Martin, a colleague of ours, recently asked for our counsel as he tried to figure out what to do. He had just found out that his mentor, a man he looked up to and respected, a man who had taught him a tremendous amount about his industry, and a man who had been like a father to him, had just been sent to jail for sexual misconduct. Martin was devastated. He went from being furious at his mentor to insisting it must be a mistake to feeling stupid because he’d had hints of this behavior to fearing that he, Martin, was a horrible judge of character.

For the first 45 minutes of our meeting, we let him talk. He shared memories of his mentor and grief about this new knowledge. He feared somehow their friendship would taint him in the eyes of their mutual colleagues. He asked, “What do you do when your heroes fall?” 

This is not the first time we have coached people through the incredible grief of having someone who has been a significant part of their lives do something devastatingly disappointing and, sadly, it is not likely to be the last.

So, what can you do when your heroes fall?

Be gentle with yourself. You will need time to grieve and begin to integrate this new view of the person who was so important to you. It takes time to wrap your head around such an enormous change in perspective.

Try to hold both truths. The tricky part of this process is that there are two distinct truths. There is the truth that this person has been important in your life and to your life. That’s yours to keep. Then there is the truth that this same person has done something that you may never be able to understand or forgive. Both are true.

Explore if you will talk about this and what you will say. In many instances, you aren’t in a position where you have to talk about this experience, but sometimes you will need to respond, to make a statement, to take a stand. Don’t do that impulsively. Pause—still a business and life fundamental—and ask yourself, “Is what I am about to do or say in alignment with my goals?” 

It may take some time to identify your goals in this situation. They could range from: “I want to show up with integrity” to “I want to formally condemn this behavior” to “I want to protect colleagues or family” to “I don’t want people to believe I supported the behavior or was in any way involved” to “I don’t want to be one more voice of criticism—I will take the high road.”

It depends what the offense was and what your goals are when you are deciding how to move forward, and that takes some time to get clear. Take that time if at all possible.

When our heroes fall, we experience a death of sorts and the process of grieving and letting go of one way of understanding someone and integrating this new way of understanding them is much the same process.

Be gentle, honor both truths, and take time to explore if you will talk about it, and if so, what you will say. You deserve the space to do this well.

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