In the Boardroom
Date: Monday, June 17, 2011, 6:00am EST
Leadership figures are always under the public spotlightPremium content from The Business Journal - by Ruth Kinzey, Contributing writer
Being a leader is an honor and comes with benefits. But, it also is filled with demands: making critical decisions, accepting responsibility for organizational errors, role modeling and tremendous time commitments. While these are expected, there is another aspect of leadership, which frequently seems unanticipated: recognition of our transparent world and the related public scrutiny.
As a leader, you may think your family life can remain on the sidelines. But, individuals in leadership positions are monitored constantly and their lives opened to the public. So, how does one prepare for this facet of leadership?
While protecting reputation in a high-profile position is challenging, there are guidelines to help:
The camera is always rolling. It's not just television cameras or paparazzi you have to worry about. We live in a society of security cameras that catch us in all types of poses. And, cell phone cameras make it easy for just about anyone to record an unflattering moment. A slip of the tongue or personal thought can be broadcast simultaneously when a microphone is left on.
And in the social media world, what happens in an instant can be communicated rapidly across the globe.
While it takes significant energy to keep your guard up, it’s necessary. Almost always you can be seen or overheard by someone. So before you make any rash decisions or take emotionally-charged actions, you should ask yourself, "What happens if someone finds this out?"
Accepting your life is public, even on your “bad days” and that you must be prepared to deal with the consequences of your actions are both critical. That’s why media training can serve you well beyond the formal interview.
Aligning public and private. As a leader, it is virtually impossible to separate your private from your public persona. So much of your life is monitored by others. Your attire, word selection, behavior, friendships, associations and family life impact your sphere of influence, and this is inextricably linked to leadership style.
Your followers watch you on personal and professional levels because they are impressed and fascinated. Your consistent performance assures them you are a “known quantity” who can be depended upon to think, speak, dress, and act in certain ways.
Unfortunately, this means there is little — if any — privacy for leaders, even in regards to matters of health and heart. For example, when Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, underwent a liver transplant and fought pancreatic cancer, one could argue these issues had nothing to do with the company. Yet, Apple experienced stock market dips that correlated with the timing of Jobs' health problems. For these investors, Jobs and Apple were one in the same.
The state of denial. Since no leader is perfect, you will make mistakes. Whether professional or personal, these errors also will become public. Given our transparent society, it is folly to believe no one will notice or the truth will not surface. Your supporters are likely to be more understanding and forgiving of your human ways than of your lies.
So, admit your wrongs, be honest in the disclosure, apologize, explain how you the errors will be corrected, and return to the business of leading. This way, your honesty will not be questioned.
The company you keep. Once again, it would be nice to think there is no overlap between your leadership image and what you do in your personal life. But your network of relationships, including on-line, interpersonal, professional associations, and social groups, conveys a great deal. Even the actions of family members, though not related to your behavior, can undo your leadership quotient or place unnecessary scrutiny on your abilities, including speculations as to what the management of your personal crisis says about your leadership style.
Huma Abedin represents one of the latest such tragedies. Despite her quest to maintain a very private life, her every move is being interpreted because of the actions of her husband, disgraced U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York. In fact, the deputy chief of staff to the secretary of state faces speculation as to how she ultimately will handle her husband’s infidelity and how this could impact her stellar professional career as a female leader in government.
As a small business owner, executive at a publicly-held company, president of a nonprofit, or government official, don’t let your professional reputation suffer because you believe it is possible to keep your personal life out of the limelight. If there is anything history has shown us, it is that the reputation of a leader attracts attention and that no one’s life is really private.
Ruth Kinzey is a corporate reputation strategist, consultant, and professional speaker. Want to hear more about a specific topic? She can be reached at (704) 763-0754.
To read some of her blogs, go to the Resource page