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CIO Unplugged 8/21/13

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.