Book excerpt: How leadership reputations are won and lost

In an excerpt from his new book, Dr Richard Ford discusses how important soft skills are to good leadership.

At work, our reputation is formed by the language people use when they talk about us. As a consequence, any individual who aspires to drive and shape their career needs regular access to good-quality data based on how they are perceived.

There are four ways in which the ‘how’ can enable us to stand out:

  • How do you say it? Do you use appropriate language? Do you articulate your position well? Do you speak with conviction? Do you convey energy and passion? Do you demonstrate the values in which you believe? Do you demonstrate sufficient balance in your language to suggest that you will listen to an alternative view and perspective? Do you regularly ask questions to find out what and how others think about an issue?
  • How do you behave? Do you come across as confident and respectful of others? Do you appear to be genuine in that your behaviour reflects your words? Do you appear humble and self-deflecting? Do you ask questions and do you ask multiple questions to convey more sincerity and interest to uncover what really matters?
  • How do you react? Do you respond well to other people’s different views? Do you show the courtesy and respect that other people expect? Are you included in discussions because you are valued and show respect for others’ views? Are you sufficiently humble to change your views and listen attentively to the views of others? Are you capable of changing your mind? Do you have the generosity of spirit to applaud and congratulate someone for their success?
  • How do you make people feel? Do you question other people about their feelings? Do you share your own feelings to establish a meaningful engagement? Do you make others feel valued? Do you show interest in others and do you create a ‘feel good’ factor in others? Do other people feel that you are reliable and trustworthy and that you want to help them? Do you make others feel that you are interested in their well-being? To what extent do people often or usually feel better after spending some time with you?

Of course, we know from research that many people will inflate their self-assessment of their ability to behave well with other people but we know that most people do not successfully create a ‘feel good factor’ in others. Many people at work are qualified to execute the ‘what’ but very few will stand out if judged by the ‘how’.

However, the relationships that will last the longest and those colleagues who are most trusted and admired will be based on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’.

The simple fact is that those individuals with strong relationships will be tolerated and given time when there are problems, errors or events do not go to plan, but those colleagues with weak relationships will find that even the simplest mistake or problem will not be tolerated.

How our Reputation is Assessed and Evaluated

‘Reputation capital’ is a short-hand term that refers to the amalgamation of many non-tangible variables which reflect an individual’s value, worth and influence in an organisation. Many people think that their reputational value lies entirely with their ability to do their job, and many people think that measurable ‘hard’ results are the only thing that matters in determining their career success, pay or promotions.

People often refer to ‘hard results’ and they often seem to imply that ‘soft skills’ are of less value and importance. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Obviously, hard results are critical factors in achieving success and it would be naive to think otherwise, but these hard results can only be achieved by an individual leader if he has a strong reputation.

For example, based on the leader’s reputation, colleagues will either trust their decisions or not. Colleagues will either believe in what they say or not. Colleagues will either believe whether they have the team’s interests at heart or not. Colleagues will choose to follow and ‘go the extra mile’ or not.

Therefore, strong leaders know how to make the connection between reputation and results, and they also know that it is reputation which will endure because the results will become history in a few months. When people talk about the results we achieved, it tends to be rather brief and matter-of-fact because people talk about these results without any particular feeling or emotion.

However, when we talk about a person’s behaviour, the conversation is more animated because people are more interested in talking about the person’s reputation, how they treat people, how they behave, whether they are respected and whether their values stand out compared to those of their colleagues.

Reputation is only built on achieving results if results can be linked directly to personal behaviours

This book is intended to help the reader discover their personal value by becoming familiar with variables that impact on their reputation. Although the bottom-line ability to do the job well is always essential, critical and non-negotiable, it is not a differentiating factor if many others can do a similar job.

In the longer term, reputation is built on achieving results if results can be linked directly to personal behaviours, and in the shorter term, reputation and an individual’s organisational worth is a function of how a person’s behaviour is described by colleagues.


About the author

Dr Richard G Ford has 35 years’ experience in working as a leadership coach and coaching psychologist. You can buy his book here.


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