Character vs. Reputation

Far too often, in all areas of life, I see people making the mistake of confusing the two as the same thing. Some may ask, what is the difference between character and reputation? I believe the great coach John Wooden differentiated between them best, when he said: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

Most hiring decisions are weighted more on a person’s reputation than on their character. One reason for this is that it is much more difficult to assess ones character than it is to assess their reputation. Another reason is that it is much easier to cover your ass if things go wrong with a hire/hiring if you can point to their “fine” reputation coming in.

This same skewed logic applies when it comes to acquiring players in college and professional sports. If a coach brings in a highly regarded player and he does not pan out, it is usually looked on as a fluke and quickly forgiven. But if a coach brings in a player no one wanted and he fails, that coach will fall under pressure for not bringing in the right players. While I believe both coaches would be deserving of scrutiny, I would argue that the coach who brought in the top flight player deserves more pressure for under performance than the coach who started with a player without a high rating coming in.

We live in a society where short-term thinking has become predominate. Most people opt for the quick or easy fix. I don’t subscribe to laziness as an answer to any problem and believe it is the quickest path to mediocrity. Although taking the time and putting in the effort to evaluate someone’s character is not easy, I believe the upfront investment in doing so will generally pay off handsomely. It’s true that character often takes longer to show up in results, but once it does you can usually count on it lasting.

I live in a town that has a couple of major universities who in the past made the mistake of hiring head coaches for their most high profile sports program’s partly because each of the coaches had a reputation for being “great” recruiters. Both of these coaches had known character issues which were overlooked when they were hired and both, not surprisingly, failed miserably. The irony is that they took over programs which such storied pasts that a monkey could have put an ad on Craig’s list for top players and each program would have still gotten a top recruiting class.

I remember when an unknown guy named Chip Kelly was hired as the offensive coordinator at the University of Oregon. Most of their fans were outraged that they got some no-name guy from New Hampshire, and not one of the bigger names speculated about in the press. The very first time I met him I was blown away and I knew they had something special – he was clearly a man of character.

Kelly was not known for recruiting when he arrived at Oregon, but he immediately was in on the top players in the country who had ignored Oregon in the past once he got there. Now seven years later he’s head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and turned them into a play-off team in his first season as head coach. Apparently it is true that it only takes seven years to become an overnight sensation. The bottom line is he was a great coach at New Hampshire for many years before he accepted a job at a higher profile place. I suspect a lot of teams would be better off hiring unknown highly successful or innovative coaches from high school’s or smaller colleges than the same recycled names we see them hire year after year.

Character alone is not enough to assure success, but if you want stability in your organization that provides opportunity for growth, you need to start with people of good character.

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