It’s a way to motivate employees, overcome fear of failure, and promote creativity.
However, there’s an unstated caveat even in the most enlightened companies: “Some mistakes are unacceptable, even intolerable.”
There’s a line we can’t cross and if we do, the mark on us is indelible.
The dreaded line
We make mistakes for lots of reasons:
- Lack of knowledge (Inputting the wrong code)
- Inattentiveness or carelessness (Forgetting to notify the board)
- Misdirected loyalties and confidence (Revealing confidential information)
- Confusion and chance (Misspeaking to the media)
Saying or doing the wrong thing has its consequences. Some are insignificant, some problematic, and some unshakable.
It’s only after our gaff that we know its effect on our career brand. The way we find out is often by how people refer to us as a matter of description or introduction:
“You know who ____ is. S/he’s the one who:
- Lied about….
- Couldn’t do the job
- Went ballistic/threw a punch
- Dressed like a bum/floozy
- Lost that big account
- Couldn’t handle the pressure”
Once our mistakes become legend, they are hard to bury.
The case of Amanda Knox
The impact of negative branding will be the forever challenge for Amanda Knox, first charged, sentenced, and then exonerated for the horrific murder of her roommate in Perugia, Italy.
Amanda spent four years in an Italian prison for a crime, it was ultimately proven, she and her boyfriend did not commit. Her saga is a frightful one and some will never believe she didn’t commit this awful crime. (A third party has been convicted in the killing and is in jail.)
From the outset, Amanda was the target of negative labels, particularly in the Italian press. She was called:
- “the monster of Perugia”
- “foxy knoxy” (a former childhood nickname that resurfaced in the press)
Henry Chu, from the Tribune Newspapers, wrote:
“For the past four years, Amanda Knox…has been the focus of breathless debate of whether she was a calculating, remorseless vixen…or the helpless victim of a character assassination and a botched police investigation in a foreign land.”
This dichotomy of perception will likely follow Amanda for her lifetime. She’ll give her name and people will ask, “Are you that Amanda Knox?” And she will need to reply.
Overcoming “those” labels
Sometimes we deserve the negative labels we get and sometimes we don’t. They become part of our brand either way.
You can point to lots of prominent people who have had career blots to overcome like former President Bill Clinton for his dalliances; Elton John for his drug and alcohol excesses, and Martha Stewart for insider trading.
Our individual brands have their own unique reach. For some it’s global or national. For others it’s state or local. For us it may be within our company or circle.
Counteracting those labels isn’t easy but doable with effort. We fix negatives with positives, Big Positives.
The good things we do need to overshadow the mistake(s) we’ve made. They need to be bigger and more memorable. They need to take the place of the negative story.
Bill Clinton heads his global initiative, doing high impact work worldwide. Elton John raises boatloads of money to combat AIDS. Martha Stewart drives her business straight through those old negatives.
Amanda Knox will have to do something too, something more than a book or a movie. She’s only 24 years old and faced with global notoriety she surely isn’t ready for. What she does next to overcome the blot on her reputation will be a challenging case in brand management.
Guard your brand
Your brand is your reputation and you’re its keeper. It’s tempting to think it takes care of itself, but that would be reckless.
Our brands can be negatively affected without our knowing it, particularly through social media. So now’s the time to take special care of something that will take care of you and your career for a long time.
Photo by deeleea via Flickr