I have the opportunity to lead a program that will result in me having a national profile within my profession. I have no doubts about my ability to do the job well. But in the past, I did not always perform up to professional standards. It is now clear that I was suffering from undiagnosed depression and then, once it was diagnosed, under-treated depression. This was all more than 10 years ago. I am fine now. But I would not be at all surprised if one way or another these problems from the past came up once I appear on the national stage. As a result, I could foresee the program suffering because people hold back from participation based on my past, not to mention personal attacks. I do not think I should bypass this opportunity because of my past. After all none of us is perfect, not that that would stop anybody from attacking me.
So my question is how should I handle the past? Should I make some kind of preemptive disclosure, and if so how, in what way? Do I simply state a summary of the facts or do I need to go into detail as to everything that went wrong back then? And while the depression is true, it might also be perceived as me making excuses, which is not my intent. I know that I did not live up to my obligations back then, and I have made amends as much as possible. Or do I say nothing, hope it does not become an issue and if it does, have some sort of prepared response? What would this prepared response be? How would it differ in substance from a preemptive disclosure?
Jay’s Answer: For the best advice for dealing with (or preparing to deal with) your “controversy”, I suggest you read: Masters of Disaster (by Christopher Lehane, Mark Fabiani, and Bill Guttentag). They’ll give you the road map you need if/when a problem were to arise and how to avoid the problem in the first place.