Building A 5-Star Reputation: Your Step-By-Step Guide To Growing Your Most Important Personal and Professional Asset
A poor reputation will make your entire career an uphill struggle. A great reputation, on the other hand, will make it easier to attract clients, earn the respect of your peers, and seize exciting new opportunities. In this article I’ll share the 3-part formula I used to grow my reputation. Plus strategies to make this formula work for you.
The “Impress Your Colleagues” Trap
Many folks who work in health and fitness believe that respect and reputation hinge on two things:
- How much you know.
- How authoritatively you demonstrate what you know.
In other words, if you have a deep understanding of scientific topics like anatomy, biochemistry, biomechanics, physiology, and research methodology—and you can authoritatively demonstrate that knowledge using scientific terminology—respect and reputation are yours.
Yet how well do you think this will go over with Mrs. Jones?
Well, Mrs. Jones, it’s simple. You’re gaining weight because your hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis is dysregulated. While some prefer to take a more somatic approach to treating this, I prefer a psychoendoneuroimmunological one. We’ll eventually work on thermodynamics, gut dysbiosis, and pancreatic response to carbohydrates. For now, though, let’s start with something more cognitive.
(This is an “impress your colleagues”—and quite pretentious—way of saying: “Your hormonal system may be out of balance. However, let’s not rush into eating less, exercising more, reducing carbs, and adding probiotics just yet. Rather, I’d like to start with stress management. Once that’s under control we’ll tackle the rest.”)
Yes, having knowledge is a good and necessary thing, as is being able to share it. However, when you craft a persona based on impressing other professionals—and, make no mistake, the desire to display knowledge is often driven by professional competition, not client service—you risk losing sight of the fact that you’re not in a knowledge-first business but a people-first one.
Remember, our clients aren’t the ones holding us to academic standards in our understanding of shoulder mechanics or carbohydrate metabolism. Our peers are. (Or so we imagine.) We’re afraid—whether consciously or subconsciously—that if we’re caught not knowing something about beta oxidation or tendinosis, we’ll be exposed. This prevents us from focusing on what matters.
Usain Bolt’s Sprint Coach Is An Idiot
Jamaican sprint coach Glen Mills is a guy who hasn’t made this mistake. Mills is the long-time (and beloved) coach of the most successful sprinter of all time, eight-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt.
He’s also the long-time coach of the second fastest 100m and 200m runner of all time, Yohan Blake. And he’s coached athletes to 71 world championships and 33 Olympic medals.
Even with these accomplishments, “knowledge-focused” track and field people sometimes deride Mills on social media and discussion boards as “an idiot” or as someone who “doesn’t know what he’s doing” because he either doesn’t have a deep understanding of, or doesn’t speak well on, a host of academic subjects ranging from the biomechanics of sprinting to the philosophy of coaching.
Let’s see… according to a small group of critics, a guy who’s helped account for 100+ international titles and several world records is, apparently, an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Sheesh, I wish I was that kind of idiot!
One of my favorite quotes fits perfectly here: “No matter how beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” In the case of Glen Mills, whether his strategy is beautiful or not, there’s no questioning his results. And that’s what he continues to focus his energy on.
You’re Not In A “Knowing” Profession
Now, what you know is important.
For example, if coaches don’t understand how potential energy, stored in chemical bonds within our food, can be freed up to help us do work, they’re more likely to be fooled by fad diets and miracle-of-the-month supplements. They’re also more likely to spread false information to clients.
Likewise, functional medicine docs are judged on their knowledge of diagnostics and prescription. Manual therapists on their assessment and treatment knowledge. Trainers on their program design and implementation knowledge. And so on.
At the same time, unless you’re a full-time researcher or professional philosopher, you’re not in a knowing profession; you’re in a doing-stuff-with-people profession.
That means you’re accountable for how you are with people and how often those people get results (as opposed to how much you know, how smart you sound when sharing it, or how elegant your solutions seem on paper).
