Practical Philosophy

Great people design their reputations

Julius Caesar was known for the dramatic. Crossing the Rubicon was a symbolic act of “no going back”. Later, he would wear red at parades, like Mars. He would host gladiatorial games to rouse the people. He would ride Cleopatra through the streets of Rome. One thing could be certain: Julius Caesar made it a reputation to put on a show.

In The 48 Laws of Power, author Robert Greene points out that great people deliberately choose their reputations. They pick a strength, and focus on building as much attention to it as possible. With enough attention, their strength becomes a reputation.

Genghis Khan deliberately built a reputation as a merciless conqueror. Any cities that rebelled against the Mongols were massacred – in some cases including the women, children, and even pets. The result was that neighbouring cities would immediately surrender out of fear of repurcutions.

Winston Churchill developed a reputation of being a dramatic orator. This carried weight, and made his words carry a kind of magical weight to them. Listening to any of Churchill’s speeches today still carries this magic – and partly because of his reputation.

Society is based on appearances, and because most people act the same way, most people get lost in the crowd. To get noticed, you have to make an effort. And the best way of doing this is to develop a reputation for something you are great at.

According to Robert Greene, the early parts of our career should be devoted on building this reputation: to get as much attention as possibler to our key strength. That could be communicating, or negotiating, or working hard, or leadership, etc.

And interestingly, this is the same recommendation as put forward in the career development book The Squiggly Career. In this, the authors first task readers with choosing several strength to develop into “super strengths”; strengths they want to build reputations out of.

If we don’t build our own reputation, then other people will. What do people talk about us when we step outside of the room? Who knows. An insightful exercise is to ask other people what they think your main strengths are. I did this with my ex-boss and colleagues, and had unexpected results.

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