Reputations: Easy to Get.… Hard to Lose….

I’ve been struggling with this post for a while now.

I’ve thought a lot about personal and professional growth for most of my career, and one of the difficulties I’ve had has been getting my head around reputations by which we become identified – both positive and negative.

I’ve read a few posts (including Judgement or Talent – Harry Potter and Leadership by @jordantinney and Professional Learning and Employee Support by Tom Grant) which do a better job of articulating thoughts about the importance of support than I ever could; however, I have not been able to escape the desire to put something down about reputations.

A few years ago, a Principal colleague and I were speculating about the upcoming period in which administrators would receive the news as to their assignments for the next school year. Some of us would be staying put, while some would be on the move to new schools and become part of new teams. As the conversation started to lead towards the compositions of teams and who we thought would be a good fit in each school, the conversation began to head towards the uncomfortable topic of character and reputations. Before we went any further, he commented that he didn’t want to perpetuate any unfair reputations or rumours.

That comment has stuck in my head ever since, and I recently had the opportunity to share with him how important it was to me.

Sometimes it’s just a single comment (true or inaccurate) from one person and sometimes it is discussions within a group that can catapult a person’s reputation, and as a result their career, in a number of different directions, positive and negative.

How many of us are aware of the reputations we carry with us in our day-to-day work? While many will say that they don’t care, as leaders we have a responsibility to our colleagues, to our staff, and to our organizations to propel everyone, including ourselves, forward in a positive direction.

I think about how reputations stick, at times unfairly, with little opportunity to change the perceptions of others.

I think about mistakes we make early and later in our career.

How often are people placed in a position in which they take on new tasks or responsibilities only to falter in approach and consequently results? How do we regard those who try new things or think “outside the box?” Do those who work above, or alongside, wait for people to falter and then criticize or reprimand? Do we label due to a singular or series of instances, without providing an opportunity to learn and move forward positively? Do we have an uneven playing field in which some are encouraged regardless while some are ignored or faulted.

How do we help the people with whom we work improve and grow? How do we help our organizations improve and grow?

When considering leadership and succession planning, we sometimes look around and comment on the lack of or weaknesses of potential leaders in the field with the requisite skills, experiences, and abilities required to fill our needs. The common commentaries are often focused on poor hiring and poor character. However, we also need to consider what WE do to support and develop from within – not just who we regard as the top staff but ALL staff.

We all learn from experience, and sometimes those learning opportunities need to be identified for us. Sometimes we need help to get over the hump. I can’t think of a better way for this to occur but from a position of relationship and support. The importance of relationships has been something I’ve always kept in the forefront [post].

The Principal mentioned above recently shared with me the difficult conversations he had with one of his colleagues. He pointed out some of the reputation that had been following him around, and in turn his colleague shared some personal information of which no one was aware but provided context to how he operated. Nevertheless, from that point on he has made a conscious effort to try to avoid the things which feed the reputation that has developed over the years, and perhaps, if people have been paying attention, those changes have been noticed.

Another Principal colleague recently shared a similar story in which he also had one of those difficult conversations with a colleague who couldn’t understand the cause of the problems she was having with staff and students. He capitalized on an opportunity to help her understand how some of the approaches she was using were unintentionally short-circuiting relationships, and he used that as an opportunity to work with her and offer support so that she wouldn’t be trying to turn things around on her own.

However, it’s unfortunate how long people can go on without anyone caring enough to intervene AND offer and provide needed support. Sometimes it’s due to lack of relationships. Sometimes it’s a perception of roles and responsibilities. Sometimes it’s because people have already been written off. Sometimes it is wanting to communicate and work only with the “rock stars.”  Sometimes there’s no problem at all… just a perception that’s been created by others.

With students our understanding, by and large, is that they will make mistakes and will need help to learn and move forward.  We also understand the importance of advocating for the misunderstood.  Many of us acknowledge our role in these regards.

Why should it not be the same for our colleagues and staff?

It’s good for the people with whom we work, it’s good for our organizations… and it’s good for reputations.

(photo credit: Joe Houghton via photo pin cc)


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