The Question: I have been forced to resign as a senior manager in a leading bank. There has been a lot of negative publicity about this. Although I did not do anything wrong, I have had to take responsibility for what others in the bank did or did not do. Is my career at an end?
Sandra Cunningham of Career Balance, a coaching firm in the City of London, says:
Not everyone has the resilience to survive a high profile, career setback – especially in the current economy. Yet tales abound of well-known figures, from chief executives to entrepreneurs, actors, musicians and athletes, who have faced career disaster and emerged stronger.
Jeffrey Archer's political career, for example, ended with his conviction and imprisonment. But he has written prolifically for 40 years and is today one of Britain's best-selling authors. Similarly, Gerald Ratner resigned after a serious faux pas in the early 1990s, but went on to set up numerous companies and is now a regular face on the after-dinner speaking circuit. And Guinness's former chief executive, Ernest Saunders, was also imprisoned but re-emerged as a business consultant.
So what can we learn from those who bounce back? One of their most notable characteristics is how they deal with "failure." They develop an attitude that allows them to accept and, more importantly, take responsibility for failure.
They are able to let go of past mistakes, learn from them and move on without bitterness, blame or regret, thus creating the psychological space that enables new ideas to emerge.
Motivated by a burning desire to succeed, these people thrive in spite of, and often as a result of, hardships and challenges. By surrounding themselves with mentors and role models they ensure a continuous supply of inspiration and support. Ultimately, their entire orientation is about turning a bad situation to their advantage.
While the situation might seem catastrophic now, your story will fade from the limelight and soon you will be allowed to get on with your life. My recommendation is to lie low for a while and let the healing begin. You cannot change what has happened, but you can learn from it and hope to emerge in your next role as a stronger and wiser leader.
Geoff Fawcett, director at Hays, the recruitment agency, says:
You certainly won't be the first, or the last, manager in this position. While the negative publicity will make for a difficult few months, you should be encouraged by the number of people who have gone on to turn their reputations around and forge a new career using these experiences for the better. Numerous sportspeople, celebrities and politicians have gone from being public enemy number one to using setbacks to their advantage.
By owning up to mistakes, whether they were deliberate or not, you are showing you are prepared to face your responsibilities. In the long term this is something that the public and employers will come to value and will go towards restoring your personal and professional reputation.
As you wait for the media storm to subside think about what you want to do next and speak to experts who can offer independent advice on what opportunities might be open to you, rather than jumping into the first job that comes your way.
Now might be a good time to reconsider what you want to do. You might want to travel, start your own business, work for charity, or just spend time with your family. Many senior professionals find that a job loss forces them to focus on what's important, and gives the freedom to embark on a new career path. Seeking work in another industry or sector might be an option – there is bound to be an organization willing to overlook the negative publicity on the basis that they wouldn't have been able to tap into your skills and experience before.
If you decide to apply for a new role then be honest about your past if asked, but rather than dwelling on it you should emphasize the unique perspective this gives you on business. Don't allow this situation to overshadow the rest of your achievements.