As the old saying goes, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” This highlights the fact that you need both “knowing” and “caring” to build your reputation, earn respect, and become an elite change maker. Find the right mix of these “hard skills” and “soft skills” and you’ll:
- attract clients more easily,
- enjoy a steady stream of referrals,
- earn the respect of your peers,
- be exposed to new opportunities,
- meet more interesting people, and
- maintain richer and mutually beneficial friendships
If you’re the kind of person who values competency over all else—i.e. Dr. House from the television show House MD is your professional hero—you might wonder Why don’t people just reward professionals who are good at their job and quit worrying about relationships!?!
The answer is: Because they don’t. People want something more than a diagnostic robot. They want competency and care.
When in doubt, remember this: Reputation is a human factor. It’s what other people think of you. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll realize that human factors are more than touchy-feely psycho-babble. Instead, they’re tangible, necessary skills that pay huge career dividends.
How, then, can you build this mix of “hard” and “soft” skills?
Here’s how I’ve done it.
My 3-Part Reputation Formula
Early in my career I didn’t fully appreciate the need for an ironclad reputation. Yet, today, I’m consistently blown away by the benefits of having one.
For example, my weekly Precision Nutrition newsletter reached 1,000,000 people most weeks. Many of these folks I’ve never met. However, because of my reputation, when I encouraged them to do something interesting or helpful or enlightening, they actually did it. Hundreds of thousands of them! All because they trust me and believe in my intentions.
Likewise, on any given week, I’ll get five invitations to give keynote lectures at large events and conferences without any outreach on my part. Think about that! I’m just sitting here working on something totally unrelated and, out of the blue, someone sends me an email a paid chance to get my message out to 500, 750, 1000 people.
When I think back to my early days in this industry—when I had to beg for any opportunity, no matter how small; when I was giving free talks to six people in aerobics studios and small breakout rooms—I feel gratitude for the amazing things that are now simply dropped into my lap.
I also feel a genuine awe for how powerful something as non-quantifiable as “reputation” can really be. While I do think it’s hard to pin down all the factors that help create this kind of professional reputation, I believe my own formula has been made up of these three parts.
Earn A Set Of Unimpeachable Credentials
Perhaps the second-most difficult part of building a lasting reputation is earning credentials. Not just one or two, though. I’m talking about an unimpeachable set of them.
For example, in my career I’ve:
- Won bodybuilding, powerlifting, and track and field championships.
- Earned a PhD in exercise and nutritional biochemistry and taught at universities.
- Published best-selling books and nearly a dozen peer-reviewed research papers.
- Coached thousands of clients and educated thousands of professionals.
- Worked with dozens of elite Olympic and professional organizations.
- Grown a business with tremendous reach, impact, and financial value.
- Advised companies like Apple, Equinox, Nike, and Titleist.
Notice how any one of these, on its own, helps establish credibility. However, put together, the list is even stronger. When faced with it, how could anyone reasonably argue that I’m not a credible professional? And that’s what I mean by unimpeachable credentials.
For a visual, imagine walking up to a poker table and you notice one player with a mountain of chips. Without even watching them play, you’d assume that he or she knew what they were doing when it came to cards.
That’s how I visualize this first part of reputation building. Each accomplishment is a chip I can add to my credibility stack. When I was young, I started out with no chips at all. Actually, I probably owed the house money. But, over the last 25 years, I’ve slowly added chips to the stack. Now I’m the guy at the poker table with a stack that’s hard to beat.
This, of course, is one of the more difficult parts of building a reputation. It takes a long time and a host of achievements. However, like all things hard-won, earning new credentials—not just degrees and certifications, mind you, but tangible accomplishments relevant to your career goals—is worth the effort because it’s so difficult to compete with.
Do Great Work, Celebrate Others’ Great Work Too
There are two benefits to earning credentials. First, the process of earning them provides valuable experiences that, if you’re growth-minded, can help you learn to do great work. Second, they act as a shortcut for others, letting them know that you might be able to do great work.
Notice the important thing here: Actually doing great work.
This is the cornerstone of your reputation: Consistently and reliably doing notable work (and producing great results) in your area of specialty. Absolutely nothing can replace it. No matter your credentials, if you show up and don’t produce, you won’t get hired again.
As mentioned above, earning credentials is the second-most difficult part of building a reputation because consistently doing great work is, for sure, the most difficult part. Largely because, before you get to great, you have to spend time being good, before that, fair, and before that, maybe kinda crappy.
