Every community contains “messy” humans. We are all imperfect in many ways. Too often, we show these imperfections in our communities. That’s when our professional contributions collide with our personal messiness.
Let me confess right now: I am not perfect. At all. I have a healthy ego. I often wonder when my ego crosses the line into arrogance. Do I offend people with my arrogance? Probably.
However, my arrogance does not create a problem for other people’s careers and lives. My messiness doesn’t challenge any other person’s ability to succeed and contribute to a professional community.
Let me take just two communities I work in as a professional: the agile community and the greater writing community.
In the agile community, I see too many misogynistic behaviors, both at conferences and online. (Misogyny means a hatred of women.) Do I know if these people literally hate women? No, I don’t. However, their actions lead me to believe they don’t believe women are as capable as men—as a general statement. Sure, one or two special women might be capable? But women in general? No.
Maybe what I see as misogyny is a lack of self-esteem. Sometimes, a lack of self-esteem means a person feels the need to elevate themselves above everyone else. (Think of this as a zero-sum game.) I only know what the behavior looks like to me.
I’ve seen and experienced terrible behavior at conferences. I excel at deflecting inappropriate overtures—both professional and personal. However, many people still experience these behaviors. That’s why many of the conferences now have codes of conduct.
What happens when some of those same “messy” people make terrific professional contributions?
Should We Separate the Professional from the Personal?
I don’t have a direct answer to this question. Instead, I can only tell you what works for me.
For example, when I think about dead people, such as Arthur C. Clarke, the famous science-fiction novelist, I can choose if and when to read his work. (I do sometimes read his work to study.)
What about Harvey Weinstein? “His” movies are not just his—the movies also belong to the actors and the directors who made the movies. I have watched and continue to watch “his” movies because they don’t just belong to him.
What about so-called “thought leaders” in the other communities, such as the agile community? I choose not to read their work. When I need to reference one of “their” ideas, I find another source as a reference. Side note: very few so-called thought leaders actually invent anything. Instead, most of us work as a loosely-connected symmathesy. We learn together, pushing and pulling at each other’s ideas to create more and better ideas.
When so-called leaders attempt to disenfranchise other people because they:
- Disagree with another person’s ideas
- Discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, race
- Demand that someone should accede to their personal wishes, especially with sexual overtures
We all lose. Those so-called leaders might lead intellectually. They lose the personal integrity that keeps them at the “top” of their professional community.
Worse, the truth always comes out. No one can keep actions that violate personal integrity a secret for too long. (See Leadership Tip #2: Do the Right Thing, Even When it Feels Uncomfortable.)
And yet, I do speak at some conferences where these messy people speak. Why? Because I cannot change anyone else’s actions. However, when I participate, I can raise my concerns.
My decision may not fit for you. That’s fine. We each have lines we will and will not cross.
That’s the question this week: How do we reconcile a person’s professional contributions with their personal behaviors?