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.

Do we talk too much about values?

We talk a lot about values in organizations…perhaps too much so. It has become somewhat vogue to talk about values (find me one person who feels values are NOT important), but sometimes in doing so we are just trying to sound smart, rather than focusing on living those same values.

I feel we can probably learn more about values from those who are serving and loving quietly away from the limelight, and not worrying about communicating their values to others. Unfortunately, our society and organizations seem to lack many of these true role models, and we instead settle for looking up to those who speak the loudest, rather than live the life they talk about. We promote and revere charisma, rather than service.

For a recent research project, I interviewed a group of nuns who had given up their lives, taken a vow of poverty, and devoted their lives to service. I am still in awe of these women and will treasure my experiences interacting with them for the rest of my life. They left me with a quote from Mary Teresa of St. Joseph (a woman who devoted her life to caring for the homeless and orphans in Holland, Germany and America). I think it should be an anthem for all organizations:

“Try practicing love for a year and only then begin to preach, and your words will fall on well prepared soil…”

Replace the word “love” in the quote with “values” and you have a great challenge for your organization: Live your values, don’t preach them. Quit talking about what you “should” do…and do it. Quit hammering your followers with value statements and high-priced communication plaques. Live those values authentically and genuinely, stop talking about them, and (ironically) the values will be better imparted into the followers around you.

Now if we can all just learn to keep our mouths shut.

Global Values. Do (should) they Exist?

I’ve read a few books lately that debate the existence of universal global core values. Okay, debate is the wrong word, because I might be the only readers of these books, but it is an interesting issue to think about as our world continues to globalize, especially as a Christian. As we globalize our cultures, what will be the common denominator or glue that holds us together. What happens when you mix a culture of Canadian-Chinese-Indonesian-South African-(insert 200 other country names here) people together? What emerges on the other side?

As a Christian, I believe that core values exist in who God is, but I doubt our human ability to ever interpret or articulate those values in a succinct way. I wonder if the debate over those universal values will lead to a divergence of opinion and possible disputes, maybe even wars, over them. It seems human society is historically consistent in its ability to disagree. Will our 21st Century attempt at global harmony be any different?

We seem to take the evolution towards a global society as being inevitable. Is it inevitable? Is it a good thing for our world? Is it a good thing for us? Most writers on globalization avoid these questions and imply an acceptance of the inevitable. They write from the perspective of “now that we are globalizing, here’s how to become a global leader that can lead anywhere in the globe.”

I’m not saying globalization is not going to happen, but I do wonder if it will change our lives for better or for worse. We hear so much about globalization but I hear very few voices wondering aloud if it going to be good for us as humans. I also wonder if we will inevitably splinter apart one day, and be right back where we started from. Our fallible human race doesn’t give me much faith. I also wonder what God’s got in mind for us over the next few decades / centuries.