No one starts out being “great,” no matter how eager, “talented,” or committed they are. On the flip side, people can become great, even if they’re not “talented,” simply by putting in the reps and devoting themselves to an ongoing process of mastery—focusing their energy on one thing for a long time, staying disciplined in their daily practice of that thing, avoiding distraction from new things, and using every experience to get better.
No one had great expectations for me when I started out. I was a pencil-necked, introverted kid who could barely communicate with other human beings and was wandering aimlessly down a path of self-destruction. (I write about this in my book, Change Maker).
Yet, after my wake-up call and after receiving some critical mentorship, I took my first steps down a new path of self-mastery, en route to becoming a capable communicator, coach, and business leader.
As a byproduct of that journey, I’ve written (or contributed to) some of the most-read books and articles in the health and fitness industry. I’ve coached (or contributed to the coaching of) hundreds of thousands of clients who’ve achieved phenomenal results. I’ve helped grow one of the biggest businesses in the health and fitness industry and helped advise countless others.
While my credentials are important, the work I just listed is even more important. Equally important has been my secret reputational weapon: I notice when others are doing similar work and proceed to make a big deal out of that too.
Indeed, whenever I see a great piece of work, I take a few minutes and send the person (or team) responsible a short message saying: Wow, I loved the thing you did. You’re awesome! That is all.
Here’s an example of a note I sent to recognize good work.
My friend Molly is the founder of a company doing fantastic work to empower women to be their strongest, most confident selves (Girls Gone Strong). Although I didn’t know her before she released her first product, once she did I found her email address and sent her this note:
Wow, I love this:
<linked to product page>
The product looks awesome.
Really great sales page too.
It’s all beautifully done, thorough, accessible.
I can tell a lot of care and attention went into this.
Since then, I’ve become an advisor to Girls Gone Strong and have enjoyed countless referrals from her business. Even more, Molly and her partner have become great friends, making time to visit us annually and join us for family vacations.
Precision Nutrition co-founder, Phil Caravaggio, and I often talk about “catching people doing something right” instead of just “catching people doing something wrong” (not only in our own business but outside our business too). To this end, we’re constantly on the lookout for great work.
When we find it, we’re quick to send a message saying: Hey! Caught you! You just did something amazing! You’re SO busted! People remember this because it’s so rare and feels so good, especially if it comes from someone whose work they respect.
But I don’t just share my praise privately. I also share it publicly on social media, through email broadcasts, and at in-person events.
This improves my reputation in two ways. First, the person being praised feels grateful that I both recognized their work in private and was willing to share it publicly with my community, the people that trust me. Second, the people in my community recognize that I have good taste and high standards, that I’m a curator of great things. This increases my reputation, leading to more affinity and trust.
It’s for this same reason I never recommend low-quality products or services, even if a friend asks me to. I’d be doing a disservice to the people who know, like, and trust me. I’d diminish my reputation. The person who created the thing would never be challenged to do better or improve their craft. And the entire industry would be that much less professional.
Show Up As A Respectful, Trustworthy, And Consistent Human Being
If earning unimpeachable credentials helps you meet the hosts of a dinner party, and doing great work gets you invited to their party, this last step is what earns you an invite to their next one. That’s because everyone wants to collaborate with professionals who are credentialed, who do great work, and who are fun to do it with.
Now, that doesn’t mean non-stop practical jokes and silliness. But it does mean respectful, trustworthy, down-to-earth human interaction.
For example: I don’t offer private coaching or mentorship for individuals. However, once in a while, I’ll meet a young professional who’s so curious, open, growth-minded, and interesting that I’ll invite them to a professional gathering or see if they want to have a career chat.
In fact, for a few summers, my children were part of a daily, hour-long learn-to-swim program at an outdoor pool within a local park. As they were all in the pool at the same time, I had a full hour free each evening to do with as I pleased. So I started inviting interesting young mentees to spend that hour with me on a park bench, talking, as we watched my children swim.
