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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

Work within a brand – be it in the private sector or not-for-profit, big or small – for just a short while and you will almost certainly fall into the psychological trap of perceiving everything the group creates as being more promising than it is while seeing reputational threats as more scary than they are.

It's part of the implied (and sometimes explicit) code of belonging to a group and organization, regardless of rank. You are now a cheerleader, ambassador, thought leader or influencer, motivated to proselytize and defend the brand narrative and its assets at all times.

This isn't a cynical observation…just the natural result of spending 40-plus hours a week immersed in our work and with our colleagues where "living the brand" is expected. We've simply got to care given that scale of our investment.

And we should care… a lot. We need people who are highly enthusiastic about and loyal to the brand and its products and services. The alternative would be absurd.

But we must also be equally vigilant – especially leaders – to the perception traps that such commitment brings, namely advancing new innovations that haven't been vetted sufficiently or overreacting to competitive or reputational threats.

Both have equally detrimental reputational risks.

You may wonder in the era of big data and diverse demographic, behaviourial and ethnographic research how a brand could possibly approach going to market with a new product or service without sufficiently vetting its merits?

I see this all the time as a PR and reputation management practitioner.

Firstly, big data continues to be a beast that confounds a lot of brands.

Secondly, the intellectual and emotional investment a group puts into something we created can be so intoxicating that biases – specifically group biases – impact our interpretation of the research.

As any scientist will attest, the dilemma of honing in on results that support our view while neglecting those that challenge our position is rampant and human nature (cognitive dissonance anyone?).

This also happens regarding reputational or competitive threats. Seldom do I see brands underestimate or blow off pending or imminent threats. We wouldn't see brands bee-lining it to the bunker or be overly defensive when handling a simple customer complaints on Twitter as frequently as we do if brands were proportional about a reputational issue.

No, the group stress in a time sensitive situation takes people to a level 8 or 9 out of 10 when a 5 or less would suffice. And the result, as we so often witness, is an issue (or even a non-issue) that escalates into a crisis unnecessarily.

So, what can brands do to keep a stronger perspective on their valued work and reputation? Outside eyes, perspective and devil advocacy certainly helps. Steve Jobs was a master of this when thoroughly critiquing every new product in development. That's a key expertise that we in reputation management also bring to the table.

But brands can also integrate internal systems of critique and layers of sober second thought into the vetting of products, services, as well as reputational threats to limit or pre-empt groupthink.

Leaders at the very least must take this role on and really grill teams on their perspective and the evidence they're leveraging to prove it.

Kenneth Evans is a brand reputation consultant, media and presentation trainer and managing partner at APEX Public Relations.