Your reputation is arguably your most valuable social asset. A good reputation will help you get your foot in the door with people you want to do business with; a bad one can follow you around like a shadow, getting in the way when you least expect it.
Beth Kaplan, the former president and COO of Rent the Runway, tells Wharton Business School’s blog Knowledge@Wharton about the importance of protecting your reputation. Kaplan, who remains on the company’s board, explained how she successfully managed hers over her career as she moved between companies including Rite Aid, Procter & Gamble, and Bath & Body Works. Check out her tips below.
1. Know when it’s time to leave
Sometimes the image of your business can threaten your reputation. In 1999, when Kaplan was the senior executive vice president of marketing and merchandising at Rite Aid, an accounting scandal broke out. Three of the company’s top five officers ended up going to prison. Kaplan was just keeping her head down in an effort to save the sinking ship, she said, until a friend asked her: “‘You have such a great reputation. Why would you stay at a place that’s becoming so tarnished?” It was a wake-up call that the potential guilt by association presented too much of a risk. The very next day, she says, she handed in her resignation.
2. Leave with grace
When you decide it’s time to leave your post, you need to be extremely conscious of how you conduct yourself. A bad exit can do lot of damage, so remember to “leave with grace,” Kaplan says. “How you leave is as important as how you enter,” she adds.
The ground rules for leaving with grace, Kaplan says, start with transparency. You need to speak with your fellow executives and members of the board and outline your decision in a clear and respectful manner. Your character is always being judged and leaders need to stand tall during difficult or awkward times. Ask how you can help the transition and come up with ways to finish what you started. As an example, Kaplan cites one of her colleagues who gave a final lecture summing up everything she wanted to communicate with her employees.
Timing is also crucial: Two weeks is the minimum. Your employees are the ones who will be getting hurt by the changes, so make sure you leave them in good hands.
3. Show your appreciation
Look at your departure as a final networking opportunity. Though it may sound unnecessary, that means you need to say thank you. Before you go, show your gratitude to everyone who helped you throughout your tenure, especially your employees. You never know who is going to be on top in a few years–that intern who used to get you coffee could build the next successful company. “Thanking people is a very powerful thing,” Kaplan says. “I promise you, in our linked-in world, your reputation is more important than anything else you have. And it matters.”