During these visits we talked business, personal development, relationships, parenting, life, and everything in-between. Then, as soon as the children got out of the pool, the session ended. These sessions would come to be known as “The Park Bench Sessions” among a group of local (and not-so-local) entrepreneurs who’d drive as long as two hours to join me on that bench.
Why did they spend their free time in that way? Because they recognized the opportunity for mentorship and the value of personal and professional relationships. Plus they were willing to go to great lengths for both, sometimes spending five hours to have a one hour conversation.
Why did I spend my time in that way? Because, eventually, you get to a point in your career where you want to share with young people. You want to help and coach and mentor them, and pass on what you’ve learned so they don’t make the same mistakes you made.
But you don’t want to share with just anyone. You want to share with people who are respectful, trustworthy, vulnerable, and human. People willing to take your advice, put it into action, and honestly report back on what they did and how it worked out.
Yet we’ve all met the opposite. Professionals who don’t have any real friends, who see every minute as an opportunity to get ahead. For them it’s all work, all the time. Everyone’s a business contact. Every relationship is a hustle.
Even if they’re nice, it still feels gross to be around them. They’re single-minded and clearly there to pump everyone for whatever they think they need to get to the next step of their career. Then they move on without gratitude, without a second thought.
I remember bringing my daughter to an event a few years back. She was 5 years old at the time, fascinated by the entire experience, and glued to my hip. After my talk, a group rushed the stage to ask questions, take photos, and get books signed. While most were kind, friendly, and respectful of the fact that I had a young child with me, one was not.
He pretended my daughter wasn’t there, totally ignoring her. He drilled me with frenetic questions for 15 minutes. When my daughter needed attention — after all, she’d just sat through an hour long adult lecture and another 30 minutes of post-lecture conversation — he got annoyed, talking over her so I’d attend to his needs.
Don’t be that person.
No mentor worth learning from will bother with you if you’re so obviously wrapped up in your own concerns that you can’t acknowledge the needs of others around you. Further, if you don’t build the capacity to really connect, you won’t develop the skills required to be successful with clients and/or team members. Finally, without real human connection, your mental and emotional health suffers.
That’s why I always try to show up—as a mentor, mentee, colleague, student, or friend—as a human first. Here are some of the qualities I think are important in this area:
Respectful of the other person’s time, always asking to make sure I’m not being too pushy, aggressive, asking for too much, or overstaying my welcome.
Grateful for the fact that they’ve spent time with me, and showing my gratitude through words (genuine thanks) and actions (gifts, tokens of appreciation, etc).
Trustworthy in that I keep private information private, that I make good on what I say I will, and that I follow through on the things I tell people I’ll follow through on.
Open to learning about the other person by asking them questions about the things going on in their lives, what they’re interested in, and why they’re sharing certain things with me.
Compassionate about their lives, thinking about how I’d feel if I were in their shoes, and asking them how they’re feeling vs. guessing, assuming, or ignoring because I’m not sure.
Honest about what I’m thinking, feeling, and experiencing so they don’t have to guess or assume things about me.
Curious about the world, about how people behave, and about what I still have to learn, asking lots of questions but never to trip people up or back them into a corner.
Consistent in that I show up as the same person every time, with every group of people, in all situations.
Intentional in that I tell myself, in advance, how I intend to be in upcoming interactions, what I hope to get out of them, what I hope they get out of it, how I’ll know if that’s happening, and what I’ll do to correct things if it isn’t.
While all this might seem like common sense, it’s anything but common practice. That’s why those who show up as I’ve described stand out.
John Berardi’s 3 Part Reputation Formula Summarized
Part 1: Earn a set of unimpeachable credentials.
Part 2: Do great work, celebrate others’ great work too.
Part 3: Show up as a respectful, trustworthy, and consistent human being.
Doing these three things has helped me earn respect, grow my reputation, and become a more mature professional. Of course, your path to growing your reputation could look different than mine. That’s why, in my next few articles, I’ll explore eight foundational principles you can use to build your own reputation and professionalism in a way that feels right for you.
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Whether you work as a health coach, strength coach, nutritionist, functional medicine doc, or rehab specialist, Change Maker will help you discover the right direction to take, the fastest way to make progress, and the practical steps required to build the career of your dreams in health and fitness.
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