I was running along the Dragon’s Back in Hong Kong the other day, a gruelling 1.5 hours of hills and steps overlooking Tai Tam Bay and the South China Sea, while thinking about leadership and reputation.
They’re hot topics in management consulting and most of our clients are grappling with some aspect of both.
For example, the pharma sector is getting beat up in the U.S. by the current administration. How to protect and enhance the sector’s reputation?
The energy sector is slowly making its way back from a crisis of confidence and low oil prices. Who from the sector is the lead voice on climate change and the Paris agreement?
The banking sector has shed jobs and pivoted toward leaner digital offerings with higher margins. How can the sector bounce back from years of downsizing and low employee morale?
Lies travel faster than the truth
The Tantalus Group works from the premise that business leaders should use communications as a strategic tool, to drive the success of the company and reap the recognition it needs for the business to continue to grow.
In the current geopolitical environment, this is sometimes hard to do. Every week we meet a leader who is reluctant to communicate proactively because of the risk associated with something going wrong. It’s easy to see why – both traditional and social media are quick to judge and lies often travel faster than the truth (credit to Jonathan Swift in the 1700s). So why take the risk?
Reputations are built over time
Our collaborator John Doorley says communications, along with business performance and the company’s behavior towards customers, employees, business partners and other stakeholders, builds reputation over time.
I was thinking about this as I crested the apex of the Dragon’s Back and looked down to Big Wave Bay in the distance. Some clients fail to see that this takes time. They fall back on tactical communications measures, one-off trainings of leaders, short-term bursts of communications, without planning strategically to support the business objectives, and then measuring their performance.
Reputation management is a process that must be planned and executed, like any key strategic organizational process. To build reputation, companies must build capable leaders.
How to capture the imagination
Building capable leaders is like any form of competency development. It takes 3-5 years to see an improvement, yet companies address the topic with a small group, oftentimes only senior leadership, over short spells.
This is not the way to help global leaders achieve impact beyond the borders of their nation or organization. They can only capture the imagination and loyalty of stakeholders by learning and practicing the skills and behaviours of good leadership over time.
This will allow them to have the vision and understand the conditions that permit or limit opportunities for advancing vision.
Get out front and lead
As I made my way into Big Wave Bay for a cold swim, legs burning, I remembered the advice of a great friend and mentor, Bjorn Edlund. He said, “good leaders get out in front and lead, they are open to criticism, and realize they aren’t always right.”
They know that with leadership comes calculated risk, that mistakes will happen and that from crisis comes opportunity. It’s been proven that listed companies come back stronger from a reputation challenge, with a higher stock price and greater confidence from investors if the leadership manages the situation well.
Some of the best leaders I’ve worked with, and I count Bjorn among them, continue to work on their leadership skills and behaviours.
How can you become a global leader? We share with clients our cross-cultural and sociopolitical experience in business with multinational corporations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America, as well as from our time working with top CEOs and leaders in the media and government.
About Wylie Rogers
Wylie Rogers has 20 years of experience in North America, Europe and Asia, having worked in politics, the media, business and management consulting.
Wylie was previously the head of public affairs for BASF in Asia Pacific, a US$ 10 billion business, overseeing 15 countries in the region while based in Hong Kong. He also headed ABB Group’s corporate communications team in Beijing, China, a US$ 2 billion business, and had roles ranging from spokesman to speechwriter and head of copy for the ABB Group in Zurich, Switzerland.