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With age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes more common sense. The problem, of course, is that it’s not too common.
The single biggest threat to your business besides the obvious economic storms and mismanagement is your reputation. At its simplest, it is ‘what people think of you’ Whether true or false, it is their reality. How you manage all of this will impact your people, growth, confidence and business. You need to tread carefully on hidden mines, natural potholes and occasional booby traps.

A good friend sends me his annual desk calendar. You know the type, a little saying for every day. One day, I read a quote that has been a precious ally in difficult times. It said;
“There are many things I’ve regretted saying but I’ve never regretted saying nothing”
It’s a powerful compass and one worth remembering. It is often what we said that leaves the biggest scar and as Joseph Hall once said;  “A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.

‘I Think’
Often, we hear the loudest voices begin many a statement with “I think”. Worse still, with an errant leader, this can call followers in to action. It’s a fool’s paradise. You need to ‘know’ before you act. It is the combination of the art and the science. Many a ‘good idea’ conceived in the boardroom was not such a good idea once it was exposed to the market. Think of how many people ‘thought’ it was a good idea to create false reviews on Trip Advisor? The ill conceived “we think” has shattered many a professional (or unprofessional) reputation. Their business is marked and, contrary to popular opinion, competitors have long memories.

The Critics
Businesses need criticism. Not from the Pirates but from the customer. It is healthy, necessary and precious. Unfortunately, many of us would rather be damned by praise than saved by criticism. In my book, if there are no complaints, something is wrong. Inevitably, this translates into your business being beyond repair.
How you handle negative feedback defines you. Think back to Trip Advisor and the Pirates who rode the waves. Where is their reputation today? Did we find out? Did we believe them? Do we trust them?
Feedback, however negative, is the opinion of someone we engage with. Of course it’s subjective but so is the world we inhabit.
You must do the following to turn the negative into an opportunity. Here’s my short ‘must do’ list;
-See it from their point of view
-Be objective, reasonable and fair
-Respond honestly and with humility.

Now here’s my short ‘must not do’ suggestions
-Ignore them
-Take a “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” view

As my Godmother told me many years ago “Never put in writing what you don’t want to see in the newspaper” Or, as a friend once asked “Would you say it to your family?”
A simple an effective strategy is to always contact the author. That allows you represent your view but make sure you use a feather, not the hammer.

Head in the Sand
We are emotional creatures and, especially in our early years, we do care about what people think. Look back at those insecure teenage years and see how many hours were spent trying to be ‘popular’
Wisdom teaches us that being popular is irrelevant being respected is precious.
Emotions can drive business decisions. That’s good and bad. It’s especially bad when our fear of criticism makes us default to the sand. You can’t ‘avoid’ complaints, criticism and critics. Worse still, avoiding will destroy trust. Good leaders confront problems head on, take an objective view and respond appropriately.
No, the customer is not always right but they sure are entitled to their view.
A successful business will listen, reflect and engage. A bad business will ignore, deflect, abdicate and deny.
The market will see both, the internet does not forget.

One Nut
You can build your business slowly, solidly and successfully for decades. Your business doesn’t grow, your people do. Your business is dependent on your people. Your people are your brand and how they act can decide your future. It is a tightrope between freedom and loose cannons.
How many of you know of a ‘professional’ who abused Trip Advisor? Pause for one second – what is your view of that person or business today? Do you remember? Did you forget? Would you hire them?
“It takes 3,462 bolts to hold a Ferrari together. It takes one nut to dismantle it”

The Value of Values
One thing is for sure, the storm of the last 4 years has put a huge emphasis on values, leadership and integrity. At the beginning of the recession, I wrote “Beware of Pirates getting into positions of power” Naturally, some did but the real question is “Where are they now?” You see, our reputation is the lingering scent of perfume after we have gone.
You need to make sure it’s attractive. After all, the opposite is dangerous.
John Wooden got it right when he said:

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.


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