• John Harper

What is Personality? Identity Versus Reputation

Most of us believe that we are intimately aware of our own personalities, but this belief is only partially true. Indeed, we are experts on our personalities from an inside view, which can be defined as identity. Our identities are formed by the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and as with any good story, we tend to bend the truth. In the case of identity, the story is often overoptimistic.


Others do not have access to the Pollyannaish stories of our identities. Instead, they experience our personalities from an outside view to decide the other major component of our personalities: reputation.


Identity Versus Reputation

A divide often exists between identity and reputation. We frequently misjudge ourselves, either being too hard on ourselves or, in most cases, inflating how our capabilities compare to others’. Therefore, we tend to have an incorrect understanding of our own performance, whether it be interpersonal sensitivity, leadership skills, ability to judge character, problem-solving, sense of humor, etc. Without reputational feedback, our identities can easily veer off into the realm of fantasized talent.



Reputation > Identity

Reputational ignorance is often consequential because occupational success is largely dependent on what others think about you, whereas identity is mostly irrelevant.


Reputation — that is, how others perceive you — determines whether you will be hired for a particular job. After you are hired, it determines the results of your performance reviews, your opportunities for advancement, and more. Other people make and act on decisions about you all day, every day — and those choices are based on your reputation, not on your identity. All consequential decisions others make about you in life are based on who they think you are, not who you think you are.


Furthermore, from a practical standpoint, reputation is the only observable and consequently measurable aspect of personality, which is why modern views of the structure of personality start with the Big 5 model of personality traits, which focuses on personality from the observer’s point of view. Identity, on the other hand, has no measurement base and no consistent measurement taxonomy, despite 100 years of discussion and research.


In summation, career success depends on people aligning their identities with their reputations. Inversely, career problems arise when people’s identities depart significantly from their reputations.


As Dr. Bob Hogan so often says…


The you that you know, is hardly worth knowing… The real you, is the you we know



Follow @Leadership.Performance for tips & tricks for understanding behavioural tendencies and to enhance Performance

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