Jeanine Cogan
Executive coach

Jeanine Cogan

Heads Cogan Coaching and is on the faculty of the Center for Continuing and Professional Education at Georgetown University.

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From shame to success

Q: Not so long ago, Alec Baldwin called his teen daughter names in a horrifying phone call heard around the world. Now he's co-hosting the Oscars ceremony. Was the decision to spotlight Baldwin a wise one? And after a public figure embarrasses himself or herself so profoundly, how do they regain their footing? Who has managed to overcome such shame, and who has failed to?

All of us make mistakes and embarrass ourselves. When you are a public figure, you end up embarrassing yourself in front of millions of people. That is the difference between someone like me and Alec Baldwin.

The trick is, how do you respond to those mistakes? Do you make excuses, blame others, or take responsibility? Do you ignore it, make light of it or address it head-on?

An example of a public figure taking responsibility for and addressing his mistake head-on, thus minimizing the potential negative impact, was when Rep. Patrick Kennedy crashed his car into a barrier on Capitol Hill in 2006.

Kennedy was struggling with addictions for years and he handled this major blunder by coming out to the public that he was still struggling with addiction and admitted himself into a drug-rehabilitation clinic. He took responsibility, did not make excuses and addressed his issues head on with the public.

He then used this as a strong platform to advocate for his number-one legislative priority -- the passage of the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act. This bill, which was approved in October 2008, prohibits discrimination against people with mental illness and substance-abuse issues by requiring health plans that cover mental health and addiction treatment to do so on par with physical illnesses.

Kennedy continued to speak publicly about his recovery and the importance of removing any stigma associated with mental illnesses. He highlighted how he had the insurance coverage needed for him to seek treatment as a Member of Congress -- so if he had this right, then every American should.

Many of the millions of people suffering from a mental illness or addiction were inspired by Patrick Kennedy's response to this incident. His courage to be open and frank and take responsibility to seek treatment led others in similar situations to do the same. I know of at least one person with an eating disorder who did just that. She is on the road to recovery now.


By Jeanine Cogan  |  March 11, 2010; 3:21 PM ET  | Category:  The comeback Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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