Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reputation can easily trump talent

Several years ago I heard a friend of mine had gotten fired, so I picked up the phone and gave him a call. I tried to cheer him up and told him about a few openings. I'll never forget what he said at the end of the call.

"When you get fired, you really know who your friends are."

A few years later I started this blog and my mentoring service, and heard from a few old friends, which is always nice. But I'll never forget the first time I posted the fact that I work for a major network. What a surprise... I heard from several long lost "pals" who had, at one time or another, thrown a knife in my direction.

"Hey, old buddy, long time no talk. Wow, you're working for a network. Maybe you could put in a good word for me..."

And maybe I can hit the "delete" button.

Then my cell phone rang. I recognized the number and had no intention of answering the call. Alas, there was a long, tearful voice mail from an old co-worker who had trashed me to management on a regular basis, now begging for help.

Only one phrase ran through my mind. "To delete this message, press seven."

I know, most Sicilians subscribe to the theory of "don't get mad, get even." But in my case, I don't get mad.

I do nothing. When I could do a lot.

Sure, I could make a five minute phone call to a friend in the business and make long lines disappear, open doors that have been previously closed, and jump someone's resume tape to the top of the stack. But if someone has crossed me before, why trust them now? A backstabber doesn't usually change his spots.

Which brings me to the topic of reputation. You think videos can go viral? Try being a backstabber in this business. You might think that doing something shady might leap frog you over someone in the short term, but in the long term that knife you just threw becomes a boomerang and nails you right in the heart of your career.

I've worked with dozens of talented people in this business, and there are a ton of them I'd never hire. I can think of a few whose talent would just blow you away, but were absolutely hated by the rest of the staff because they were always playing games.

When I first got into management I was amazed at the many times people would wander into my office and simply trash another member of the staff in order to elevate their own careers. Most managers see through this, so in reality those who subscribe to the backstabbing philosophy often find their stock has dropped. In one case a talented knife-thrower had left, then found the new job not to his liking. He called, begging for his old job.

Right. I'll get back to you.

You are responsible for your own career, and a big part of that is creating a reputation that doesn't send up red flags. The person you help today might get the promotion you wanted, but that person will remember your good deed down the road, and maybe help you someday.

Every circus has a knife thrower, but the whole act is a trick. In reality, we know they're frauds.

In a newsroom, we know the same thing.


No comments: