She outlines the most common (and gender-
neutral) ways people “royally screw up their
“People make excuses in part because they see
themselves as un-empowered,” says Bennington.
For example: But no one told me… or I couldn’t do it
because I didn’t have the file. She calls people who
make excuses “work victims” because they don’t
take responsibility for their success. “If you don’t
have answers, ask questions,” she counsels.
Otherwise, you spend so much time stewing over
what you don’t have that you end up wasting time
that could be spent finding the resources you need.
After all, “part of being great is being resourceful,”
An easy way to lose respect is to be that person
who’s always late and needs reminders about
upcoming deadlines, says Bennington. One of the
best (and easiest) ways to project composure and
control is to turn in assignments unprompted and
on time. So why do people screw up such a basic
reputation-builder? “Their perception is off,” says
Bennington. When a worker perceives their
circumstances as stacked against them, they react
in ways that reinforce that perception rather than
owning their own actions.
Don’t Prepare For Meetings
Meetings are the primary way people outside your
immediate team are exposed to your demeanor
and work. Yet Bennington says too often people
prep for meetings at the last minute, making them
appear disorganized and, well, less-than-brilliant.
Part of it may stem from fear. “I had a Monday
morning staff meeting with my boss, which I was
constantly angsty about,” says Bennington. She
would go into the meeting feeling constricted and
expecting to fail. However, over-preparing for
meetings not only helps you feel more comfortable,
it makes you look better.
Be Too Tit-For-Tat
Bennington recalls one salaried sales
representative who considered any work past 5
p.m. overtime that the company should make up
for. Once, the rep planned to take a two-hour flight
to a regional sales meeting, which would end her
workday at 7 p.m. To compensate, she asked her
boss if she could come in to work two hours late the
next morning. “Not only did her manager flatly
deny her request to come in late, but in that
instance any leadership equity she had built with
him was damaged,” says Bennington. She
recommends taking a more holistic view of your
work and what’s best for the team.
Bennington says many workers make the mistake
of thinking not responding to an email means they
have said “no” or communicated that they’re
unavailable. Instead, it makes coworkers wonder if
you received the message at all, if you’re waiting to
make a decision or if you’re just avoiding them.
“It’s rude,” she says. Even if the answer isn’t what
they want to hear, she recommends showing the
other person the respect of responding.
Make Self-Deprecating Jokes
While appropriate humor can help facilitate
relationships and make you more successful at
work, frequently making yourself the butt of a joke
can do two things: First, you may gain the
reputation of the office clown, meaning not a
serious person and a distraction to serious work.
Second, you affirm your faults in the eyes of others,
showing that you don’t respect yourself. It’s one
thing to know how to take a joke and another thing
to make yourself a joke, says Bennington.
Underestimate The Details
Don’t forget the small stuff because lots of little
mistakes add up over time. “You build your
personal brand through everything you do, whether
big actions or small decisions,” former McDonald’s
executive Jan Fields told Bennington. “That brand
will stay with you throughout your career.”
Bennington says sometimes workers become so
focused on future goals and advancement that they
don’t put enough time and effort into their current
job. “Worry about the work in front of you, and do it
extremely well,” she advises. “Manage experiences
with colleagues and clients moment by moment.”..