Whyt; like the rest of us, they’re only human and therefore susceptible to the same character flaws, temptations and failings.

Such calamities understandably create newspaper headlines; not least because of the eternal interest from a general public in any story with high levels of Schadenfreude. But they are of particular fascination to people in my profession who have a special interest in reputation. What better evidence in these two cases of the veracity of the old adage that a reputations takes years to build and seconds to destroy?

Ford and Flowers weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last people in high office to be toppled by public exposure of ill-judged behaviour. Their reputations may one day recover but it’ll take many years and a lot of hard work. Convicted British fraudster Gerald Ronson, who at one time ran a £1.5 billion business empire, has managed to restore some of his reputation and self-respect. But what of the reputation of the wider organisation? Can the Co-Op, already embattled from the fall-out of spectacularly bad decisions of its leadership team, survive this latest scandal? The evidence of other companies such as Starbucks, Toyota and BP suggests that it probably will, although not unscathed. Will talented people with a choice want to work in such organisations?

What can you do as a leader of Human Resources to try and mitigate similar situations in your organisation? What you can realistically do is largely dependent on your organisation’s culture and leadership style. But what every top team needs is the equivalent of a court jester – not someone who makes people laugh, but someone who can speak truth to power without fear, and be listened to. An HR director acquaintance recently described his role as ‘being able to tell the CEO her bum looks big in that’.

If you don’t fancy fulfilling that role yourself, then an alternative is to appoint someone from my side of the fence to sit close to the leadership team – a public relations professional who knows how to listen out for signs of risk and with the gravitas, wisdom and listening skills to know when to speak out. Reputation risk is a fairly new field and more organisations are beginning to see that it’s just as important as credit or safety risks. Social media makes it all the more so.

Above article by @andymturner. Andy M Turner is an independent public relations consultant who specialises in public relations, communications and reputation. He has worked internationally with organisations of all sizes; from technology start-ups and SMEs to trade groups and major multi-nationals. 

Rachel Griffiths, Partner at The Reputation Consultancy also comments: “We easily forget that leaders, even those in high profile positions such as Rob Ford and Paul Flowers are also human. Just like all other people, they are vulnerable, feel pressure, have worries and react to stress in different ways. Of course, they also hold significant positions of responsibility and authority.

“The reputation risk is where actions and behaviours indicate that both the personal and professional values of the individual and those of the organisation are perceived to be mis-aligned.

“You simply can’t fake it. In this digital and connected world where reputations are valuable and vulnerable and are being influenced at all times, an individual leader can no longer ‘be’ or ‘appear to be’ anything other than authentic. That is both the responsibility of the individual and of the organisation.

“The demands upon any organisation, from the Co-operative Bank to the Toronto City Council, to be transparent and accountable has never been so great and they are no different to any other organisation in that they must work consistently to evidence that the personal and professional values of their staff are both aligned and supportive of the collective values of the organisation. It can no longer be taken as read.”