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Leader's Edge It's Not Personal

Determine where the line is when mixing business with personal relationships. It’s somewhere between Don Corleone and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben

By  Julia Kramer

Most top executives don’t understand the power of their position. You might be one of them. You are probably all too aware that you frequently make high-level, high-stakes decisions, that you develop vision and strategy, and that you are accountable for your firm’s financial results. You get that the buck stops with you. What you might not grasp is how much interpersonal power you have with your staff. Power that should be used for good. Power that is, unfortunately, sometimes used for bad or used carelessly rather than responsibly.

Power can be positive—and it certainly has its place in leadership. Without personal or positional power, a leader has a difficult time developing loyal and motivated followers. But what you do with your power determines whether you will be a strong leader or a toxic one. Read the following and do a gut check to ensure that you’re using your power effectively—and not wasting it on activities and behaviors that are detrimental to your staff and your firm’s future.

“When Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.”

You better believe that goes double for you and your employees. Whether you know it or not, your employees watch you like hawks, and they gauge everything from submitting a vacation request to pitching a new idea based on your disposition. Your mood affects their mood, and we all know a bad mood is highly contagious.

So next time you feel like stomping into the office with a scowl on your face, glaring at those unfortunate to be in your path, stop yourself. Muster up your emotional strength, take a deep breath, rein in that nasty mood, and help everyone have a good day. Not only will your staff have one less thing to worry about, they will also view your even-temperedness as a sign of strength and emotional intelligence. Modeling a calm exterior even when things are bumpy in your personal or professional life shows your managers how best to comport themselves in the workplace.

“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

So said Michael Corleone to his brother Sonny in “The Godfather.” And while you’re certainly not in the business the Corleones were in, your ability to separate your personal feelings and your personal relationships from your business decisions is an indicator of your effectiveness as a leader.

Don’t get me wrong. Developing relationships with colleagues and staff is both positive and to be encouraged. Being empathetic and considering someone’s personal situation when making certain decisions is important. But when personal relationships affect your ability to make business decisions—on staffing, compensation, resource allocation, inclusion vs. exclusion—you are not effectively leading. Next time you make a decision that gives something to someone, especially if that means it doesn’t go to someone else—be it your time, attention, pay, inclusion or other job opportunity—make sure you don’t base your decision on friendships. Make business decisions all about business, with clear reasons for the outcome—reasons that include competency, creativity, success, skill sets, job knowledge and ability.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit next to me.”

That might be some people’s mantra, but it should not be the top executive’s. Of course, we all like to get the inside scoop every once in a while, and some non-business related information is helpful to have and just plain fun to hear about. Most of us also like a good, and sometimes off-color, joke. But executives and all other managers must tread carefully and know that there is a fine line between having fun and getting caught up in behavior that makes those around them question their values, principles and objectivity.

Leaders must rise above petty and distracting behavior, behavior that includes gossip, name-calling and vulgarity—and worse still, behaviors that are addressed by employment laws, including those that smack of stereotyping, discrimination or harassment.

The hard part for many fun-loving and extroverted executives is figuring out where that line is (although, if asked, they rarely have a hard time drawing the line for the folks who report to them). Take a look at your own conversations and activities to ensure that you’re not confusing your attempt to encourage camaraderie with something that could lead to ethical or legal hot water.

Executives, directors, managers and supervisors are all in positions of power. They have the responsibility to manage that power for the good of the organization and the individuals who work there. Make sure that you model the behaviors befitting an organizational leader—and teach others by way of example. Help them understand, per Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, that “with great power comes great responsibility,” and hold yourself and them accountable. It’s the right thing to do for everyone involved because it’s not personal. It’s business.

Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Leadership & Management Resources.


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