The power of reputation

Leadership requires a willingness to embrace change and a commitment to it.

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Reputation is a crucial component of leadership.

It is the foundation on which trust is built, and without trust, it is impossible to inspire and motivate people towards your vision. Recently, we have witnessed how a long-standing broken reputation can cause perhaps irreversible damage to an organisation.

This week, Baroness Casey released her findings regarding the culture of the Metropolitan Police.

The report is a scathing indictment of the major British institution. Spanning 363 pages, the report paints a troubling picture of the Met, highlighting a culture of cover-up and downplaying of sexual assaults within the organisation.

Some truly horrendous stories of how serving police officers and members of the public had been treated emerged.

Commissioner Mark Rowley’s response? Reject the claim that the Met has an institutional problem with sexism, racism, and homophobia. Rowley has inadvertently started a fresh media cycle with arguments back and forth over the meaning of institutional vs systemic, drawing attention away from the other important findings, and hijacking conversations which could be about a constructive path forward for the Met.

He is furthering the reputational damage the Met has sustained in recent years, when he should be focussing on turning it around.

This is in direct contrast of the reputational healing the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) underwent 20 years ago.

The RUC had a chequered history, with allegations of sectarianism, bias, and human rights abuses. This reputation was a significant impediment to the RUC’s effectiveness in maintaining law and order, and it was not until The Patten Report was released that significant improvements were made.

The report made several recommendations, including better representing the Catholic community among the ranks of the RUC, the establishment of an independent Policing Board and complaints mechanism, and importantly a name change to the Police Service of Northern Ireland: distancing the organisation from its past.

This was a huge symbol of its acceptance of just how abhorrent its reputation had become.

The reform process was extensive and involved changes to the structure, governance, and culture of the RUC.

The key factor was leadership.

‘The right leadership can take bold and decisive action, create a culture of transparency, and inspire others to act with integrity.’

The new leadership team recognised that the reputation of the RUC was a significant barrier to trust-building and that it had to be addressed urgently. They implemented a series of reforms aimed at building trust with both communities, including more representation and outreach, and focused on community policing.

More recently we have seen a vigorous reputational repair from Uber.

Uber faced a severe crisis of trust when a series of scandals erupted, including allegations of sexism, harassment, and unsafe practices. The company’s reputation was in tatters, and it was only with the appointment of a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, that the turnaround began.

Khosrowshahi recognised that the company’s reputation was critical to its success and took immediate steps to rebuild trust. He apologised publicly for the company’s past behaviour, implemented new policies, and improved relationships with drivers and customers.

The success of the RUC and Uber’s reputation turnarounds highlight the importance of leadership in reputation management.

The right leadership can take bold and decisive action, create a culture of transparency, and inspire others to act with integrity.

Mark Rowley needs to understand that the best thing he can do for the reputation of the Met is to accept the failings and start building a better future for the organisation.

As we celebrate International Leadership Week, it is important to reflect that leadership requires a willingness to embrace change and a commitment to implementing reforms, even when they challenge long-held beliefs or traditions.

Tips for being an A player:

  • Embrace tough feedback as an opportunity for growth
  • Change always begins with you, not just for your team
  • Never ignore the dissenting voices
  • Treat people how they would wish to be treated
  • Find time every day to walk in the shoes of others

Thought for the week:

A good reputation takes years to build but can be lost in an instant.

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