You Can’t Build a Reputation on What You Are Going to Do

Several years ago, I sat in a meeting and listened to some entrepreneurs discuss their new venture. They talked about all the things they were going to do as soon as they received their funding. They had big plans. My dad would have called them “air castles.”

A Man Laying on the Grass Dreaming  - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #5724729

Photo courtesy of ©

The problem was that they had not accomplished much of anything. Yet, they wanted us to trust them and invest in their future as though it had already happened. They were absolutely confident. According to them, the risk was minimal. The return on investment would be substantial.

I am all for vision. No organization can move forward without it. But planning is one thing; execution is another. At the end of the day, you can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do. You can only build a reputation on what you have done.

Building a reputation happens one action—one win—at a time. Do that consistently over time and your reputation will grow. Try to cut corners with hype and you will actually end up further behind.

Plan. Execute. Rinse and repeat.

Questions: What are you doing to build your reputation?
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  • Daniel Decker

    Love the "air castles" analogy. Castles built in the air don't stand. Only castles built with bricks do. So very true. Going from idea to execution is where it's at. Being a marketing guy by trade, full of ideas, and an entrepreneur have constantly challenged my ratio of ideas to execution. I execute just fine but learning what to land on and how to make the best ideas materialize has taken a lot of refining. Hoping to help a few others learn how to do the same. Talkers talk. Doers do.

  • patriciazell

    Michael, you raise an excellent point. Over the years, I have wanted to write a book and have it published, so I wrote book proposal after book proposal and was rejected every single time. Last summer, after attending the Write to Publish conference and after connecting with you here on your blog, I realized what I was asking was to have people trust a person whom no one knew anything about. Not exactly a good proposition in today's world. So, I began taking steps to become at least a little bit known.

    With the help of your posts and comments, I began writing my book on my blog and began building online relationships. Now, I am four posts away from finishing my book and am brainstorming my proposal. While finding an agent and a publisher is still along shot in today's world, I am in a much better position than I was a year ago. Here's hoping that my steps, taken one at a time, will make my "air castle" a reality.

  • Brian D. Shelton

    Michael, I am not sure you even needed to compose a supporting post; the title alone is enough. Awesome.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think you’re probably right. The title says it all.

  • Wade

    Your title reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, "What you do speaks so loudly, I can't hear what you say." – Vince Lombardi
    Sadly, I lived that life for many, many years, but God took off the blinders and helped me to see myself realistically, instead of how I "saw" myself. Painful. But, worth every tear, bead of sweat and sleepless night. give it a listen…

  • Lynn Rush

    Nicely said, "Plan. Execute. Rinse and repeat."
    I love that. Visions are great, I agree. But without an action behind it…"Air Castles" is the perfect description. Your dad had it right.

  • Laurinda

    I love the air castle analogy!

    Being consistent and executing well on everything assigned to me is another way I build my reputation. I see people who are one-hit wonders and try to maintain their reputation on what they did for the company 15 years ago. Or I see 'super-hero' syndrome where when it's a highly visible project they throw on the superman outfit and really deliver. But when it comes to mundane but necessary work only visible to peers they are horrible to work with & don't deliver.

    I also think when you are starting at a new company, you have to build your reputation in that company. You bring with you experience and knowledge, but not your reputation.

    • Laurinda

      Also getting up after a failure is another way to build your reputation. We all make mistakes. How quickly you can recover really helps dissipates the effect of the mistake

    • Michael Hyatt

      Excellent points. Failure doesn’t have to be fatal. Rebounding can indeed build your reputation.

  • anewcreation

    I don't seek to build my reputation as much as I seek to build my character and in order to do that I try to only "preach" what I practise.

    Great post. Good advice!

    Thank you

    • Michael Hyatt

      In a real sense “integrity” is the integration of your character and your reputation, so they are completely congruent.

  • @kevinowens4

    Thanks for confirming the message I communicated to my team this morning. Of course, maybe I should have waited a couple of hours and just sent them your post.

    I have often felt the same way regarding "consultants" that show up at different times to let everyone know how wrong they are doing things and (though much less frequently) how to do things the right way. Unfortunately, many of these "consultants" have never really had to "execute" the plans they propose. As you so eloquently put it, reputation is not built on what one is going to do…or could do…or should do.

    I am not from Missouri, but sometimes, I need you to show me and not just tell me.

  • Dennis

    Great post, although in many ways I wish it had come as a prologue to your posts on building an online presence. I must disagree with you just slightly: you can build a reputation on what you are going to do, just not a very positive reputation. Having the reputation of being an air castle builder can last a long time and is very difficult to correct once established. After trying, and failing, to make a big splash I have gone back to the drawing board. Now I am making those small first steps both as a writer and a person looking for the small victories. My first step: I had talked a lot about retooling my blog. Your post reminded me that it is time to act.

