In a recent Chronicle Careers column, Dennis M. Barden, senior vice president and director of the higher-education practice at Witt/Kieffer, tells a true story about how a rumor nearly killed an applicant’s candidacy for a top leadership position:
The time had come to make a selection and an offer.
Then came the rumor: Someone from the candidate’s former place of employment called to make sure [the committee] knew that he and his wife had begun their relationship while still married to other people.
Barden offers advice to search committees and boards of trustees on how to proceed in such sticky situations:
Even if there’s good reason to believe that a candidate would be an outstanding leader, an ugly rumor (whether true or false) could erode his or her leadership effectiveness, so search committees would be wise to consider its potential impact.
Search-committee members should question the candidate and the candidate’s references in order to confirm or disprove the rumor, but remain impartial, he counsels:
The point of considering a candidate’s reputation is to assess whether those perceptions will undermine a person’s effectiveness, not whether they offend you on a personal level.
Members of the board or search committee should be sure to judge the candidate by the same standards applied to others in similar positions, lest they be accused of hypocrisy. And whatever the outcome, the board or search committee should be frank with the candidate and stand behind its decision, Barden concludes.