In the past couple of weeks alone we have seen many a reputation tarnished: Columbus Short for alleged domestic abuse was ousted from the popular series Scandal, Donald Sterling, the owner of the Clippers has been banned from the NBA for life due to racist remarks and, in what some might consider a lesser offense, New York Yankee Pitcher was suspended for 10 games for using pine tar to aid his grip. (It’s also a safe bet that Bieber did something to raise an eyebrow or two.) Hopefully you care more about your reputation than he does.
But what if you have made some mistakes? Maybe a happy hour with co-workers led to some poor judgment on your part when you had one drink too many. You stole someone else’s idea at work…and got busted. You’ve been a notorious gossip. You’ve been pulling a Costanza (for you non-Seinfeld fans, that’s looking busy at work when you’re not actually doing a darn thing) and your co-workers are on to you and threatening exposure. Are you stuck with your bad rep in your company or is it possible to bounce back?
While some people’s choices have ended careers, others have been through the wringer and come out on the other side of it worse for wear but determined to rebuild themselves. After his admitted infidelity, Tiger Woods held the traditional “apology press conference” then had to get help and lay low for over a year before he was once again accepted, some might even say embraced, in the public eye. In 2009 Michael Phelps lost Kellogg’s sponsorship and had a 3 month suspension from USA Swimming after a picture of him using a water pipe surfaced. Phelps immediately owned his mistake and publicly apologized, calling his behavior inappropriate. As a result the negativity died quickly. He was hailed as a champion at the 2012 Olympics and has maintained that status judging from the excitement surrounding his comeback meet with Ryan Lochte mentioned on GMA just last week.
Apparently time really does heal wounds, but while some might be forgiven there are always going to be those who will continue to scrutinize them closely. Who wants to live like that, constantly dealing with doubters and defending your reputation? If you’ve suffered the consequences of disciplinary action or termination or your personal brand has taken a hit it’s time to make a change. You can still be a person any corporation would be proud to have on their team. The challenge is, if all you’ve known is deception and cheating it can be very difficult to get back on track without a major wake up call.
Start out the right way and you can rest assured you won’t have to battle your past. But on the off-chance you’re looking in your rear view mirror at some serious infractions here are a some tips to help you make a fresh start.
Acknowledge and apologize. If you have offended someone you are not going to get very far in winning them over without wiping the slate clean—but you must be sincere. You can’t make progress if you avoid talking about whatever it was that caused the divide in the first place. Take this opportunity to also tell the person you are trying to change. Then prove it through your actions.
Be an open book. Don’t do anything that might tempt you to lie later on. If you can’t talk about it, don’t do it. If questions are asked of you, unless the information is confidential, tell the truth. If it is confidential explain that, unfortunately, you can’t share the information because: you would betray a confidence, you’d be violating a policy or whatever the case may be. If there are no secrets to discover, over time that bad rep will begin to fade and your integrity will shine through.
Find an accountability partner. Choose someone you can trust and confide in. Share what happened to hurt your reputation, ask for advice and allow them to ask you questions going forward to keep you from being a repeat offender. Ask that person to be bold enough to pull you back if you head down the wrong path. Keep in mind this doesn’t have to be someone who works in the same company, but it will require honesty on your part.
Confess. If you’ve done something wrong it’s going to be discovered soon enough. I have much more empathy for candidates who own up to mistakes than those who try to explain them away, often blaming others. You must, however, be prepared for possible consequences.
Good deeds. Make good choices going forward and hopefully they will outshine the flubs you’ve made in the past.
Surround yourself with good people. Understand the people you’ve offended are not going to be eager to be in your presence initially because of the distance you’ve created or for the sake of their own reputation (you know the saying, birds of a feather flock together) so you might need to find people with integrity outside of your organization. Spend time with them, pick their brains and adopt their behavior and outlook. People will begin to take notice.
Make a fresh start. If you’ve tried to turn your reputation around for an extended period of time yet that deed keeps haunting you, it might be time for a new start. If you stick around too long you could stagnate your career. Yes, you were in the wrong, but if you’ve made a sincere attempt to get past it and it’s not working you need to be somewhere where the bad vibes no longer exist. This is not running away from the problem—unless you leave without ever taking ownership. Once you get that new opportunity make sure you embrace it and let the new you reign. Soon the old you will be a distant memory.
Take time to rebuild. If what you did resulted in a termination you might have to take a job below your skill set to prove yourself for a few years—yes years—depending on the severity of the matter. This will give future employers someone to reach out to ask about your work ethic, integrity and character.
When you implement these tips it will still take some time for others to believe you have really changed, so don’t give up too soon. Will NBA fans someday forgive Donald Sterling? Will Columbus Short recover quickly or fall off the radar for a few years like Isaiah Washington, also terminated from a Shonda Rhimes series years ago? (Last week’s cameo aside.) Only time will tell. Your future, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be a question mark. Start rebuilding your brand today.
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