Reputation leadership - You've got the best seat in the house!

I work with a lot of councils on building "reputation capital". That is, putting great strategies and practices in place to proactively develop a solid reputation, rather than simply fighting fires and trying to manage negative issues.

Remember, we’re now operating in a reputation economy - more people are forming and passing on an opinion about your Council based on what they’ve heard from others than on the services you actually deliver. Those of us in communication are in the box seat as reputation leaders.

Many of us are learning what it means to truly be a reputation leader in our organisation.

It starts with the small things; it involves role modelling and building reputation capital inyourself - and you do this through your words and actions every day. It’s not about suddenly coming to work and being a different person - rather, it’s making small changes each day to grow into this new role as a reputation leader.

Take, for example, something we all do frequently in local government; attend lots of meetings. Some meetings are productive but if your experience is anything like mine, I suspect many of them are a waste of time or at least could use time more productively.

Here are some things you can do as an individual - starting today - to contribute to the overall reputation capital of your Council and at the same time build reputation capital for yourself as a reputation leader, just by the way you approach meetings.

1. Be clear on the purpose of the meeting.  If you have a good meeting chair they should open the meeting by clearly outlining why everyone is there. I see this happen sometimes, but usually the meeting meanders and evolves without a lot of direction- sound familiar? If there isn’t a clear purpose, take it on yourself to define what the purpose is. You don’t necessarily have to say it out loud, but go into the meeting with a clear understanding of what everyone is there to achieve. Having a purpose gives focus. Without focus, no meeting is going to be productive. We want to turn our attention to those actions that are going to build reputation capital in our Council - to make it effective and dynamic and the sort of organisation people want to talk about in a positive way. So, if there’s no clear purpose to your meeting, find one. Take the initiative.

2. Be clear on your own individual purpose for the meeting. Every meeting needs an overarching purpose, but every meeting you’re attending is also an investment of your time, so you need to be clear on your own specific purpose. What’s the outcome you need to walk away with? Is it simply information sharing? Are you there to find out about a project? Are you representing your department or your Council at a meeting involving external parties? Being clear on your personal purpose helps you approach the meeting in a focussed way, and you’re much more likely to walk away having achieved that purpose
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3. Prepare. This flows neatly from the first two points. I couldn't count the number of meetings I‘ve attended where it’s very clear no-one has done any preparation. What a waste of everyone’s time and an energy drain! The real work of the meeting should be happening away from the meeting. The meeting itself is just the touching base and bringing together ideas and information. Once you know the meeting purpose - however you've defined it  - and your own personal purpose, make sure you've done whatever preparation is required so you can make the best possible contribution to the meeting.

4. Do your homework. There’s nothing more frustrating than attending a meeting where people have been given actions to do at the previous meeting, but none have been done. There’s no progress. A reputation leader is never guilty of that. If you’re given tasks to do, take the initiative and make sure they’re done, then bring those completed actions to the next meeting and talk about them with enthusiasm and energy. You never know- it might be contagious!  If people can see that at least you are taking the action seriously and doing what you’re supposed to have done, they might start to do the same. If you’re given homework, complete it.

5. Contribute and share knowledge. A reputation leader doesn’t sit back when something important is being discussed. Even if it’s a routine meeting or an occasion when it feels like you’ve just been invited to make up numbers and don’t have anything to contribute, think again. You have a critical role in the organisation. Now, more than ever, communications professionals are vital to a council’s performance and how it’s likely to fare into the future. Take the lead and contribute your expertise and experience.  Go along armed with three key points to share (develop these during your purpose-building and preparation). Remember, everyone in your Council is now an important reputation ambassador for your organisation. The more they know about what’s going on, the more they can speak positively about the organisation to family, friends and associates. As communicators, we’re often privy to information about projects and events in other parts of the Council, so take the opportunity to share relevant details at meetings. Adding to knowledge sharing contributes to a culture where staff feel informed about what’s going on, and can speak about it with enthusiasm outside the Council’s walls.

6. Pick up on any potential issues. As reputation leaders, we need to be the ones with finely tuned antennae, listening for any issues that could escalate into large problems or even crises. In my experience, the vast majority of so-called “crises” had their origins in relatively small problems that weren’t addressed. Often they were known about within the organisation, but they were left to fester and grow. Again, take the initiative. If you get the feeling there’s something going on that could negatively impact the organisation, don’t sit back and wait for it to blow up. You are the reputation leader - so act! It might be as simple as making a note and approaching the right person after the meeting to get more information about the issue. It might involve escalating the issue to someone more senior in the organisation. It depends on the context. You need to be looking out for the land mines, because if not you, who else is going to be doing it? This is a key role for a reputation leader.

7. Follow up. Even if you’re not given specific actions from the meeting, don’t let the discussion end when everyone shuffles from the room. If you’ve got questions, follow up by email or exchange information with the appropriate person. You might come across an article on LinkedIn or somewhere else that’s related to what was discussed at the meeting; share it with participants. This helps increase your profile and adds to the knowledge base of the organisation. You obviously don’t want to be circulating stuff that people are going to ignore - so make sure it's high in quality and value. This is all about being an initiator rather than a passive receiver. Don’t be afraid to take the lead, regardless of whether or not you’re in a management role.

8. Bring your best self to the meeting. It’s easy to be discouraged by meetings that don’t seem to produce results and look like a waste of time. A lot comes down to attitude. You can’t control the attitude of others at the meeting, but you certainly caninfluence their attitude by bringing your best game. Have a positive approach. Adopt the attitude of a reputation leader, even if that’s not what your position description says. Positive attitudes are infectious. You’ll have an impact on those at the meeting and everyone will benefit.
 
Meetings can be a great way to share information, build teamwork and collaboration and achieve results - results that will give you more positive stories to tell about your Council. Positive stories lead to the sharing of those stories and the building of reputation capital. So, it starts with you and your everyday actions.

Don’t wait until a huge opportunity comes along to make your mark as a reputation leader. Start now and begin with small actions. I guarantee they’ll have big results.

“If you don't plan your day it will take on a mind of its own.” - Pat Mesiti

Want to talk through any communication or reputation issues at your Council? Contact Neryl East by email at neryl@neryleast.com or by phone on 0416 913 243.

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Neryl East

Neryl East is a reputation, communication and media expert who shows businesses and organisations how to stand out - for the right reasons! EDUCATION: PhD in Journalism, University of Wollongong Master of Arts, University of Wollongong Certificate IV Training and Assessment (TAFE NSW) International Certificate of Public Participation (IAP2) EMPLOYMENT HISTORY: Director - Neryl East Communications Pty Limited Manager Communications and Public Relations - Wollongong City Council Manager Media and Communications - Shellharbour City Council Head of Communications and Marketing - Australian War Memorial Lecturer and tutor - University of Wollongong Lecturer - APM College of Business and Communication Manager External Relations - University of Western Sydney Freelance journalist - The Australian, ABC, Southern Cross Television, Prime Television News Director - WIN Television, Western NSW Journalist/producer/presenter - WIN Television, Wollongong Journalist/producer - Radio 2CH INTERESTS: Netball umpiring, theatre, travel