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CIO Unplugged 8/21/13

August 21, 2013 Ed Marx 27 Comments
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Falling from Grace

If you read Unplugged, you know I practice transparency, perhaps to a fault. This post is the deepest view into my soul yet. I believe intense introspection is the way to exponential growth. Yet as I write, my conscience fears what it will discover. The truth will come out.

I recently received an endearing card from my godson that sparked my self-examination. I’ll share excerpts first, and then I will answer him publicly because I believe it matters.

8-21-2013 6-24-20 PM

“Uncle Ed. Thank you for being such great, if not the best examples of a Christian . . . of a marriage . . . of a man . . . you motivate me and my brothers to be the best we can in athletics, faith and relationships . . .”

Dear Josh,

I received your thank you card yesterday. As your Godfather, I am proud of you. First and foremost, you are a man of great character. You love God. You are accomplished. In high school, you worked diligently to attain Eagle Scout while earning the standing of class valedictorian. Your recent election as student body President pro Tempore at the University of Denver did not surprise me. All of this made the admonitions you wrote about me so special, and they truly made my year! However, your extravagant praise and your interpretation of my external “face” have pushed me to reexamine my life from the inside. As a husband, father, executive, and (former) army officer, there are covenants and codes of conduct I have to put into practice. Combined, these rules and responsibilities have weighed heavily upon me.

…to be continued.

Each week, the headlines highlight how so-and-so leader has fallen from grace. I am scared to be next. No leaders start out purposing to do something that will land them in trouble. The politician never thought he would be sexting. The pastor did not go through seminary aspiring to have an adulterous affair. What executive ever dreamed of climbing the corporate ladder and becoming an alcoholic? The clinician didn’t expect to take meds to quiet his own pain. No accountant ever thought to embezzle through slight of numbers nor did the businessperson ever think she would entertain a bribe in exchange for wealth.

What is the trigger that leads a leader down this path? I suspect it’s a gradual slide, and if unchecked, this slide will get too steep to catch ourselves.

As our careers grow, natural barriers of protection fall away. An increase in disposable income opens the door to accessibility on the path. We come to expect perks. Rules no longer apply to us. Success can become a drug, and we begin to think, “I am invincible!” We take advantage of options that allow us to elude accountability.

Success can become a vice in itself that creates an unquenchable thirst for more. We lose touch with reality in a gradual process that goes undetected. Before long, we’re overconfident and no longer count the costs of our indiscretion. We take our base for granted, assuming they will catch us when we fall.

8-21-2013 6-25-34 PM

Continued . . .

So Josh, my blessed Godson, thanks for the reminder of why I need to live a life beyond reproach. To you and your brothers, I offer the following wisdom:

Shore up home base. Ensure your home life is solid; build a foundation strong enough to withstand the storms and temptations.

Engage a counselor. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. The best ball players all have coaches.

Aggressively secure an accountability partner. Find someone who will speak truth to you and not let you get away with crap. Someone willing to put their friendship on the line if needed to keep you living right.

Live humbly. Pride comes before a fall.

Spiritual. Let your faith be your source of strength, comfort, and significance. Seek purity of mind, body, and soul.

Embrace fear. Healthy fear initiates boundaries. It’s a great motivator. (I recently listened to Magic Johnson recount the story of confessing to his pregnant wife that he had AIDS. Heart-wrenching. Don’t do things you’ll later regret.)

Live transparently. No secret email addresses, phone numbers, or bank accounts.

Set boundaries. Don’t mentor the opposite sex. Sounds draconian, but it protects both sides. Where appropriate, meet in public places or invite others to join you. Don’t go to bars if you are prone to drink too much.

Reality rocks. Ground yourself in reality. Shake yourself out of the fantasy by mentally carrying out your actions to their logical conclusion. (You will eventually get caught).

Resistance. Some will find this advice offensive and poke fun. That is OK. I have watched lives get ruined and I’ve cried with those who’ve fallen. Do whatever it takes to protect yourself.

To my leader friends. Are you climbing the slippery slope? I am.

Step off. Tell someone. Get help. Cut the ties that are pulling you down.

Don’t be next.

Update 8/22/13

Someone asked for the definition of the slippery slope. The slippery slope: a leader’s circumstances and (usually) stature helps define their slope. No accountability = slope. Rocky home base = slope. Pride = slope. Secret b-accounts/addresses (etc.) = slope. Ignoring need for intervention = slope.

