From Setback to Comeback
Falling from grace at the workplace is easy. Staging a comeback is tough, but we show you the way
A-listers at the workplace seem to have it all. But many times, like the incredibly athletic and arrogant Icarus, they fly too close to the sun. Once admired and feted, they go into free fall after displaying atypical lapses in professional judgment or personal conduct. Disgraced, shamed and humiliated, a few manage to pick up the pieces. Many, however, can’t channel their public humiliation elsewhere and fail to rebuild their lives.
Tackling public setbacks and negative criticism isn’t easy. Coping with them successfully and staging a comeback is even tougher — more so in the corporate world where a scandal can be akin to hara-kiri.
How then does one turn the clock back?
In Comebacks: Powerful Lessons from Leaders Who Endured Setbacks and Recaptured Success on Their Terms, Andrea Redmond and Patricia Crisafulli profiled 10 influential business leaders who had a fall from grace amid extreme media scrutiny and bounced back. Over the course of their research, the authors realised what was common to all 10 business leaders: “introspection, resilience, having a plan and being deliberate, and a relook at what success means”.
Introspect. The initial shock may lead you to believe that the glass isn’t half full, but clean empty. It’s natural to feel that you will now lose all that you have worked towards your entire working life. “This is natural, but you have to be patient through a difficult time to avoid further damage by any means,” says Dr Hansal Bhachech, consultant psychiatrist. “Once you are over the initial shock, introspect. Try to understand what went wrong. You need to be brutally honest with yourself,” he suggests.
Own up. Take responsibility for your actions. Whatever the problem, and no matter how grave, come clean and address the issue. Be prepared to face the consequences as humbly as you can. This shows that you want to make amends and will help you regain respect. “When in damage control mode, whether it’s for something immoral, unethical or has led to hurt feelings, you must own up and apologise. Denial ends up eroding your image further,” says Chetna Mehrotra, who heads an image consultancy and specialises in celebrity image management.
Rewire your mind. It may seem like the end of the world, but it isn’t. Every individual’s life includes a series of crests and troughs. The right attitude and frame of mind can help you bounce back from a dip. “You will need to train your mind to do this, to get used to the idea that you may have to start from scratch. Focus on your experience, play to your strengths. Forgetting the past and focusing on the future may not be easy, but it must be done to move on successfully,” Dr Bhachech says.
Never do it again. This may seem a no-brainer but common sense isn’t always common. Change whatever you have to ensure there’s no repeat — your lifestyle, habits, even your friends. An aberration happens once; no one will stand by you if you slip a second time. Dr Bhachech says, “Realisation, acceptance and regaining one’s strength may be essential to overcome this fall from grace. One more thing is a must: Move on, but never forget the dark chapter. Remembering ensures you won’t go down that path again.”
Keep a low profile. Stay out of the news to ensure that the smoke settles. Limit your exposure to regain your reputation — if you’re trying to send the message that the drunken brawl at an office party was a one-off, don’t hit the bars with colleagues the next Friday night. Take on whatever work comes your way and do the best you can.
Reinvent yourself. A public setback may be the best time to explore uncharted waters. Everyone’s favourite story, of course, is of Amitabh Bachchan’s turnaround in early 2000. After what could be the most trying period of his life, and amid the Bofors controversy, major flops and a financial mess at his production company ABCL, the superstar took a leap of faith with a medium he wasn’t familiar with — television. “Bachchan bounced back as host of Kaun Banega Crorepati, regained respect and standing, and continues to be this country’s most admired icon. In fact, when Cadbury was in a spot after its worm controversy, they chose Amitabh to be their brand ambassador. He helped rebuild their trust and integrity. That’s one of the best examples of change in public perception,” Mehrotra says.
What can you do? Train the spotlight on your work and try to add value to your brand. Take a course, enhance your skills, offer to take on more work than you usually do and ensure that you meet deadlines. Do all that you can to place yourself in the best possible light to tweak perception.