Please excuse my tardiness in writing of late. I was traveling in Europe to our offices, visiting clients and talking about reputation recovery. My laptop’s wireless broke and I was unable to post to my blog. Now that I am back in the U.S., I asked myself what fascinated me the most about my visit. Without a doubt, I have to say that I was shocked that the first question I was usually asked was about Eliot Spitzer. Prior to my visit, I had seriously prepared myself to talk about European corporate scandals such as SocGen, Deutsche Post and Northern Rock. Imagine my surprise when the first question was often about the governor of New York. I did not expect Spitzer’s reputation and moral downfall to reach so far so quickly. But then again, who is surprised by anything these days? Since my new book is about reputation recovery and redemption, I guess it should not have been such a surprise. (I was also asked why wives in the U.S. stand by their disgraced husbands. I was not sure why this is so.)
Here is what I think. I do not believe, like most everyone, that Spitzer can ever rebuild his reputation in the political arena. That chapter is now closed. But I do believe that he can repair his reputation in time by dedicating himself to the common good. Years from now, we may actually hear Spitzer say that this colossal public failure (even crime?) gave him an opportunity to do something with his life that he would never have imagined possible or contemplated. Yale’s Jeffrey Sonnenfeld has written extensively about individuals who recover lost reputations over money, sex (less often) and other improprieties. Sonnenfeld’s recent book is called Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound from Career Disasters. In his chapter on “Lessons Learned from Legends and Losers” is his advice to “Know Your Own Story” — “…all of this entails knowing, telling and constantly retelling the leader’s story and to have an explanation for the downfall such that it enables faith in the leader’s ability to rebound.” Spitzer now has to find his own narrative to explain how his lost his way, betrayed his family and colleagues, and let New Yorkers down. He then has to find his own personal route to redemption and earn forgiveness.
Reputation forgiveness should not be ruled out.