It’s a slog building up personal or corporate reputation – there’s almost no limit to what a company will spend to build a brand, but it takes so little to damage it beyond reprieve. And in politics, entertainment or sports, any number of examples could serve to show how hard it is to earn and how easily it can be ripped apart.
Reputation management should be the No. 1 thing that organizations and individuals work to protect. Everything leaders do — and in an era of social media, everything others do and say — has an impact on this valuable asset. But it’s all too often sacrificed out of fear. And oddly enough, it’s those closest and most concerned about it who are most likely to ruin it. More than 80 per cent of crises are caused by management and staff. The reaction is common enough if you you’re a fan of Machiavelli. And while he had a lot to share about human nature and power, to be completely fair, he didn’t have to thrive in the modern world.
In politics especially, where I’ve served a number of years, fear and competitive staff behaviour seems to trump common sense in a crisis. I’ve watched really smart people circle the wagons, avoid communicating and make decisions that they later defend ‘in the interest of the governed’ that were really motivated by a desire to appear strong, while remaining essentially irresponsible. I would argue that it is still generally accepted in many political circles that backing down, sharing credit, apologizing or changing policy demonstrates weakness. But what we expect from leaders may surprise you.
Doing the right thing is hard — often, it’s even harder than building credibility, because after all, building a reputation depends heavily on your marketing budget. Cost is one thing, value is something else again.
Can you afford to put your reputation in the hands of the social media masses? No? Then take control of the message, anticipate your weaknesses, leverage your strengths, build a culture of trust and listen as carefully to your front line as you do your campaign manager, COO or Executive Director. Issues management can prevent or control the outcome of a crisis. And in business or politics, a good reputation is better than cash in the bank.