Put these all together and you’re probably already sliding. Ask someone you trust how you’re doing.

I stand by my personal conviction on mentoring. If you have read my posts on mentoring, you know this is a very formal (contractual) relationship outside of the typical office environment.  I am not talking about a leader’s responsibility to develop leaders of all kinds. I am talking about an intimate and transparent relationship, often with individuals outside of your workplace.

I won’t go there with everyone. That is my choice. There are plenty of wonderful mentors out there for everyone, yet less than 5 percent of people have one. Those who know me understand that my primary focus as a leader has always been to develop others. If you read my posts, this is self-evident.

I am proud of all the different people I have had the honor to serve with and see grow. I don’t care about gender, orientation, religion, or whatever. I invest equally in the workplace. 

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "27 comments" on this Article:

  1. Ed,
    Love the piece. I really like how you made it universal in your “Spirituality” bullet. People can be spiritual without a belief in a deity.

    Now, are you going to tell us about the slippery slope? Some of us may be on the same slope and not recognize it! Or, maybe I missed the whole point of the post!

    Sign me,
    Accountability & Love

  2. You are so right about all of that.

    And I would add that no person is beyond falling. That doesn’t mean we cannot trust in others, but it does mean no one – not our parents, our boss, teachers, spouse, pastor, or the Pope – are beyond falling. We can trust others, but we can also know they are human. There is no escaping it. It absolutely can happen to anyone. I don’t like saying “happen”, because it sounds like something that suddenly takes over someone – like catching a cold from an outside, invisible, unavoidable source. But it doesn’t, of course – it comes from many purposeful and informed decisions leading up to it. That’s why it’s such a shock and such a heart-breaker when we see it.

    So, I think we can fully accept and love and honor and trust those whom we will – but must always know that they are not beyond the human condition of frailties, not beyond potential failure. It does not matter who they are. Then, if something untoward does ‘happen’ to another, we can be forgiving and help them in anyway we can – because we are all in the same boat.

  3. What you said is a monument to you as a person . To never recheck your ego, to ensure your drive for the fix as a powerful and accomplished is inder control and not get addicted to one more award , one more person or crowd telling them how great smart wonderful they are is a tough feat that many have failed (presidents , governors , CEOs ). Higher up you go less Likly people will share the tough love with you , but they will be much more public on your way down. Cudos to you.

  4. Ed thank you. Your advice and experience really hits home with me. No man is an island as the saying goes. God did intend for us to be accountable to others who are seeking the straight and narrow. Thank you for your example of humbleness and self reflection.

  5. Beautiful! You are amazingly gifted with Word, Willingness to be Transparent, Caring of your comrades, Humble and not Afraid. For those reasons some will benefit from your sharing. Thanks!!

  6. I find your suggestion to not mentor the opposite sex to be skirting the line of EQUAL OPPORTUNITY– Given that your field is so male-dominated, this chokes off access to higher echelons. In a formal program, this can also subject an employer to legal action.

    Also, you assume heterosexuality. Is CEO Tim Cook of APPLE, a gay man, not supposed to mentor any men? What about bisexuals? Is sexuality any of your or my business?

    A true professional can control his/her sexual and relationship urges/attractions. It is a shame that you seek to deny expertise and counsel to the opposite gender.

  7. I think having integrity, compassion and a decency in all that a person does and stands for reflects not only in a person’s personal life but their professional one as well. Ed continues to guide, mentor and set a standard all CIOs need to follow. Kudos!

  8. Well said, IT Lady. That’s not to say the suggestion of setting boundaries isn’t a good policy. But you do have to be careful where/how you set them if you want to treat people fairly.

  9. I would agree with the same sex mentor relationship rule, it can be a challenging situation that can create perceptions of impropriety even when none exists. It is easier (for all concerned) to stick with same sex mentors.

  10. Thank you, IT Lady for stating my thoughts. It took a while for someone to bring up sexism, congratulations for being the first.

  11. Ed,
    I appreciate your candor and the ability to articulate so many of the issues faced by professionals of all walks. We have seen so many fall…corporate, church, medical, etc….from vices that they certainly wish had been avoided and now realize, as the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 KJV, that if they had only been able to “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” It is the responsibility of a leader to example a path that is stable. In response to those who seek only to critique pet issues, I will say that, for instance, mentoring or counseling the opposite sex behind closed doors patterns a path that can lead to someone slipping. How much better to find creative ways to accomplish the task such as co-mentoring or co-counseling or just leave the door open. Thanks for these words of wisdom!