  • Christie Cruise

    Dreams are essential but as you wisely pointed out, it's all about the action. What people actually do is more important than what they say they're going to do. A person must devise a blueprint and put in the labor needed to make those air castles reality. What a great motivational reminder for the beginning of a new week!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, it’s like vision is a necessary though not sufficient condition. I think this is literally a mathematical principle.

  • @obihaive

    Great post…I'm wondering if this should be a qualification for church planters and missionaries as well. I think I'm good at talking a good game but execution is totally different.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I think it applies in any situation.

      • Matt Edmundson

        Totally agree. Think this definitely applies to churches, although in church we often build a reputation on what happened 10-15 years ago (God moved in 1985, it was awesome…etc). I think there should be a regular injection of credibility to sustain your reputation (it needs to be fed).

        Great post as ever Michael.

  • Daniel Tardy

    I see this a lot. I think some people revel in the planning / visionary realm because everything at that level is fun and ideal. There is little to no conflict at the dreaming level. Everything is comfortable in the clouds.

    Execution requires work, pain, awkward exchanges and accountability. The good news is that since few people are comfortable with this part of the equation, it's easier to stand out here by simply rolling up your sleeves and getting to work.

    Great post. Simple. Profound.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That reminds me of the quote by (I think) Gen. George Patton: no plan ever survives the first encounter with the enemy.

  • Mark Long

    As a classmate in grad school told me, "For better or worse, reputations are always earned, not given."

    As a side note, I am curious: whatever happened to the entrepreneurs and their big plans?

    • Michael Hyatt

      They never accomplished anything. They couldn’t get their funding. Sadly, they blamed everyone else for a lack of vision.

  • Kyle Reed

    I think the biggest thing for me (especially being young) is being available to do the work and following through with what I said. I have worked through this myself. Really I think this can apply to young people. You go to an organization or job and have all these ideas and thoughts and then at the end of the presentation they might ask, "but what have you done?" I think that is the difficult thing for me, I want to do something contribute and be apart of the team, but yet have not had a chance to do anything because of my age. At some point there is a risk that is taken from both sides. Just trying to figure out how to get to that point is hard. But I do know that I have to show my worth and my strengths and follow through. Its just hard to be patient.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Glynnis Whitwer

    Many years ago I read a book that identified this issue for me: Doing vs. Being. Although this probably isn't the answer you were going for, I wonder if it isn't a core problem for some.

    The author of the book said, "I was alway concerned with what I was doing." Wow. That was it. For some reason it's easier … safer … to craft the outside before crafting the inside. As an author, that's a dangerous path to walk because there's no foundation to sustain momentum or vision. I've been on a journey for a few years to discover how God really made me and to settle into that. It's been hard to give up some dreams that weren't based on my giftings and calling, but on what I saw others doing. (there's that word again)

    So what am I doing to build my reputation? Digging deeper into how God made me, and embracing that with all my heart.

  • Kevin_Martineau

    Building a reputation happens one action—one win—at a time.

    So simple yet so profound!

  • Celeste Sue Benskey

    Michael, Well said. This is true and timely information. Lots of visions out there, but few turn into realties. Beyond the vision is the need for commitment , forward action, passion in motion, demonstration of strengths. There must be more than an idea there needs to be an execution process.

  • Brett Duncan

    I just wrapped up a project with an agency who promised the world and delivered just shy of a country. We made it happen, but only with my internal team stepping up and filling the gaps. What became very apparent was that the agency has wonderful ideas, which are valuable and needed. But they suck at execution.

    We're attracted to being the "idea guy," not because it means we're creative, but because it implies we don't have to execute. The truly successful can either do both well or execute well and dream marginally.


  • Jeremiah Miller

    Great post! I was just thinking about this in the car this morning; why do we spend so much time telling others what we are going to do rather than just doing it? Here is what I came up with; we do this in order to gain concensus and help to motivate ourselves. People with authentic self-confidence tend to just do stuff and let people see the results of their work. Insecure people tend to tell other people about the cool ideas they have and all the things the are going to do.

    Jeremiah Miller

  • Vicki Small

    Many years ago, I worked for a lawyer whose practice was limited to civil law. He had a couple of clients who came in every couple of years, wanting to set up a new corporation. They had chosen clever corporate names and were all ready to start making their gadgets and whatchamacallits. Their businesses never got past the creation stage: Articles of Incorporation, By-Laws, etc.

    I asked my boss, once, why they sank money into legal fees before they had real reason to think they could succeed, before they knew they had a market and working capital. He told me a lot of people just liked the excitement of coming up with an idea, choosing a name and setting up the corporation.

    They never completed their plans; consequently, they had nothing to execute. No need to rinse and repeat.

  • J. Michael Dean

    Michael, a person's experiences and accomplishments can define them, yet challenging themselves to reaching their dreams will provide a more fulfilling professional and personal life.

