The Intertwinement of Personal and Professional Lives

As Millennials begin to move into leadership positions, they will bring with them a littered trail of living life in the public domain. Want to know what the 2025 CEO of GE values? Look no further than his/her social networking past history. By then, many Millennials will have 20 or more years of social networking information stored on public sites; a gold mine of data about the true values of a person.

James O’Toole wrote a brilliant book on values in 1996. He wrote about many things, and distinguishes between private and public behaviors of leaders. He argues that only public, not private, discrepancies determine the worthiness of a leader. I would argue that public and private lives are now the same thing. Who I am at work is the same as who I am at home, and vice versa. This is especially true as more and more people develop “portfolio” lives (to borrow a term from Charles Handy), and mix and match jobs/careers into an eclectic tapestry, not a linear trajectory.

There was no way O’Toole, or anyone really, could not have predicted the interconnected world we currently live in, but his statement that there should be a separation between public and private lives illustrates a belief that we can be a ‘professional’ and a ‘citizen’, and the two lives don’t crossover. That theory was erroneous decades ago and is even more so now. We can’t live two lives, and social media’s intertwinement of our personal and professional lives makes next to impossible now. Just think of how many talented leaders have seen their careers shattered by personal discrepancies or personal errors in judgement.

This intertwinement will create very interesting dynamics in future leadership selections. Want to know what I really think about leadership if you are considering hiring me? In the past, you would rely on your HR Professional to write some supposedly reliable interview tool to ask the ‘right’ behavioral questions. I would answer articulately, you would would be wowed by my hypothetical response, you would hire me, and then wonder why I acted completely different when in the actual leadership role. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find out someone’s true values in an interview.

Now, you can just Google me and decide whether my thoughts, viewpoints, and actions are aligned with the values of your organization. I can’t bluff my way into anything, and astute recruiters have years of online history to comb through if they are ever considering me. Sure, there are privacy issues to deal with and the courts continue to set those precedents. But I look at this as a good thing. Read enough of my posts/tweets/comments/pictures/status updates/likes…and you should (hopefully) get a pretty good feel for who I am. I am a fallible human being, as is every leader you have ever considered to work for you. The big question is, are you willing to tolerate those faults?

I think we will see fewer organizations center themselves around one central leader in the future. It will seem ludicrous to do so, because every leader’s faults will be readily available (or already published in Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair). Organizational values are the collective sum of the values of the individual people in the organization, and are not the same as a single person’s values in the organization. Future organizational paradigms will accept fallible leaders because they will realize we are all fallible. The organizational values will be generated on the collective backs of those fallible leaders; not the back of one of them. Finding a collective form of values, that is not dependent on one person, will lead to much stronger foundations of organizational culture. When we do that, our organizations will survive anything, including the failure of a single leader.

O’Toole (1996). Leading change: The argument for values based leadership. New York: Ballantine.


About Tim Vanderpyl
I am a student of leadership and human resources, and I'm blogging to share some of my thoughts and ideas with readers. I'm a CHRP (Certified Human Resource Professional) at a large healthcare organization, a graduate of Regent University's Doctor of Strategic Leadership program, and lover of the life that God has gifted me with.

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