  12. Thank you for the reminders of issues everyone deals with on a daily basis. Being able to recognize fantasy, such as friends who really don’t have your back, is key, but difficult. When we are most vulnerable is when that slippery slope gets even more inviting.
    It is also difficult to let others “in far enough” to mentor you through life. A prime example of what holds us back.

  13. I don’t think marginalizing the sexism thing as a “pet issue” helps the discussion Realist. If you all want to talk about how to behave as Christians instead, I can pick a bone with Ed on that count too. Christ gave us two great commandments. Love God above all else and your neighbor as yourself.

    Walling yourself off from women and “doing whatever it takes to protect yourself” flaunts both, and it hurts those around you as much as it does yourself.

    Treat those around you with respect and professionalism and treat them all fairly. It’s a pretty simple workplace guideline.

  14. Being “a true professional” will never have enough strength to override the unexpected and always possible temptations that can appear suddenly and out of nowhere when working closely with the opposite sex. I’d much rather face the risk of an HR discussion and go from there, than put myself and others in risky position that can result in years of serious regret and widespread ruin.

    I think the main thing in a man mentoring a woman is too keep it all in the open and truly transparent to all. The trick is actually doing that! 🙂

  15. Ed, I usually enjoy your posts. They are generally thought-provoking and insightful. For this post, though, I have to agree with ITLady. I am female, and have had several male mentors through the years. I am forever grateful for the guidance and advice they have given me. I am a firm believer in offering men and women the same opportunities in business. Leaders should be cultivated and grown based on their performance, not based on what’s between their legs. Why does your organization even hire women if you’re not going to provide them with the best resources available for growth? Gender and sexual orientation have no place in hiring and mentoring. The BEST PERSON should be hired and trained and coached and mentored. Anything else is discriminatory and shameful.

  16. Hi – I too am an Ed fan and greatly appreciate his insights. But regret he and others find mentoring colleagues of the opposite sex out of line. Makes me sad for his loss as well as women who missed a great opportunity. The old boy network continues to dominate the industry – and a clear leader sees females as group to be avoided to mentor?.

    If your marriage is so solid and behavior impeccable, why would you reject the group who could most benefit from mentoring based on gender alone?

    Ed – maybe the next time you reconsider your values you could relook at this one. I promise if you mentored me I wouldn’t pinch you 🙂

  17. Many people on here have questioned the suggestion about not mentoring the opposite sex. I think some people need to read the suggestion again. Ed suggest that you refrain from mentoring the opposite sex to protect both sides. I do not think that is an example of sexism, but is a sad indicator of the world and times we live in. Maybe Ed should have said to never mentor the opposite sex alone. But I do believe that Ed makes a good point that is fair. By avoiding the situation, you do not have to worry about the temptation.

    Maybe here are other people ho disagree with Ed’s position, but I think Ed’s advice is more about protecting yourself and others than it is about seism.

  18. I’m such a fan of this article. This is a man with his $#!& straight that’s also not afraid to admit that he’s human. Ed, you are superbly grounded, my friend. And for what it’s worth, I’m a woman that agrees more with Mick’s sentiments. I think avoiding temptation is smart, not sexist. Different people have different susceptibilities, and if you know where negative opportunity/potential lies – and that’s different for everyone – by all means, stay the hell away from it. What Ed’s really saying is that he prioritizes he wife/family over would-be female mentor-ships – as well he should. (“Shore up home base” is a heck of a lot higher on that list than “set boundaries”.) Hats off to you, Ed, for being brave enough to reveal your I’m-not-impervious side. You’re wise in your self-awareness, and courageous for allowing us to peek behind your proverbial curtain. Your Godson, healthcare and the world at large are lucky to have you. See you OFF the slopes. 😉

  19. I think all concerns that are listed by ed as well as the article by Forbes which describes how 75 percent of Men polled who are leaders are reluctant to mentor woman says it is an issue. But the suggestions Forbes has in article below might be a way to mentor all without much of the risk. I can not speak or judge religious or personal reasons but the playing field for all has to be fair.


    Describes the challenges but I do believe all people deserve the best mentors and opportunities without restrictions

  20. I agree, Mick. I think it’s obvious, at least to the guys who read that, that it has nothing to do with sexism or anything remotely close to a “good ole boy’s club”, and everything to do with protecting lives and hearts by avoiding possible temptations.

