I grew up with my dad working for a Fortune 500 company in a number of management and subsequent senior leadership positions. Although he came home at dinnertime carrying a briefcase, in reality he left “work” at the office. Yes, he would get some paperwork done while my siblings and I did homework but that was the extent of it. He couldn’t make any business calls because, well, let’s remember, we only had one phone line back then and I’ll be the first to admit I monopolized it as a teenager with a boyfriend.
That was back in the “good ‘ol days” when the line between work and the rest of your life was clear and plainly visible.
The leadership truth that Juan Williams and NPR have now brought to the forefront is that the blurriness of said line has now gone well beyond the work/life balance in today’s 24/7 business world where we are “always on” to the question of the appropriate point in our personal lives as individuals expressing personal feelings and fears via social or other media when leaders we work for in other realms of our life have an ethical and professional right to take offense.
When is a human being’s expression of their personal feelings and fears within our purview as a leader?
- Is the answer dependent on the particular role they play when they are working for us, as NPR’s response might allude to?
- Is the answer dependent on the tone in which the feelings are expressed?
- What about the question of whether the feelings and fears expressed by the employee cause others to be concerned about the employee’s safety or even the safety of others?
- Is all of this irrelevant if it’s an expression of something entirely unrelated to work?
You see, underneath the fact that this particular situation can be viewed as an issue of Free Speech with serious Constitutional ramifications when viewed through a political lens, I worry about our core ability as humans to admit that we have fears; to admit that we have beliefs that may not sync up with what we’ve stood for all of our lives and that make us uncomfortable; to admit that we have flaws in our character as part of our natural condition.
After all, I’ve been sharing with each of you my own personal journey to embrace my essential self – flaws and all – in a way that will make me a better leader and contributor to the world. I’ve been casting off the chains of perfectionism and embracing the reality of my limitations and fears, and then finding ways to shed them from my life and replace them with opportunities for growth.
The last thing I want to do is to start going backward on this journey and see the same fate befall those on similar journeys…
What knocked the wind out of me upon hearing Juan’s story was the reality that he was judged on his expression of a personal fear even in the context of how he shared it, which I would say represented humility and forthrightness in the midst of his deep humanity and commitment to civil rights. Yet even in this context, and even though he was expressing a fear that many Americans can understand even if they don’t experience that same fear themselves, he was fired.
Fired in a cowardly, disrespectful, distasteful manner.
So, what does that mean for the rest of humanity as we share our own fears and beliefs with each other today in blogs, on Twitter, in Facebook and in other ways? At what point can we as leaders choose not to like something said by an employee on their personal blog if it has nothing at all to do with their job? At what point do we say it will affect how their colleagues view them? Their clients? Their accounts?
And on the flip side, at what point do we start self-censoring our own free speech because we’re afraid of unjustified actions against us?
Steve Woodruff and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts – because this is the topic of the October 26th edition of #LeadershipChat. Please join us at 8:00 pm Eastern Time to challenge each other and share with each other in regard to this critically important topic! Looking forward to seeing your there!
As always, please feel free to share your initial thoughts and insights with me here. I value your comments and appreciate you taking the time to respond.
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Photo is Listen to Wisdom by Ben Heine.