A CEO of a burgeoning startup said to me recently: “I definitely think it’s not a good idea to mix personal and professional.” This particular thread of conversation all began because he said that he was running flat out and just had too many things to do. When we explored delegation, he went on to say that he would never want his assistant to read his personal emails: “Best to keep my personal affairs to myself.” He acknowledged that his personal life was a little colourful and that he was “completely comfortable with himself” in his personal life. Yet… while being comfortable, he didn’t think such a life needs to be weaved into his professional sphere. However, I believe he is wrong, at least in part. Sure, you should keep your intimate matters (like sex life) to yourself. But for the rest, it’s better to be your whole self at work. Otherwise, it’s what I would characterize as disingenuous authentic leadership — i.e. a contradiction. What do you think?

The Perils of Division

I wager that this is not just a higher risk strategy, it’s bad for business. As CEO and, even more centrally, as founder, the leader’s actions are under constant scrutiny. His/her actions will inevitably be reflected and reproduced in the organisation.

The Need for Authentic Leadership

Why is it bad for business to leave your personal affairs at the doorstep? For three important reasons:

  1. It builds in entropy and inefficiencies. A CEO who has to have two smartphones and two emails, constantly has to keep “friends” separate from work. Secondly, the energies required to keep a wall in between are energies that could be saved or used otherwise.
  2. You want your team to bring their full persons to the game. Doffing a “professional” cap and attitude ipso facto leaves out the more zesty and genuine personality. Your team’s dedication and desire to go a step beyond the call of duty relies on a personal dedication, not a professional paycheck.
  3. The risk of being “outted” is a high price to pay. The potential heartache and PR crisis is just a tweet away.

Personal Does Not Equal Intimate

authentic leadership

Surely, if you have been following my writings, you will know that I am not promulgating making your intimate and private life public. The point is that you need to draw a line between that which is personal and that which is intimate. It’s not because you have intimate things to hide that you can’t bring and expose your personal (and hopefully personable) self. In the end of the day, it’s about being comfortable with just how much information you release. Yet, better to get used to having your personal and professional lives merge, especially if there is a digital record of it (e.g. photos, videos, emails…) that could easily show up online.


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