    ALL guys know (yeah, ALL) that slope can get very, very slippery very, very fast – and we fear we could even be the instigator regardless of our resolve. Doesn’t matter who we are, or who the woman is – there are at least moments when a guy is capable of pretty much anything, and we know it. Mentoring the opposite sex, by it’s nature, tends to increase the risk of quickly becoming a bit too close. And for what?

    For some, there is too much at stake. Ed is clearly a wise man and a worthy guardian of his family. Most mentoring events presumably run their course with no troubles, but why would you risk it for a professional learning experience, no matter how promising? Maybe that should be your management lesson #1: People’s hearts are what’s most important.

    Besides… who said Ed’s article here is the Gospel?? Please. Take what resonates and make it your own if that works for you – and If you don’t agree with the whole mentoring thing, forget it! Sheesh!

  21. Ed – First of all, I commend you for being a bold and obedient witness for Christ. In my opinion, too many Christians have either become much like the world around them, or have been too afraid to standup for their faith in fear of offending someone. You can be positive salt and light to this increasingly dark world, and do it with love, humility, and truth. At the end of the day, it really does not matter what others think of how you live and why you take certain stands in regards to how you conduct yourself, it really only matters what God thinks. So, don’t allow others’ criticism dissuade you from doing (or not doing) what is right and consistent with what God’s Word teaches us. If others scoff or reject it, so be it.

    I say all of the above as one who has “fallen from grace” and has brought great embarrassment, shame, hurt, and regret on not only myself, but also on my family, employer, co-workers, and others who respected, trusted, and believed in me. It is only be the grace, forgiveness, and mercy of God that I have been able to get backup and on the road of redemption and restoration. I will not go into any of the details, but I allowed myself to get to a place of unaccountability and improper boundaries. I only blame myself for the end result consequences of my poor decisions and behavior. Believe me when I say this, often times we can go down a certain path and end up in a place we had no idea we would ever end up – and pay a price that we never dreamed we would have to pay. All because of not having proper boundaries established and maintained, as well as a lack of true accountability. As I once read someone discuss this subject in book a few years ago…..we are all 5 seconds from stupid!
    Then, we wonder how did I get here and what went wrong? We are all capable of doing or saying things that afterwards we cannot believe we did or said.

    It is a shame that given all you said and shared that a few people interpreted your personal decisions for being sexist or unfair. As long as you, me, or anyone else is not making employment decisions based on gender, race, etc., we all need to be wise in the situations we put ourselves in. Depending on how it is structured and conducted, there may be ways that a man or woman can mentor someone form the opposite sex – and not put either party in situations where improprieties can occur. But, I can tell you from personal experience, even with the best intentions, situations can become entangled very easily and you soon can be on that slippery slope. It is not sexism, it is understanding one’s own weaknesses and taking proper steps to protect everyone involved.

    Thank you again for sharing your heart with us – and I respect you even more for it. In this increasingly cold, dishonest, and disconnected world, it is refreshing to see and hear someone being real and transparent – and not allowing relativism dictate one’s beliefs and convictions. It is my prayer that the Lord will continue to bless and honor you and your family.

  22. Wonder if Ed published this article just for the shock value.

    Discrimination is discrimination. It’s wrong, demeaning, and illegal.

    A person who can’t see a woman as an employee, a mentee, someone to guide and develop, and give them 100% of the same opportunities they would give a man has no place in leadership.

    What Ed is proposing – and practicing – is sexual discrimination of the worst kind – hiding behind “Christian values” as an excuse.

  23. Give it a rest! If you don’t like his suggestions don’t use them. One part that most of you are not seeing is that Ed is protecting his butt…as he should. Why open yourself up to the possibility of being falsely accused of sexual harassment (I know, that’s never happened before). Get over it, he’s not being sexist or discriminating against women. And what if he is “hiding” behind his Christian values? The world would be a better place if more of us tried to live more like Christ.

  24. I appreciate the insight and advice that Ed has offered and am grateful he takes the time to write these. Regarding opposite sex mentorship.. The mentoring that Ed describes is one of great intimacy. I think that people would be well advised not to enter into a very intimate relationship with someone of their gender preference for risk of becoming inappropriately attracted to them. A professional mentorship where the mentor is completely honest and open can create both admiration and romantic feelings in the person being mentored. Personally I would find it fraught with pitfalls and I would rather avoid the potential for personal and professional ruin.

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