Spending several years as the sole foreigner in a rural town high in the Japanese Alps taught me more than words can express, giving me the ability to view life through a different lens. I learned the real meaning of gender inequality, the importance of cultivating your own food, and how to live and think more communally. But the biggest lesson I learned was about face, a reminder that your reputation means everything.
On many levels, living in Japan was like living in an episode of “Mad Men” (only without Don Draper)! The corporate culture is focused on “face” and possessing a strong professional reputation, and it thus tends to foster chauvinism, drinking, smoking, and backbreaking hours.
On the other hand, Japanese culture also prioritizes collectivism over individualism and a long-term commitment to professional success. Diligence, teamwork, and humility trump a quick personal rise and immediate gratification, which is reflected in the precise execution of even mundane tasks.
Your Reputation Precedes You
In the U.S., our emphasis on independence has given way to individualism, as well as the popular attitude that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. We tell ourselves what’s on the inside matters most, but is that actually true? If it is, why do we dress up for meetings and curate our Instagram feeds?
This mindset can be especially pernicious among entrepreneurs or business owners, who feel they have the leeway to define themselves and their businesses according to their own tastes. We women business leaders can build our organizations the way we want, but we have to recognize that there’s a tradeoff for every choice we make.
In Japan, they admit image, reputation, and first impressions all matter — immensely. The value is so high that it’s actually the foundation of many societal norms; trying to separate their actions from this idea is nearly impossible. They recognize that losing “face” and tarnishing your reputation can keep you from gaining the position you want, dating the person you want, and building the company you want.
Save Face Online
The good news is that, for the first time in history, we have the opportunity to expertly craft what is often our first impression: our Google search results. How you curate your public image matters just as much as the suit you wear to a business dinner or how you conduct yourself at a networking event. An abandoned LinkedIn profile, offensive Twitter feed, or unprofessional photo can cost you respect and opportunities.
However, with a little Japanese diligence, commitment, and understanding of face, you can craft an amazing first impression for both yourself and your business. Here’s how to claim your reputation and ensure you’re not losing face with potential clients or partners:
1. Google yourself.
Take stock of the search results that come up for your name, and browse your colleagues’ online profiles as well. Compare your online presence to someone who has a great portfolio or LinkedIn page and make a list of ways to improve your own.
2. Make simple fixes first.
Spruce up your online profiles by refreshing your headshots, posting thoughtful updates regularly, and soliciting LinkedIn recommendations. Small changes like these enhance your reputation, especially prior to meeting potential clients or partners.
3. Develop a strategy.
Evaluate your online presence through someone else’s eyes. What elements would raise questions for you? What would you like to see more of? Fill in the gaps with additional portfolio samples, recommendations, and work details. Also, to boost your reputation, look for opportunities to gain new experience.
4. Publish content on third-party sites.
Publishing original, insightful articles puts you in front of a wide audience and establishes your authority. It’s a great way to showcase your industry knowledge and to build credibility.
5.Use tools to keep track of ideas and interesting articles.
Use Google Docs or a company knowledge bank to harness your expertise and keep track of ideas or interesting articles you read — you can reference them later for inspiration. Take advantage of online publishing networks, and submit guest posts to industry sites.
6. Schedule daily writing time.
Set aside 10 minutes a day to write about your industry. A consistent writing habit will help you improve your communication skills and increase your output. Commit to writing once a day for 30 days; then, reassess your progress.
Develop Your Personal Brand
Cultivating a personal brand is an ongoing project. Apply the Japanese practice of daily diligence, spending a little time each day working toward your goal. By doing this, you’ll position yourself as an authority, become a valuable resource through your published work, and safeguard against unflattering information that could cause you to lose face.
About the Author
Ashley Rust is the director of new accounts at Influence & Co., a company that specializes in expertise extraction and thought leadership through content creation. She is also a former online reputation management specialist who helps executives build their personal brands.