Leadership, Personal Relationships and Infidelity


Leadership, Personal Relationships and Infidelity

John Edwards, Elliott Spitzer, Kwame Kilpatrick and Jennifer Aniston’s mates. What do these men have in common? Hint: they are all alleged to have a problem keeping their pants on in the presence of women who are not their significant others.

After hearing about the John Edwards infidelity revelations a few months ago, a colleague asked “what’s the big deal?”

It was hard to contain my disbelief that someone whom I considered a fairly mature leader didn’t understand how an extramarital affair could affect one’s ability to the lead the United States as President.

“After all,” he added, “Kennedy, Clinton and countless other Presidents fooled around.”

“If Your Brother Jumped Off a Cliff…

… does that mean it’s okay for you to do it?” I found myself repeating my mother’s words of wisdom that I had grown to detest as a child. I couldn’t help myself, it was too easy.

Satisfied with my immature admonishment of my colleague, I settled into a more reasoned approach aimed at educating him on infidelity and its negative affect on leadership.

For presidential wanabees, incumbent state governors and city mayors, failures of the flesh are the kiss of death for a number of reasons. (It’s funny though, usually not for the most important reason.) That is, if a politician is anything but squeaky clean, he opens himself and his administration to extortionist efforts by his rivals, special interest groups and, worst of all for US Presidents, other nations.

Much of America simply loses faith today (not so much in Kennedy’s time) of a politician who is unfaithful. They see his or her inability to maintain wedding vows as a sign of deceit, not as a sign of diminished capacity to lead.

Leadership is About Judgment

We depend on our business and political leaders to show great judgment in the face of adverse conditions. Someone incapable of keeping their eyes on what’s truly important is also incapable of leading in the new millennium. This is not to say that there aren’t instances of unfaithful leaders who accomplished great things. Alleged adulterer Rudy Giuliani comes to mind. Of course, he stood no chance of gaining the Republican nomination as his alleged misdeeds were more recent (and public) than the allegations against John McCain.  

For every Giuliani there are thousands of Brads. Brad, not his real name, was a college buddy who had intelligence, good looks and great business acumen. Brad, however, has what he calls “an addiction” for adultery. Because he spends all of his free time chasing his next conquest, he often neglects his work and his family.

To make a long story short, Brad is now a forty-five year old, low-level manager for a small company on the verge of bankruptcy. He is married to his third wife (whom he met while fooling around on his second wife), and his adult kids hate him. He continues to fool around and this keeps him distracted at work. He often makes business decisions that help him feed his “habit” – joining a vendor at a strip club, for example, instead of going to bed early before an important meeting.

When you compare Brad to our other college friends, it’s sad. Brad’s salary is less than one-third the average of this group, and his prospects for promotion are non-existent. Conversely, the rest of his college buddies and I continue to enjoy great careers with plenty of positive movement. While many factors could account for this discrepancy, Brad is the lone (admitted) adulterer in the group.

Great Leadership is About Selflessness

Fooling around on your spouse is a selfish act. It demonstrates a belief that your needs are more important than the needs of others. Great leaders serve their subordinates, not the other way around. Because of this they develop a selfless nature that helps them make decisions without the added burden of an unhealthy ego.

Selfishness is more damaging in personal relationships, like that of Jennifer Aniston and (fill in a male celebrity’s name here), than it is in business. Of course, fewer people are hurt in a personal relationship.

Selfless people make great life mates and great leaders. Unfortunately, selfless people are often too humble to attract the attentions of Aniston or a Fortune 500 Board of Directors. They are so self-satisfied and accomplished that they almost never toot their own horns in a search for attention. (Hint: great leaders toot the horns of those around them.)

One Lie Begets Another

Lies are just like Lay’s Potato Chips, you can’t eat just one. Lies have a way of multiplying faster than Gremlins in a swimming pool. Just ask Kwame Kilpatrick.

Former Detroit Mayor Kilpatrick is alleged to have cheated on his wife and then reportedly lied under oath to cover it up. It’s never the infidelity; it’s always the cover up. Unfaithful actions lead to dishonest words.

We should expect more from our leaders. Leaders should be selfless. Too often, we’re discovering supposed leaders who spend hundreds of hours covering up a one-hour tryst. How impactful might they be if they concentrated on having sex with just their spouse?

Selfless people, on the other hand, have no reason to lie. Because they are not looking for the spotlight or working overtime to feed their own habits, they are never confronted with questions about their activities or character.

I Would Probably Lie, if I had a Better Memory

Whether the result of character or a simple lack of short term memory, I quit lying (for personal gain) at age eight. (My spouse would argue the latter.) It seemed that the payoffs were no longer positive after that age. Like all non-liars, I’ve seen my share of dishonest folks enjoying the spoils of their half-truths, knowing in my heart that I’d get mine in the end (and so would they).

Non-liars and faithful spouses aren’t envious of the adulterers and the damn liars who succeed in the short-term, although we are curious why everyone is always so surprised when the cheater is revealed. Seriously, it shows in their lack of true leadership.