Career coach: The accused can often be the victim

Sticks and stones aren't the only means to hurt someone - accusations can damage, too.

Mark, a charity chief executive, was so distressed by an employment dispute that it was questionable whether he would remain in post as the case took him ever closer to a nervous breakdown.

His situation is not unusual. Over the past year, a consistent 25 per cent of members of my chief executive support groups have been dealing with accusations regarding sex, race, disability and other contentious issues at any one time.

Of course there are wrongdoings in the sector. However, the behaviour of charities is highly scrutinised and the nature of the sector tends to create and attract chief executives whose integrity is sound. Jesper Christensen, head of employment at law group Bircham Dyson Bell, told me that the number of employment law cases is increasing across all sectors, but charities have to rely more and more on getting things right and, where things may have gone wrong, settle on reasonable terms - they can't make it all go away by writing a large cheque.

Clear thinking

Chief executives of small and medium-sized charities have to deal directly with accusations, having no internal legal teams to back them up. The stress of an allegation of doing something unprincipled and illegal, and the feelings that this can create, cannot be underestimated.

Shock blurs clear thinking; confidence and self-esteem take a blow. Dealing with the case can take a chief executive away from the rest of their role for long periods and can be demoralising and emotionally taxing. Even when the accusation is entirely unfounded, the most honest of us tend to question ourselves: "Did I do something wrong?"

If you find yourself in this situation, pause and take the time you need to respond. Ask yourself once whether you are guilty of the accusation; if the answer is "absolutely not", then don't continue to question yourself: self-doubt will enjoy a feeding frenzy. Take a reality check regarding your integrity; remind yourself who you are and the way you operate.

Call in the troops so that you get whatever personal and professional support you need - and don't be afraid to spend money on legal advice.

Embody the chief executive that you are and maintain a position of confidence and dignity.

Mark fought his case successfully and, unable to back up his allegations, his accusers shamefacedly left the organisation. The organisation and Mark have undoubtedly been scarred by the experience, but I am happy to report that both go from strength to strength.

Amanda Falkson is a psychotherapist who runs monthly Tough at the Top groups for voluntary sector chief executives. All names and other details have been altered to protect anonymity and confidentiality.

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