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What Price Reputation?

When Thierry Henri walked out on to the field to play Ireland in a vital world cup play off last week he probably didn’t realise that it was going to be a major night for him.

I’m sure that he hoped it was,that maybe he would score a vital goal to take his country through to the worlds biggest sporting event or play the most memorable game of his life. Maybe he just set out to play the best he could and do what he needed to do, and was treating the event just like any other day, just doing his job.

I am sure that if you’d asked him if he was going to do something that would have a major negative impact on his reputation he would say (in French), “Of course not, I know how important my reputation is to me’.

I am sure he did know how important it was. But if he didn’t, and was taking his reputation for granted, I am sure he does now. Not just in monetary terms, but in the way people talk to him, talk about him and how his team mates see him, and his business (Football) rates him (as I write this there are 6099 related articles on line alone, never mind over 3 million google results).

Over the coming weeks I am sure he will see how important reputation is . How long it takes to build and how quickly it can be damaged.

Its almost inevitable that, when we coach an executive or senior leader, we will talk about the management of reputation, at some point. Not every manager understands the need for clarity in what we call ‘Leadership Brand’. For some the learning comes by something going wrong, but its always good to learn from others mistakes and thats why Thierry can be a good lesson for all leaders.

You might say, ‘Why would a footballer handling the ball, have any learning for me?’, but lets consider it. A normal day and one moment, one bad choice. A choice you wouldn’t make if you thought about it. No chance of that happening in a leadership role?

How about a few that seem to come up in coaching conversations.

  • Have you ever been put under pressure to do something that you know is the complete opposite of what you have been telling your people all year, when the business is in difficulties.
  • Ever heard someone say ‘I don’t care what the company strategy says, just do it’
  • Are you sure that you always walk your talk?
  • Do your actions always live up to the company values?
  • Under pressure have you agreed to do something you know isn’t right?
  • Ever snapped at someone on an off day?

And lets take Mr Henry’s example a bit further. Having done something that is not quite up to your standards, how have you handled it afterwards? Do you know that how you manage a mistake can have a bigger impact on your reputation than the mistake itself? (lets face it Thierry’s, written by his PR person, response just hasn’t helped him has it)

Most leaders realise that what they say and do is up to scrutiny within the organisation, and often in the public domain depending on the seniority or purpose of the role. This can be quite daunting when you first realise it, especially when you have been in a Leadership role for a while, and on reflection you find that some of your past actions may not have been up to the standard that you begin to set yourself when begin working on your Leadership Brand with us.

Your ability to lead depends on your reputation. Your ability to cultivate followers is totally based on reputation. Your scale of influence without power is based on reputation. If your role is senior enough the value of your companies stock can be based on your reputation as a CEO or Chairman. Your earnings are all dependant on your reputation. Without a doubt your reputation, your leadership brand, is the most important thing that you have when going for an interview for a senior role.

Those leaders who do work on their brand, know what they stand for, understand their values, have a clear plan to managing their reputation and take account of it when planning their actions, understand that without it they run the risk of a Thierry moment; One poor decision, poorly handled, at what price.

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