An interesting headline caught my eye today in the New York Times:
The article is about the recent unexplained disappearance of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who was last seen at work last Thursday, and arrived back in the US just this morning. This came as a surprise to staffers and others who thought the governor was hiking the Appalachian Trail. He was actually driving around Argentina, according to the article.
What is interesting is not reports that the hard-working governor often takes time off alone as a way of coping with his high-stress job.
No, what is interesting is that his wife, Jenny, reportedly asked for privacy when questioned about his absence.
The idea that it’s a private matter when a governor takes off for a few days without telling anyone is hilarious.
However, it brings up a serious point about one of the realities of the executive role:
Whether you’re the chief executive of a state, or the chief executive of a small company, your actions — even those one might think are private — receive greater scrutiny because you are at the top of the organization.
Your behavior — all of it — really does matter. And your privacy is something that gets compromised in exchange for having power and authority over an organization. Or even an entire state.
This reality is never more obvious than when powerful people let their power go to their heads and act as if even outrageous behavior is invisible to the public.
This lesson is taught so regularly, one wonders why it doesn’t stick, as former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski and so many others prove that history repeats itself.
Over and over.
Leadership and power can change people.
It can make them feel isolated and alone, at the same time as their behavior will come under greater and greater scrutiny, and the line between personal and professional will disappear.
It apparently gives them amnesia for the mistakes of other leaders, as well.
The take-home message is that you don’t have to learn from your own mistakes.
Learn from everyone else’s.