Do You Have a Reputational Deficiency?

US Paper Currency

Recently I heard someone use the term “reputational deficiency.” Perhaps, unlike me, you’ve heard it before. For me it was a first. And the more I thought about it, the more the term resonated with me. You see reputational deficiency means that someone (e.g. an individual or an organization) has a poor reputation. They’re deficient in this area. They’re lacking character, integrity, and honor. We each have a reputation. The question is, do you have a reputational deficiency?

Growing up, I remember listening to the news at home as I walked from one room to another. For some reason, the word “deficit” stuck in my mind. Most of the time, maybe all the time, the news anchor or reporter was referring to some type of government over-spending at the federal or state level.

My parents explained that a deficit in this context meant that the government was spending more money than they brought in. I thought that was weird. I mean how could you spend money you didn’t have?

At the time, I didn’t have a serious job. But I did earn money by doing odd-jobs for neighbors, washing cars, cutting the grass, raking leaves, and so on. Later, I got a job lifeguarding where I earned minimum wage. I thought I was rich. Still later, while in college, I worked in a machine shop and interned at a German manufacturing company for 2 semesters. I got summer jobs putting up hay, moving furniture, and pruning shrubs. I was never “rich” but I always had a little change in my pockets.

Maybe it was because I’d heard so much about deficits or perhaps it was because my mom was an accountant though she thinks it was due to her frugal Scots-Irish heritage, but regardless of the reason, I was brought up spending less than I made. Not the other way around. I didn’t run a personal deficit. I ran a surplus, an abundance.

That didn’t mean I always had a lot of money. There were months in college when I ate a lot of Ramen noodles and didn’t go out with my friends. I NEVER paid $6 for a cup of coffee. I simply couldn’t afford it like some. And when I could, I didn’t want to. Yes, I splurged on some things in my life but I live below my means. Why would anyone run a deficit? An investment like a school loan or a mortgage? Sure. But personal debt to finance a new car stereo, vacation, or motorcycle? No way.

Just like a financial deficit places limits on you, so does a reputational deficit. And just like a financial deficit, a reputational deficit is something to avoid. Why? Well, it can ruin your relationships, job prospects, impact on communities, and result in many other negative consequences. You don’t want a reputation as a drunk or a liar or a lazy worker. You don’t want a reputation as someone who can’t hold a confidence or be trusted with money or demonstrate integrity when no one’s watching.

And the sobering fact is that you can develop a reputational deficiency in the blink of an eye. One bad decision. One drink too many. One loose word. One ill-advised comment. One conversation you thought wasn’t being recorded. We see it continually. Pastors, business executives, football coaches, parents, spouses, colleagues, college students, military veterans. In the blink of an eye their career is ruined. In the blink of an eye their reputation is shattered. You’ve heard the old saying that it takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and a second to destroy it. It’s true.

Have fun, take calculated risks, live life. But don’t do or say something that you wouldn’t want broadcast to “the world.” More so today than ever, there are no secrets. People know (or they can find out). And quickly. It’s on the news or social media. Even if you knew you could get away with something, why would you? Demonstrate honor and integrity. Do the right thing. Always. No one’s perfect, but be mindful and avoid actions that would create a reputational deficiency. And while you’re at it, take needed actions to avoid a personal financial deficiency as well. You’ll be glad you did.

Think about your reputation this week. Is it solid? At risk? Be on guard so you don’t end up with a reputational deficiency and have a great week.

is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]

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