The Reality of Reputation

This week i have been running a series of Leadership Campfires around ‘Reputation’, and today i am sharing a reflection upon these conversations.

Or perhaps i should say ‘Reputations’, because we carry not one, but many.

Reputation is a story: a story we tell, a story told about us, sometimes a story imposed upon us.

It probably sits in the nebulous space of beliefs, in that it is not ‘real’ in a physical sense, nor ‘real’ in a physics one – there is no force or particle of reputation, beyond that which we choose to believe in.

And yet it acts upon us: sometimes precipitating consequence upon us, and sometimes more insidiously causing us to hold back from action in fear of consequence.

In my work on Social Leadership i illustrate a naively simply sequence: Community as a social structure, Reputation earned within Community, and Social Authority founded upon Reputation. There is some truth in this: reputation itself is not the power, but it does act as the foundation of it.

In conversations about Reputation, the word ‘Authenticity’ comes up fast: we understand that Reputation is linked to the Authenticity of our actions, and yet this typically just nudges the need for understanding further down the line. Now we have to ask what ‘Authenticity’ actually is.

In research in the NHS, using imagery to explore leadership, people represented Authenticity as the roots of a tree more often than any other way. Second place illustrated Authenticity as the foundations of a castle or tower. So perhaps we see Authenticity as the foundation that confers validity or power into our actions.

As well as being earned, Reputation can be imposed: when we join a team or social structure we meet people directly, but we also meet their Reputation. And perhaps our ‘belief’ in that person is formed as a convergence of the two.

Clearly our actions impact our Reputation, but they are not the only force at play.

It’s likely that Reputation is also filtered through cultural perspectives too: in some cultures the individual voice is valued over collective conformity, whilst in others the opposite is true.

Almost certainly there is bias in how Reputation is traded too: we are more likely to trust people who are ‘like us’, and hence Reputation almost certainly follows this pattern (although i have not directly researched this).

Some people find their Reputation through building or perpetuating a system, whilst others claim it by smashing a system down.

Undoubtedly the Social Age sees an elevation of the Reputation Economy, as we increasingly operate at the intersection of formal (largely static) and reputation based (dynamic and complex) systems.

Our ability to navigate this, but not to attempt or been seen to game it, will be a component of finding Social Leadership.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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