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Reputation Management: Resigning Because of Differences

Black and white exit sign

When controlling your career means making bold reputation decisions

Headlines were made when three advisers of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) resigned over a conflict in policy.

What was at issue wasn’t their support of the organization’s mission, or their public support for rigorous standards needed to ensure public safety, but rather a choice made by FDA officials to approve a drug for Alzheimer that these individuals felt did not undergo enough scrutiny to deem it safe and advisable. For this reason, these advisers quit their esteemed positions.

Sometimes a decision made by your employer, with whom you are publicly affiliated, risks damaging your own reputation so much so that a bold career decision is necessary.

Reputation matters

Reputation is how we are perceived by the people who matter to us.

When they perceive us positively, aligned with our goals, these individuals can afford us opportunities for advancement, resources, referrals, and endorsement. When they see us negatively, it can conversely impact their desire to work with us.

In the global 24/7 world we live and work in today, reputation has become more important than ever before.

Savvy executives and professionals know that to maintain a presence, grow their careers and positively impact communities and constituents, their name and reputation must be stellar.

A negative reputation can limit career growth and cause grave emotional and professional distress.

Negative reputations make us nervous and cause us to retreat from any kind of affiliation or endorsement. We don’t want to be attached to or associated with something we view as “toxic” or damaged, for fear it would reflect on us.

For this reason alone, avoiding a reputation risk is crucial. One misstep – even from decades ago – can haunt you.

What can risk reputation damage?

In the workplace, we can find our reputation damaged when, for instance, our employer or business leaders we support, make decisions that conflict with our values or image.

Because of the public nature of our careers today, when decisions or actions by people we closely associate with cause doubt to our own public values and goals, our reputation can suffer. This can also be known as guilt by association.

In my newest book, Control the Narrative, I point out that public figures who represent a cause, issue, company, or product often find themselves tangled up when challenges to that cause, etc. arise. There’s a transfer of credibility when you say you believe enough about the cause to get behind it. When the cause is later exposed to be a fraud, or not viable, your credibility can also be impacted.

For this reason, and others, one should be very choosy about the public-facing issues and organizations you attach your name to. What and with whom you associate becomes affiliated with your name, your brand, and your reputation.

Furthermore, while it may be a popular belief that if you don’t make mistakes or missteps, your reputation will stay intact, people often get into crises because they did not recognize by staying with an employer whose behavior or decisions conflict with your values, public perception can be that you are in fact endorsing them.

Staying silent, then, is not advisable.

There are many reasons for, and events that can cause, a reputation crisis. For example, perhaps you carelessly post something on social media that conflicts with the beliefs of your valued online audiences, employer, or peers. Or you might invertedly make an offensive joke in a public setting that lands you on in hot water. Or maybe you’re the subject of workplace mobbing, gaslighting or typecasting – where your reputation is stuck in an early impression you made, one which no longer serves your career.

Then there are those professionals who make careless or reckless mistakes of moral character. The doctor who has intimate relations with a patient. The corporate CEO who favors male colleagues for advancement over females. The politician caught on camera using racial slurs. These public mistakes and missteps (and others) have lasting and damaging impacts to one’s reputation and career viability.

When a bold decision is warranted

Managing the Optics

The FDA advisors who made the decision to disassociate themselves with an organization they’d previously felt passionate about publicly supporting, highlight the importance of managing the optics around reputation.

In this case, not only could they not publicly support the FDA, but they could also not remain quiet about their disapproval of the organization’s actions and went on record to voice their concerns. While their decision may have been led by internal beliefs, feelings, and commitments, they were mindful of how a public-facing endorsement of the FDA’s actions would look – the optics.

Controlling the narrative

Many professionals who choose to make the bold move to leave a company over a conflict in values, approach or actions choose to do so more discreetly. They resign – sometimes abruptly and without a transition – and pursue new opportunities. They’ve formed a narrative to explain the change in their career trajectory, and unless pressed, do not address the root cause of their decision.

For others, a public explanation and rationale for their actions helps to protect their reputation.

For many of the executive clients I’ve coached, the fear of being too closely attached to actions of a company – even well after they’ve departed – poses an ongoing reputation threat unless publicly and confidently acknowledged at the outset. For these clients, a public statement explaining their decision to resign or defending their actions is warranted.