Recent events have brought the private lives of politicians to the forefront of our national conversation. First there was the shocking revelation that former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger had fathered an illegitimate child while married to his now separated wife Maria Shriver. Then there was the scandal
involving sexually explicit photos sent via Twitter by Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY). Now, there is the indictment of former North Carolina senator John Edwards, over campaign funds that he may have illegally used to cover up his affairs and child with his mistress during his 2008 presidential bid.
Most of the public and nearly all of the media are in agreement that these scandals are unforgivable, and that the political careers of the offenders are essentially over. There are some who are saying that we should keep the public and private lives of politicians separate, that their conduct in one spehere does not necessarily affect the other. But their voices will be drowned out at the end of the day.
Congressman Weiner is now pursuing a crisis management plan to
try and dig himself out of the hole he has dug, but this won’t work – he’s already tarnished his reputation, not only because of the scandal but because of his lies in an attempt to cover it up. The same goes for John Edwards: he made his indiscretions all the worse for trying to hide them, and now the chicken has come home to roost.
The truth is that, in our world of instantaneous media, there is no longer a clear separation between public and private spheres of life, especially for high profile individuals such as politicians. Reputation is a complicated beast, and the preservation of it requires more than a little polishing when the cameras and microphones arrive. We don’t live in a “press conference society” anymore. What happens in the home doesn’t stay in the home. In other words, your true character is going to shine through, whether it is now or ten years from now, and therefore your reputation is on the line with every move you make.
This doesn’t have to be a scary reality. After all, adhering to the simple Golden Rule of “do unto others…” is still the best policy, just as it always has been. And if you do screw up, be front and center about it.
Another lesson to be learned here is that social media shouldn’t be abused. ‘Weinergate’ has shown us that social media avenues can be a nightmare waiting to happen if the user is indiscriminate. The implications don’t have to be as drastic as in this high-profile example. Something as careless as a politically incorrect remark, slur or misspelled comment made from a company Twitter account can affect the reputation of the whole organization. Therefore, social media operations need to be closely monitored and individuals need to be held accountable for their actions online.
A key to reputation success is to act professionally, in both your private and public lives and everything in between. Remember that you are always representing your company, your political office or your enterprise, whichever the case may be. Our public private lives are always under scrutiny.