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You can't outrun your reputation

I know a fellow who has risen high in aviation. When I think of him, however, my first thought is that as a CFI he once scheduled me for a checkout then delayed me while he played poker. I remember another CFI--one of the hardest-working people I ever knew--because he canceled a student appointment so he could take a flying trip that was much more interesting.

Both are capable and industrious, yet it is still hard for me to get beyond those long-ago ethical lapses. Like most businesspeople, I place a high value on the responsibilities of contracts, and an appointment with a student is indeed a contract.

When you have lived awhile in one industry, you often see the cost side of a cavalier attitude toward contracts. I once saw a truly desirable corporate flying job lost by one pilot based on a brief conversation with my then-boss. The corporate employer called while I happened to be in my boss's office and the part of the conversation I heard went like this: My boss answered, listened briefly, and said, "Well, I'll tell you the truth as I know it." He listened a bit longer, and then said, "Joe, he's a good pilot, but he doesn't always treat customers the way I know you want them treated." Then he listened a bit more and said of a second pilot, "Now he's a good man." The second pilot got the job.

Is that fair? Doesn't matter. It happens. People judge you by what they have seen you do, rather than how well you might do if you had a better job. When a strong, ethical businessperson sees you mistreat anyone, he/she assumes that you will mistreat everyone. When the time comes for recommendations, the flaw will be remembered.

Is that fair? That's not the question. It happens, and that's all that matters.

Likewise, I have heard one strong businessperson tell another, "That woman's a bit lazy." Bingo, another job, another opportunity lost.

Young folks cannot imagine how both their strong and weak points will follow them throughout their lives. Old folks know and will tell you if you listen.

Situations change, particularly in aviation. You may be riding high this week, but then need all of the recommendations you can get next week. I can think of a person in that position right now. "Joe" is a class act. He has been in charge of aviation successes you have heard of. He has risen far higher than I, held more important jobs than I, and made more money. In the past, he twice helped me get jobs. Right now, however, he is looking for a job himself. I'm not the least bit worried about him. He has references in abundance.

You can't outrun your reputation. Make sure it helps rather than hurts you.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying since 1971 and has more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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