  • @Jenni_Burke

    So true, Mike! This is why when I work with authors-to-be, I advise them to do what they can NOW, before they have a publishing deal in hand, to build their author brand and gather their tribe. A lot of books and authors seem to have great "potential". But publishers are much more likely to take a risk on a new author who is already out there connecting with her or his audience–whether through a strong social media presence, writing articles, public speaking, etc.

  • Paul Hickernell

    Great truth to confront my procrastination addiction. To answer your question; I have begun building my online presence beyond my blog by writing articles for other sites. After I build my confidence I will move to some print publications I respect. I always step cautiously. My wife keeps encouraging me to step more and step farther.

  • Grant Martin

    I feel like kind of a jerk pointing this out, but your headline, “You Can’t Build a Reputation on What You Are Going to Do,” is, word for word, one of Henry Ford’s most famous quotes.

    I’m not saying that you lifted it; rather, I’d like to think it’s simply a case of great minds thinking alike.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I don’t think it is a case of a great mind on my part, probably just an unconscious lift!

  • davidbmc

    I'm with Lynn and love the PLan, Execute, Rinse and Repeat line. I'll be stealing that.

    As I read your post it reminded me of when I was younger and building some air castles of my own. They were fantastic castles and I was working on the execution when the funding ran out. The group I was working with was always trying to find funding and never could.

    Years later I have people come up to me all the time (still) asking why we never finished it. When I explain that we could no longer responsibly fund it on our own and could not get the funding they always say they would have funded if they would have known. "It was wonderful!" The problem is they did know. We had communicated the need repeatedly.

    The issue was trust. They trust me now. They didnt trust me then. I dont blame them. They are trusting the version of me now that has accomplished things and they would like to go back and get in on that project I abandoned. But we all move on.

  • Chuck Musselwhite

    I think this is a major flaw that church planters fall into. They have grandiose visions cut and pasted right out of the latest book but have never done anything up to this point. They are convinced that they are going to do church differently and they need inordinate amounts of cash to do it. My opinion is "Show me what you can do with what you got and then I contemplate giving to where you are going."

  • Gregory Scott

    Great post, Michael. Excellence and diligence–hard work over time–is the bedrock of a good reputation, not hype. I developed a good reputation as a trial lawyer by taking small cases when I was a young and working hard on them even though there wasn't much money in them. Gradually, over time, I developed a good reputation to where even opposing attorneys began referring cases to me, which led to bigger cases and an even better reputation. Great advice. Thanks.

  • ThatGuyKC

    Great insight and yet a tough question.

    Currently, I'm working hard in a new role, studying for MBA and purposefully building a network.

    How would you adapt your advice to apply to new graduates? It's difficult to have the experienced required of many jobs and new grads face the additional challenge of an uncertain economy.

  • John Richardson

    I love the quote from Donald Miller's new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years….

    "The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It's about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle. At some point the shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes that used to move you now only rock the boat."

    Truly the real rewards are taken when the journey seems almost hopeless…

    Like mile 21 on a marathon when the runner feels they can't go on
    Like lifting the barbell on rep number eleven, hoping that you can make the twelfth one
    Like putting aside that chocolate cake and having a banana instead
    Like writing… when you don't feel like it

    Maybe the best way to build a reputation is through persistence…

  • Jeff Goins

    Short and sweet. I like it – the title says it all!

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  • Angel

    I don’t think it is a case of a great mind on my part, probably just an unconscious lift!

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  • Mark Mathson

    Don't be an "air castle". I love it! Best phrase I learned all week.

    Michael, I read a post the other day on your blog about your blog stats plateauing, well know this, you have many loyal subscribers and readers that cherish what you do, and I'm one of them.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Bud the pieman!!!

    Keep showing up!
    Know that buck stops here!
    Knowing that WE HAVE TO DO IT!
    Never forget that we are as good as the last customer we served!
    Thanking everyone that walks thru the door!
    Good is never good enough!

  • Peterdanieljames

    I’ve been guilty of this thinking. I almost did a kick starter project for something I didn’t think I’d be able to do in my spare time, but decided to just do what I could with the time I had. I’m glad I did because I found out that, as you said, execution is a lot different than planning and I need to get better at execution before I expect people to back me.

    • John Tiller

      Great decision to abandon the plan before it caused too much damage.  That’s the best way to learn the lesson (without a lot of cost)!

  • Heather Goyette

    One of my favorite quotes is: by Joel Barker:

    “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes time. Vision with action can change the world.”

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  • HackerNinjaHookerSpy

    I have definitely been caught up with “air castles” in the past– I love dreaming about my idea, making elaborate plans and thinking of what I will do in my post-success life. Meanwhile I am not really doing anything at all. What am I going to do NOW to “build my reputation?” Well… I’ve just launched a new blog and jumped on twitter. It’s an exciting point in my life because I’ve done the college thing, done the travel the world thing, and now I’m hunkering down and focusing on building the life I want to live in when I’m awake– and not dreaming. Thanks for the post and reminder to stay focused.