Everyone fails from time to time. Even the most accomplished leader is capable of dropping the ball and letting people down. While tough for anyone to deal with, mistakes are a fact of life. Handled properly, they can present a great opportunity to learn, improve and sustain your career advancement.
Sometimes, however, a single mistake can wreck a person's reputation. This usually happens when the mistake-maker doesn't handle the situation well and becomes embroiled in a scandal. Then the rumor mill starts working overtime, spreading the damage like a virus.
If your reputation is hanging by a thread after a mistake at work, you need to formulate a damage control plan. Here's how to make a great comeback in four easy steps.
Repairing a damaged reputation begins with a rigorous assessment. What did you do or not do to get yourself into this situation? How have your actions impacted other people? What must be done to fix the damage to your reputation?
If possible, get a second opinion from a few trusted colleagues who can give you a balanced perspective on what you've done and what you need to do to correct the situation. It may help if you make a list of what you did and how your behavior let people down. Seeing the consequences of your actions visually is a great way of understanding things from another person's point of view and communicating more effectively.
It may be a cliché but actions really do speak louder than words. As soon as possible after the event, reach out to the people who have been touched by the "thing" that you did and explain why you got yourself into the problematic situation. Humbly accept their feedback and the consequences. Most importantly, apologize wholeheartedly for your actions and assure your co-workers that the mistake will not happen again.
By giving an apology, you effectively are drawing a line in the sand. From this point onwards, you have to stop worrying about the past and commit to being a professional in the future. Think about how you want to be perceived by others, and make this version of yourself the "new" you. Work on the traits that would be beneficial for you to adjust in order to help improve your reputation.
Over time, your professional, disciplined and responsive behavior will restore your authority in the eyes of your clients and coworkers. But don't overcompensate. Going overboard with the can-do attitude is a sign that you don't fully understand what went wrong. You need to conduct yourself with integrity, not suck up to people.
After you have started to mend fences, ask for feedback. This can be a formal appraisal with your manager or an informal chat with co-workers to talk about your progress. Seeking the opinion of others shows a commitment to do and be better. Being the ambitious worker that you are, you can use these sessions to set the goals that will help you improve your performance and rebuild your reputation even faster.
Above all, take heart from the fact that a good reputation is hard to destroy. Who you are and how you have conducted yourself in the past speaks for itself. Be patient and stay confident, and after a while people will forget that bad things were ever said about you.