Being a public figure — leader of a profitable and growing organization, entertainer, politician, professional athlete — can have many rewards. Financial freedom. Notoriety. Red carpet treatment. The satisfaction that goes along with providing a great product that solves a problem or fulfills a need.
But the public recognition and the associated rewards also come with great responsibility and accountability — whether it be to fans or customers, shareholders, employees, business partners, the media and other key stakeholders. After all, it’s these stakeholders, and their opinions, that ultimately form the reputation of these entities.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffet once said:
It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.
The problem is, so many public figures do not think about that often enough. And when lapses happen, the results can be disastrous. Just ask celebrity chef Paula Deen whose reputation has imploded ever since her recent admission of using the N-word.
Or this week, you can ask pop diva Jennifer Lopez. Over the weekend, Lopez sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to the leader of Turkmenistan, recently cited by Human Rights Watch as “among the most repressive (countries) in the world”, ranking it alongside Syria, Cuba and Sudan.
The mega-star’s publicist told reporters that Lopez never would have accepted the invitation to serenade Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov if they were aware of his and his country’s reputation. “…had there been any knowledge of human rights issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended,” read a statement. In another statement, her publicist actually said: “We had no idea he was so evil.”
The publicist tried (but failed) to quiet the uproar by explaining that Lopez was in the former Soviet-bloc country for a paid performance at an event for the China National Petroleum Corporation CNPC), and not there on behalf of Turkmenistan, and that it was that organization who made the request for her to sing to Berdymukhamedov.
Yeah no. CNPC does business with this highly repressive regime and Lopez tarnished her reputation simply by being there for what was surely a $1M+ appearance fee. Lopez needs better advisers.
Said Human Rights First President Thor Halvorssen: “…her actions utterly destroy the carefully crafted message she has cultivated with her prior involvement with Amnesty International’s programs in Mexico aimed at curbing violence against women.”
Perhaps it’s the right time for Jennifer Lopez and her organization to go through a reputation assessment. A simple and straightforward reputation assessment would help the Lopez organization — and most any organization — answer how well her organization manages her reputation, how important reputation is to her key stakeholders and what areas she can improve to advance her reputation.
I have always advised my clients that reputation is their company’s most valuable asset, but it’s an asset that isn’t owned by them.
Dave Logan, a USC faculty member and author of Tribal Leadership, said it best: “Remember that your reputation is about you, but it isn’t your property. It’s owned by the tribe around you. So when you ask about your reputation … you’re asking about something that isn’t yours.“