Leadership Forum: November 2018

Reputation management vital to aspiring leaders
October 23, 2018
Written by Matthew Pegg
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Henry Ford Museum of Innovation in Dearborn, Mich. I must admit that I didn’t really know what to expect, but suffice to say that I assumed that we would be looking at a collection of antique cars and trucks.  

Without any doubt, there is an impressive collection of automotive history in the museum. But what surprised me was the jaw-dropping collection of history found there, including everything from the first McDonald’s neon sign to the largest steam locomotive I have ever seen.

Another thing struck me when I was touring the museum. There is a quote from Mr. Ford that was as true in the early industrial revolution as it is today. He said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”

In today’s world of instant-access media and virtually unlimited access to information, opinion and fact, the importance of reputation for leaders has never been higher. Dictionary.com defines reputation as “the estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or public generally.”

To both current and aspiring leaders, reputation management is crucial. Regardless of who you are, your reputation will always arrive in the room before you do. This has been true for fire service leaders. The reputation of a leader, whether referring to a company officer or to the fire chief, will be sitting in the fire station long before she or he arrives in person.

In my experience, reputation is the result of two factors: behaviour and results. This creates an interesting situation for leaders because both of these factors are within our personal control.

The way in which you behave has an immediate and lasting impact on your personal reputation. For example, how do you react to problems and issues that arise?

Are you calm and focused or are you someone who becomes angry and allows their emotions to overcome you? Do you tell everyone what you think they want to hear or do you tell the truth and admit when you don’t know the answer? Are you consistent and predictable or are you a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde leader such that your people never really know who is going to walk into the room?  

Does your personal conduct and behaviour match the expectations that you set for your people or are you an example of the, “Do as I say, not as I do,” management style? The answer to each of these questions, and many more like them, quickly defines the behavioural aspects of your reputation. Likewise, your results have an irrevocable impact on your reputation.

Firstly, do you actually have demonstrated results that can be verified by those who worked with you, or are you in the habit of taking credit for the achievements of others?

Are you regarded as a problem-solver or are you a problem finder who is skilled at pointing out the flaws and issues around you without actually taking steps to resolve them, clear roadblocks and make things better? Are you the first person to put your hand up to join or lead a team, take on a project or go the extra mile, or are you a person who complains about all that is wrong without getting involved in the solution?

Is your career history matched and aligned with obvious results that have been achieved under your leadership and as a result of your hard work or are you someone who can only attempt to define your results by reminding people of the titles and positions that you have held?

Henry Ford aptly explained that reputation will never be based on what the leader intends to do.  Rather, reputation is built on what we actually achieve and how we actually behave. In today’s social media and high-speed information world, reputation is even more important and fragile than ever before.

An entire career’s worth of reputation can be destroyed with one inappropriate tweet, one inappropriate comment or one bad decision. Likewise, a leader’s reputation can instantly be destroyed when their behaviour becomes misaligned with who they espouse to be, both on social media and otherwise.

As leaders, we are accountable for what we say, what we do, how we behave and what we achieve. As a leader progresses through the ranks and moves up in an organizational structure, the requirement for obvious competency, inspiringly appropriate behaviour and demonstrated results increases with every promotion.

Each and every one of us owns a reputation that arrives in the room long before we do. For leaders, this combination of behaviour and results can be either empowering and foundational or problematic and limiting.

Fortunately, the choice is ours.


Matthew Pegg is the chief with Toronto Fire Services, having previously served in Georgina, Ajax and Brampton, Ont. Contact Matthew at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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