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How to Survive a Corporate Scandal

Your parents may have said to you as a child that your reputation is based on the company you keep. As an adult, the adage may still apply. So what is a professional to do when she or he works for a company that is mired in a reputational crisis?

It’s a question that a number of executives at companies as diverse as Johnson & Johnson, Volkswagen, and Wells Fargo have faced in recent months. As they grapple with the fallout from various corporate scandals, leaders at these companies find themselves trying to remain loyal to their employers and at the same time distancing themselves from the scandal that can taint a resume.

Leadership Skills Needed in a Crisis
A recent Harvard Business Review article highlighted a number of steps that leaders can take when their business cards might raise eyebrows. In order to navigate the rough waters smoothly, you need to be able to explain the scandal by being up front about the facts and take steps to improve or repair your reputation.

Here are some additional tips on how to survive a corporate scandal using leadership skills.

    • Keep emotions in check. It’s not easy to stay calm when there is tremendous buzz in the office. If you need to vent, feel free to express your frustrations to a spouse, therapist, or even to scream them out loud when alone in the car, but check your emotions at the office door.
    • Know the law. Laws and regulations apply differently in different countries and industries. Executives should know what constitutes legal misconduct, what legal protections the company provides, and if (or how) innocent parties can be implicated. States like California, for example, protect their employees under the California Whistleblower Law. This law allows employees to speak up if they notice their employer engaging in unlawful activities. Corporate scandals could be prevented with the help of whistleblower lawyers, who help to ensure that your job remains secure, and no retaliation techniques will be used by the company.
    • Diversify your network … and resume. Make sure that your network is broad, with contacts on your LinkedIn profile in various industries who can vouch for your character and work. Similarly, you want to be sure that your resume reflects your work history, and your contributions, at other companies. If need be, create multiple versions that deemphasize a current or past tinged employer. One thing you should not do is delete the scandalized company from your resume. Not only is it disingenuous, but when discovered (and it will be discovered) just makes you look deceitful.
    • Be prepared for tough questions. If you are looking for a new job, be prepared to answer questions about the scandal, whether you had a role to play in it or not. The scandal may be in a part of the organization completely disconnected from your own, but the questions are inevitable. Make sure you have calm, rational, truthful answers.
    • Take care of yourself. A corporate scandal can take its toll emotionally and physically. Emotional issues can cloud your judgement and come through in an interview. Turn to professionals to make sure that your own emotional and physical needs are addressed to keep yourself healthy during a time of crisis.

Relying upon leadership development skills honed during your years as a professional will serve you well. These tips will help you to keep your cool when your company is in hot water.