Leaders Never Leave the Office


I remember, more than a decade ago, being asked to write a paper in an undergraduate business class about including morality clauses in C-suite level executive contracts. We had been asked to argue for or against the practice of holding execs accountable for their behavior both inside and outside of the office. Keep in mind, at this time, Facebook was only used on college campuses, Instagram and Snapchat were yet to be created and the first generation of the iPhone had just been introduced to the marketplace. Work and personal life were still able to exist as two seemingly separate entities, and honestly, many of my classmates legitimately felt that what an executive did in his/her own time was purely his/her business.

I, however, distinctly recall arguing that a person's moral code cannot be switched on and off. I argued that as a leader, you set a tone by your actions and your words and that with great privilege comes great responsibility (people are always watching). I protested that someone who's okay with cheating on their spouse is likely just as okay with cheating on the books. I stood by my thesis that even then, in the early 21st century, there shouldn't be a separation of work and personal life when it comes to behavior and that, in fact, leaders don't really ever get to fully leave the office.

This doesn't have to be a political post to acknowledge that for many leaders today (both in the public and private sectors), bad behavior gets a free pass from our culture. It's almost as though we've simultaneously lowered our standards to meet the new norm. Not to sound cynical, but discussing morality clauses today, just a decade after my first experience would feel a bit like an uphill battle. What's the point?

My point is this - your personal leadership brand transcends any particular setting or organization. Your behavior out of the office must match your behavior in the office. Whether contractually or not, we must hold leaders to a higher standard, because their influence is higher by nature of their position. We must call out bad behavior in our board rooms and demand better. We must measure the success of a leader not just by numbers but by how he/she arrived at those numbers. "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." (Peter Drucker)

Caitlin Kissee is a Gallup-certified strengths coach and owner/founder of Propel People Development LLC. She can be reached at caitlin@propelpeople.com.