“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett.
It’s the most quoted quote about personal branding and reputation management, and Buffett is right. A person’s reputation can be damaged instantly.
No matter how long and hard a person has worked, their career can still be destroyed in the blink of a tweet or a company leak. Just ask Buffett’s friend, Bill Gates.
Most of us have experienced some form of reputational damage in our careers. After all, it’s life, and life is full of mistakes. Don’t we all have at least one story that still raises a blush?
However, what happens when you find yourself at the receiving end of some severe reputational damage? Can you ever recover?
The short answer is yes, but you have to handle it in the right way, and it takes an enormous amount of humility to get it right.
How the mighty fell and rose again
When you think of personal reputation disasters, a few may pop into your mind. Bill Clinton, for example. Here was a man, as president of the most powerful nation on earth, literally caught with his pants down in the Oval Office. Somehow, through luck and expensive reputation repair, he managed to reclaim the stage and is credited with being a key architect of the Good Friday Agreement.
Once the darling of the American sporting press and a national icon, Lance Armstrong became a pariah when he was found to have used performance-enhancing drugs. He apologised, took responsibility, expressed regret, and even appeared in movies that parodied himself and his past actions. He’s now something of an accidental cult hero.
In 2001, Winona Ryder was arrested on charges of shoplifting and possession of illegal prescription drugs. Her career stalled. For years her talent was put on hold, only to emerge again, a stronger, more respected person and the leading lady of the hit Netflix series ‘Stranger Things’.
Martha Stewart was a media mogul worth millions. Then she was charged with insider trading, and her life and reputation came crashing down. She served five months in prison. Stewart emerged, took ownership of her mistakes, apologised and managed to become a successful personality again. Her company also became profitable again.
Then there are the many CEOs who fall from grace. Perhaps too many to mention. But don’t be fooled; most of these people will employ reputation management consultants and will try to rise again with a new track record and perhaps a slightly humbler opinion of themselves.
But back to the real world. If your reputation has been damaged, what can you do if you can’t afford to hire PR consultants and reputation managers?
Own up to your actions, take responsibility
- Take responsibility. No one is interested in someone with low integrity
- Those who confess their mistakes in a genuine, human way are taken more seriously
- To restore your brand and reputation, you must understand your weaknesses and commit to improving them
- Be open to feedback and commit to improving yourself
- Don’t make excuses
- Don’t reassign blame
- Don’t add comments to try and lighten the impact
- Don’t talk about all the excellent work you’ve done
- Acknowledge the hurt you have caused and say sorry
Create a repair strategy to build a reputation again
A reputation repair strategy involves counterbalancing any perceptions that might exist.
Go online and see what happens when you search your name. If the negative stories are ranking on page one and page two of Google, you need to suppress them; you can’t remove them.
Igniyte, a reputation management firm in London, gives an excellent case study of how it helped a company director repair his reputation following a fall from grace. Read more here.
Upgrade your skills
Why not obtain an additional certification or complete an online course or Bootcamp if your strategic competence has taken a hit? A new perspective on your skills can lead to a better understanding and new appreciation of your talents.
You can also build your reputation to new heights by offering peer reviews on sites like LinkedIn. Be seen as the person who praises good work.
Become the most reliable person in the room
If you say you will do something, do it. Don’t allow others to point to your actions and say: ‘See, told you so.’
Start being good at self-promotion
You need to step up and make your excellent work seen by people. Get noticed. Post articles on LinkedIn and Twitter. Be consistent.
Get to know new people and get out of your comfort zone
Make an effort to join new groups where you can have a genuine impact. Consider volunteering your time and expertise to a non-profit. You’ll expand your network and get out of your immediate peer group. Find genuine ways to give something back.
- Give people a reason to admire you again
- Go out of your way to be helpful
- Post helpful content on your website or social media
- Volunteer to be a mentor
- Be humble
- Volunteer for projects
- Nurture every new relationship and build a reputation
- Show you are a person of character
Learning from mistakes and sharing those lessons with your peers can also help you position yourself as a battle-tested veteran, thereby restoring trust in your brand.
The most important thing is, to be honest. Sincerity cannot be feigned. People need to believe you.