What is reputation and how does it work? Aspen Institute Kyiv discussed “Integrity and the Reputation Institute in Ukraine”

On April 27th, Aspen Institute Kyiv organized a discussion with experts working in reputation formation and protection for the Aspen Community, which included active alumni. The issue of reputation protection and response to acts of misconduct remains relevant for Ukrainian leaders. As Neil Gaiman said, “A reputation takes a lifetime to build but only a few seconds to destroy.”

Yulia Tychkivska, Aspen Institute Kyiv Executive Director, emphasized the importance of responding to crises and highlighted the necessity of an honest response. She also explained one of the approaches that Aspen Institute Kyiv follows in its activities:

“The Institute’s approach involves creating a community of so-called ‘divergent thinkers,’ which reflects the broadest spectrum of positions characteristic of modern Ukrainian society. Our leadership seminars are not a corrective school that stamps every graduate as a ‘leader.’ Instead, we serve as a platform for dialogue, within which different people can voice different opinions,” says Yulia Tychkivska.

Andriy Kulakov, Program Coordinator for Aspen Institute Kyiv Community, moderated the dialogue.

Culture as a Source of Reputation Formation at the Personal Level

Serhiy Hayday, a political technologist, marketing expert, and specialist in electoral and political technologies, also a graduate of the “Responsible Leadership” seminar, compared reputation to a shop window. According to Serhiy, maintaining it to satisfy the owners is a form of art.

“The reputation institute is primarily a matter of culture. In Ukraine, two cultures have formed: the culture of power and the culture of civil society. The ruling class has created a system of a shadow state, a system of double standards skillfully covered by the ‘shop window.’ There is one thing on display, but behind the scenes, it’s completely different. That’s why the reputation institute does not work in our system of power culture,” Serhiy explains. 

However, according to Serhiy Hayday, the “civil society culture” is actively trying to influence the shadow zone of the state and uses the reputation institute for this purpose. Mr. Serhiy concludes that to build a lasting reputation and transform it into adequate capital, whether in politics or as a public figure, one needs to “be, rather than seem.” It is necessary to dismantle the “shop windows”.

The Interrelation of Image and Reputation

On the other hand, Yaryna Klyuchkovska, a strategic communications consultant, noted that the shop window is more akin to an image. At the same time, reputation encompasses everything behind it — the storerooms, shelves, and cabinets.

“For building long-term relationships, reputation is crucial because the key factor here is trust. When gaining short-term advantages, reputation plays a less significant role. Some people try to protect their ‘shop window,’ occasionally embellishing it. However, for those focused on playing the long game, relying solely on a ‘shop window’ is impossible; potential partners will seek to discover what lies behind the scenes. And for that, genuine trust is necessary. When we say we quickly forget scandals, it is not entirely true – we just shift our attention. But that doesn’t mean we have forgotten about the scandal. On the contrary, it resurfaces in our memory under the right circumstances.” 

Yaryna also highlighted two essential elements to consider in reputation building: 1) understanding the purpose of reputation and its relevance to our goals, and 2) understanding and managing the expectations of our audience to avoid creating a “soap bubble” by inflating excessive expectations.

Legal Options for Reputation Protection

Tetyana Ohneviuk, a lawyer and Chair of the Board of the Legal Association “Dobrosud,” discussed protecting reputation through judicial and non-judicial means. According to Tetyana, people sometimes need more time or money in this process.

“Are people willing to go to court to protect their reputation? Yes, they are but they are sometimes only willing to publicize it. They are driven by the desire to defend their honor and good name. However, it is not advisable to rush to court immediately, as there are procedural nuances involved. Meanwhile, there are methods of pretrial reputation protection. In a pretrial claim procedure, a lawyer can request the offender to refute false information. Another method is to provide the client with the right to reply. Politicians often use this approach. If none of these options work, it is worth resorting to legal action to defend one’s rights.”

During the dialogue, community members had the opportunity to discuss various aspects of reputation protection in the legal domain and media interactions.