This is especially true for leaders, because reputation is essential to getting things done. Since leaders accomplish very little by themselves, they need to bring others together for common purpose. How others perceive the leader is important to encouraging followership.

Followership, which is based upon trust, is a reciprocal act. As historian and leadership author James McGregor Burns teaches, people follow the leader because they share similar values. A leader’s reputation therefore is essential to creating trust, and in turn getting people to work together to achieve mutually beneficial aims.

How a leader nurtures his or her reputation is important to creating followership. Reputation is the sum of what a leader accomplishes and how he or she does it. That means if the leader builds a business but treats employees poorly, he will be regarded as an adept businessperson but a lousy individual to work for. Conversely if the manager is approachable and personable but can never seem to get things done, then he will be viewed as a nice person but an inept boss.

Another word that those of us in the leadership development community use for reputation is brand. While some may wince at this term, it does resonate. Savvy executives know that brand is more than a product or service; it is the sum of how and why you connect with consumers and what they think of you.

The same applies to leaders. So when building a reputation or brand, it really is a practice of considering how your actions affect others. Leaders are judged by their accomplishments, but those achievements only occur when others believe in the leader. As with followership, a successful leader’s brand relies upon reciprocity.
How that brand is nurtured is important, and here are some suggestions.

Communicate by example. What a leader says is important, but what a leader does is even more important. People are more likely to follow a leader who follows through on what he promises and lives with the consequences. Failure to meet a deadline isn’t necessarily a failure of leadership. Failure to set the right example is.

Stand by your convictions. The true mark of a leader is what she does when things are going poorly. Acting in the name of expediency is the ruin of many a promising executive. A decision is a leadership choice and good leaders are ones that stand up for what they believe and act on those convictions. They may not always win, but you know where they stand and what they stand for.

Radiate hope and confidence. Leaders need to give people a reason to believe in themselves. Leaders are those who can look over the horizon and see the possibilities of what lies ahead. Good leaders are those who can bring others along to see it too. Imbuing the future with a sense of hope and then demonstrating confidence to make good things happen is fundamental to leadership. This does not mean the future will unfold as planned, or that there will not be hardships along the way. But it does mean that leaders see the bigger picture and work to make things better.

A leader’s brand radiates throughout the organization but it also carries to the outside. When the CEO is respected, it casts a halo of excellence around the organization. The prime example of this is Steve Jobs at Apple; his vision is Apple’s mission. Similarly Colin Powell’s legacy of service to the nation as a soldier and statesman lends credibility to the organizations he has led, namely the Army and the State Department. Such leaders can positively influence public perceptions about the organizations they lead.

When it comes to reputation, how you do sometimes matters more than what you do. A leader’s ability to get things done right will depend upon treating people right. What a leader does is rooted in mission; how a leader does it shapes his legacy.

First published in Washington Post 10.04.10