Reputation Management ‑ What they don't teach CEOs at university!

By John Keilthy

Increasingly today, CEOs serve two masters - revenue and reputation. And while business leaders are spending increasing amounts of time representing the latter they often lack the skills required to live up to their role as the de facto chief reputation officer.

Recent crises such as those which have impacted the financial services sector have brought into sharp focus the importance of reputation and the key role leadership plays in protecting and enhancing it.

In times of crisis, leadership's role is to ensure that all the expertise that is required to address the crisis is made available and that the issue receives priority treatment from the top down. Leadership's more important role, however, is communicating the nature of the problem to all impacted stakeholders, which often includes customers, staff, Government, regulatory bodies, competitors, and the general public.

The problem for CEOs and other business leaders is that they are often not armed with the skills and tools required to manage their organisation's reputation and usually this gets exposed during times of crisis.

Today's leaders need to move from not understanding the value of reputation and how to manage it, to appreciating the commercial opportunity of a strong reputation and how to go about protecting and enhancing it. 

They also need to shift from a reluctance to engage around issues because they are uncomfortable, to leading and driving reputation management from the front. And while a crisis is never welcomed, the manner in which it is handled is sometimes the making or breaking of an organisation and a leader. 

One of the challenges for CEOs is that there is little in the way of formal training around reputation management. An analysis by ReputationInc of over 50 leading Executive MBA (EMBA) courses worldwide, including those in Ireland, revealed that one in five EMBA courses teach none of the core reputation management disciplines that include, for example, reputation strategy,  corporate/public affairs,  investor relations, stakeholder management and responsibility/sustainability.

The core skills of communications and leadership building are taught in less than 10 EMBA programmes. This means that business leaders mostly learn about reputation on the job and often when things go wrong with little experience or guidance to draw upon. 

Until this changes, the onus will be on CEOs to educate themselves and acquire the skills to become reputation leaders without the benefit of insights, case studies, tools or appropriate training.

The demands on business leaders to deliver on the revenues while protecting and enhancing the organisation's reputation, all in the face of a challenging economic and business environment, is not going to diminish. More CEOs and senior leaders acknowledge the need to acquire critical reputation management skills that move well beyond the traditional comfort zone of media interviewing or stakeholder engagement. These include the skills that position CEOs as inspiring storytellers, convincing industry champions, compelling brand ambassadors, respected policy partners with Government and polished media performers. 

If you want to know more about transforming business leaders into reputation leaders contact us here at ReputationInc and we will be delighted to tell you more about the bespoke and tailored programmes we have developed to address this important skills gap.

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