Personal and Professional Lives Entwined in the 21st Century
I found a blog post on LinkedIn this week that explored the issue of how to manage relationships at work and in your personal life. The advice was traditional: Keep the two separate, and try not to get too personal with professional relationships.
I have issues with that advice, especially given the public way we live our lives in the age of social media.
One of the commenters (Mai Lee Sun) nailed what I object to about the Chinese Wall* the author seemed to think you can construct between your professional and personal lives.
“…the mark of a true human being is such that we live our lives in a way where we are authentic, aware, conscious and understand good boundaries are good boundaries and necessary in all relationships of any kind- whether with children, pets, coworkers. Ultimately, accountability, caring and appropriateness in behaviour in all circumstances lies with the individual who chooses it because it is the way they live.”
The evidence is strong that being authentic in both spheres of your life allows you to move seamlessly between them. The recent unfortunate fall from grace experienced by Gen. Petraeus is just one strong example of how you must live both parts of your life the same way: Failures and foibles in one part can have unpredictable but destructive effects on how well the other part goes. Today, you must adopt the mindset that you cannot keep your professional and personal lives separate.
Consider this 21st Century situation:
- An aspiring young mid-level manager works hard and does all the right things at work to obtain promotion. He presents himself well, meets with the right people, works long hours and exceeds team goals.
- When he leaves work, as a single guy, he heads out with friends to blow off steam, unwind and purse high-energy activities of all sorts.
- Given the public way in which we live our personal lives today, the choices he makes about those activities will end up as public knowledge. All his friends have camera phones, all of them share these images on their social media pages, and all of them tag the images with the name of the persons pictured.
- A hiring manager today always does an online search on each candidate. If our aspiring young manager is one of those candidates, and his wide personal life is on full display digitally, what will that do to his chances?
Prior to 2000, personal and professional lives could exist separately if you “kept up appearances.” That no longer works. If you want to have a long, successful career as a leader of people, you have to mesh your personal and professional lives as never before, and ALWAYS present yourself with the professional image you wish to live by.
This awareness of how social media can chronicle our lives is just part of being a leader today. You must factor it into how you live your life, and how personal habits can quickly impact your professional potential!
*For those not familiar with the term “Chinese Wall”, it refers to the Great Wall of China, an immense, solid structure built to keep barbarians out and citizens in. It has come to be shorthand in business for an impenetrable barrier between two areas of interest.