Reputation Management for Leaders: An Enigma

19 Jan

In a world of increasingly competitive social, personal and professional environments we are presented with a heightened challenge to measure and protect both our business and our personal reputations.

Can we ensure that we will not be accused of something that might damage our reputation?  No.

Can we monitor and protect ourselves from this type of risk? Yes.

Type “reputation management,” into a search engine and you will find results linking to articles, consultants, and technical services providing advice and assistance with protecting or repairing your “image,” on the internet.  It goes without saying that your internet presence is certainly important, but your reputation depends on more than its appearance on the internet.  Reputation management should be proactively oriented and addressed as part of your comprehensive business continuity plan.

When you are in a leadership position, you bear a significant responsibility for the decisions and actions that you make, but also for those made by people in your charge.  When you have been given the trust and responsibility that comes with leadership, you must be certain that you lead by example, and maintain a high level of awareness to the conduct of those who you lead.  One action or decision could mortgage or bankrupt your reputation as a leader, or even the reputation of your entire organization.

If misconduct on the part of a team member were to have legal consequences those might pertain only to that individual. However in the court of public opinion, blame and responsibility have a more common tendency to be attributed to entire groups, and even more so to the leader.

Reputation and word of mouth have always been important, with the rise of social media and hyper-communication, the stakes are even higher.  Word of mouth simply travels much farther, and much faster than it ever has before.

Prominent leaders who stand accused of wrongdoing often proclaim their innocence, or attempt to explain themselves only to have their words fall on deaf ears.  These stories spur discussions which are often hot topics in both traditional and social media channels.  In some cases allegations are proven to be legitimate, while in others even the most heinous of allegations are proven to be false.  The problem is that even when somebody is absolved of blame often the conversation or media focus has moved on to other matters, and the individual and/or organization is left to deal with significant residual damage to their reputation.

The Washington Post featured a story about Sue Scheff a consultant to parents of troubled teens.  In short, Sue Scheff lead a small business where her name was essential to the business brand. In 2003, a parent posted negative remarks on her organization’s website, which defamed her character and injured her reputation.  The injury to her reputation had serious personal, financial, and business consequences after negative remarks went “viral,” Sue had been Google Bombed.  It took years, but Sue was diligent in reclaiming her reputation, today her business appears to be alive and well, and she authored a highly acclaimed account of her ordeal titled Google Bomb: The Untold Story of the $11.3M Verdict That Changed the Way We Use The Internet. It would not be an understatement to say that most businesses or individuals would not have survived this type of ordeal nearly as well as Sue eventually did.

How do you determine what (or who) may be a legitimate risk factor?

It is certainly not productive to spend too much time or focus dwelling on every eventuality or possible risk since there is no way you can guarantee that allegations won’t be made against you.  While valid, this reasoning unfortunately is commonly used as an excuse for not asking pertinent questions; with answers that may require making difficult decisions.  Failing to ask such questions not only makes you more vulnerable to attacks on your reputation it can also have profound effects on your culture and performance.

10 questions to begin your thought process or to start a dialog with your leadership team.

  1. Are personal values consistent with organization values?
  2. Is it possible to maintain a separate identity in our personal and professional lives?
  3. Do we always do our best to promote morality both in concept and action as individuals and leaders?
  4. Which practices/policies might hurt, frustrate or anger customers/members, employees, partners, or vendors?
  5. Is poor conduct ever “accommodated,” because of an individual’s role in the organization?
  6. What steps can be taken to improve our current level of awareness to our individual and collective reputations?
  7. What (or who) are the greatest risk factors in improving or maintaining our reputation?
  8. What immediate steps can be taken to prepare for an attack to our reputation?
  9. What further measures should be considered to be protected.
  10. Are we properly prepared to effectively respond if faced with a serious challenge to our reputation?

For more information about reputation management for leaders contact us:

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