Business executives, please tread carefully before the public’s eye
Benjamin Franklin once said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” We all know that a fall from grace is not a pretty sight, but this is especially the case when you’re at the executive level of a company and all eyes are on you as a leader. Although some people do recover from their failures and move forward by carving out successful careers, others can find their work lives derailed.
As business executives, we’re seen as the figureheads of our company, and our actions can directly affect how the public not only views us as people, but how they see our company as a whole. One survey found that 66 percent of consumers said “their perception of top leadership affects their opinions of company reputations.” That same survey found that some of the main sources that consumers rely on when formulating an opinion about a company are through word of mouth, online reviews, and social media. I’ve always said executives should always be selling themselves. Sell you, sell the company. Sell the company, sell you. It is difficult to separate your image from the company when you’re at the head.
Not too long ago, consumers relied on the media to get its news. If a CEO made a misstep, the general public most likely only found out about it if:
- The newspapers or TV news stations chose to cover it, or
- We knew someone who worked at that company who had the inside scoop.
But chances were great that whatever bad deeds happened were swept under the rug before anyone outside the c-suite or company found out about it. Today, however, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook make it easy for reputations can go down in flames in a matter of hours.
One example of an executive who has had his share of run-ins with the reputation police is Michael Jeffries, CEO of the popular teen clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch. Despite helping the company recover from a brush with bankruptcy that happened years before he helmed the company, that bit of heroic showmanship has been largely overshadowed by more than a few missteps. Perhaps one of the best examples was when Jefferies described the kind of teen shopper his stores aimed to attract, and that anyone who’s not skinny and popular are probably better off not shopping there. The public outcry was swift. According to a survey by YouGov Brand Index, the company’s reputation among 18- to 34-year-olds has plummeted drastically in response to that statement and several other ones where he put his foot in his mouth. Sales dipped, and there are rumors that Abercrombie & Fitch will close 150 stores by 2015. Jeffries remains the company’s CEO but was stripped of the title of chairman. A company that was once considered the premiere source for teen clothing is today struggling to stay relevant. It’s anyone’s guess if Jeffries will rebuild his reputation as an executive, or if his name will be tarnished for good.
So, as a c-suiter, what can you do to safeguard your company and make sure that your actions or the actions of your colleagues in the C-suite don’t affect your business? Here are a few tips to help keep your reputation clean:
- Mind your Ps and Qs. This may sound obvious, but it’s important to remember that what you say and do can negatively affect how the public views you and your company. Remember: You’re an extension of your business. Be professional in your words and actions. If you have a hunch that what you’re about to say could be detrimental, go with your gut and keep it to yourself.
- Be aware of how you represent yourself outside the c-suite. This relates to both the real world and social media. Don’t think that there’s an automatic safety shield that protects you when you’re sitting in front of your computer screen. There have been plenty of people who have fallen from grace all because of one tweet that was written in poor taste or a questionable photo that was posted on Facebook or Instagram.
- Treat your employees with respect. Company review websites like Glassdoor and CareerLeak make it easy for employees to anonymously critique a company (and its executives). Many job applicants use these resources when deciding whether or not to apply for a job at a certain company. Too many bad reviews and, well, you get the picture.
- Make sure you have the right employees on your team. Having the right players can help safeguard your company’s reputation. You want to work with a group of people that are passionate about your company and who don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize its reputation.
Now, tell me, what are some things that you do to ensure that your company’s C-Suite looks good in the public eye?
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