Monday, September 29, 2008

Can a Crisis Revive Your Reputation?

One of the interesting bits of theater to emerge from the financial bailout has been watching certain people revive their reputations during our nation's Wall Street meltdown -- and arguably, no star has begun re-burning more brightly than Sen. Christopher Dodd.

Dodd, whose presidential aspirations were dashed when pitted against the formidable Sen. Barak Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, was forced to limp back to his regular job on Capitol Hill after he bombed miserably in the early presidential caucuses earlier this year.

It must have been embarrassing for Dodd, a veteran politician with more than three decades of service. (He was already under fire for his handling of the mortgage mess in his role as chairman of the House banking committee.)

But now, here we are, seeing Dodd interviewed on every major news outlet as one of the key players in brokering a deal on the financial rescue, and being given enormous credit and praise for his ability to bring both Republicans and Democrats together.

Dodd is a terrific example, I think, of how to understand that just because your reputation takes a beating on the job, it doesn't mean your career is over. Let's take a look at what we can learn:

* Own the criticism. When you're under fire for something at work, don't run and hide from it. As much as it may hurt your pride, be honest with yourself and say: "Is any of this justified?"
* Be a Monday morning quarterback. Write down just the facts from when the problem started until present day. Make notes about how you might have handled a decision or action differently if you had to do it over.
* Go for the ugly. Dodd obviously had to be in on these negotiations because of his job, but he clearly put himself out there to deal with a very controversial idea. He didn't shy away from it, didn't try and push it off on someone else. He took some risk -- he knew that it was a chance to redeem his reputation, and he went for it 100 percent. If there's a "not pretty" issue at work, go for it. Resolving a difficult issue is one of the best ways to garner respect and admiration when your reputation has taken a beating.
* Reach out. One of Dodd' s key abilities has been working with diverse opinions to form a solution that everyone can live with. If your reputation at work has taken a nosedive, now is not the time to hunker down only with your supporters. Reach out to your most vocal critics. Those who often bitch the loudest are often the most willing to sing your praises once you work to resolve differences.
* Be prepared for a marathon. If you've gotten a look at Dodd after more than a week of wrangling over this bailout plan, he looks a bit rough around the edges. He looks tired, his voice a bit hoarse at times. But he's still intense and focused when asked about the issue. If you're going to revive your reputation, it's important that you look like you're trying really, really hard. It means putting in long hours, it means meeting with others when all you want to do is go to bed or have a beer (or maybe both). It means showing others beyond a shadow of a doubt that you're willing to hang in there and get the job done.

It will be interesting to see how Dodd's actions contribute to his political power in the future. One thing is clear, however, is that he's done a lot to gain one of the lead roles in a real national drama. His script is one we could all learn from.

What else can someone do to restore a battered reputation at work?


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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Is There a Bill Clinton in Your Career?

In the coming days and weeks, Bill Clinton's impact on Hillary Clinton's campaign is going to be discussed ad nauseam (get your barf bags ready). But here's the question on my mind: Can a family member's behavior really adversely affect your career?

We've all been at the company holiday party where Tom's wife had a few too many glasses of wine and began leading the conga line a little too early in the evening. Or the holiday picnic where Sheila's husband cornered the CEO and began arguing that corporate leaders in America are all a bunch of crooks.

I heard Bill Clinton described this morning by one television reporter as "roaming free," sort of like he was a wild wildebeest who might mow down hundreds of innocent civilians. This was the same Bill Clinton who was nearly canonized by leading humanitarian efforts for Hurricane Katrina and tsunami victims? This was a former president? Roaming free?

If his fall from favor could happen because his behavior reflected badly on his wife's ambition, how might the average Joe fare when his wife gossips in front of his colleagues?

I don't think it's too far out of bounds to talk to a spouse or significant other before a company event to ask them not to reveal anything you've said about work, and to ask them to stick to "safe" subjects. But do you need to ask them not to overindulge, tell dirty jokes, insult the boss or lead the conga line? When do we have the right to dictate how another person behaves, even if it might hurt our career?

And, let's take it one more step: Are your children seen as a reflection of your professional capabilities? Unfair as it may seem, some people will judge you by whether you seem to be raising the spawns of satan or just have normal, energetic offspring.

So, maybe Hillary Clinton should have left Bill at home. Maybe he didn't hurt her chances of getting the Democratic nomination one iota, and it just wasn't her destiny to be the next president.

But the question remains: Can a career be adversely impacted by the behavior of a loved one? And, if it happened to you, what would you do about it?


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