Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Is There a Bill Clinton in Your Career?

In the coming days and weeks, Bill Clinton's impact on Hillary Clinton's campaign is going to be discussed ad nauseam (get your barf bags ready). But here's the question on my mind: Can a family member's behavior really adversely affect your career?

We've all been at the company holiday party where Tom's wife had a few too many glasses of wine and began leading the conga line a little too early in the evening. Or the holiday picnic where Sheila's husband cornered the CEO and began arguing that corporate leaders in America are all a bunch of crooks.

I heard Bill Clinton described this morning by one television reporter as "roaming free," sort of like he was a wild wildebeest who might mow down hundreds of innocent civilians. This was the same Bill Clinton who was nearly canonized by leading humanitarian efforts for Hurricane Katrina and tsunami victims? This was a former president? Roaming free?

If his fall from favor could happen because his behavior reflected badly on his wife's ambition, how might the average Joe fare when his wife gossips in front of his colleagues?

I don't think it's too far out of bounds to talk to a spouse or significant other before a company event to ask them not to reveal anything you've said about work, and to ask them to stick to "safe" subjects. But do you need to ask them not to overindulge, tell dirty jokes, insult the boss or lead the conga line? When do we have the right to dictate how another person behaves, even if it might hurt our career?

And, let's take it one more step: Are your children seen as a reflection of your professional capabilities? Unfair as it may seem, some people will judge you by whether you seem to be raising the spawns of satan or just have normal, energetic offspring.

So, maybe Hillary Clinton should have left Bill at home. Maybe he didn't hurt her chances of getting the Democratic nomination one iota, and it just wasn't her destiny to be the next president.

But the question remains: Can a career be adversely impacted by the behavior of a loved one? And, if it happened to you, what would you do about it?


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CommonDialog said...

I feel like Bill is getting a bad rap because of his profile. Far more than most spousal gaffes at a company function.

With that being said, if my wife was wildly out of bounds, say using racial epithets lously and in the presense of the people who the comments are supposed to offend, that's something else entirely. That's just bad all the way around.

I think Bill Clinton gets talked about because he gets talked about. Most of our spouses are not nearly so on the radar.

Robert Hruzek said...

Interesting question, Anita! I think the answer is, "Dang straight it can!" It happens all the time.

But the more important question is, "What impact will it have?" And that, of course, depends on many factors.

Hey, if you happen to live in a fishbowl (as most politicians and other well-known figures do), then yes, it's bound to have a greater effect on your career.

Seems like public figures often forget that. *sigh*

What can you do about it? Well, like an online reputation, all you can do is manage what you can - but you'd better MANAGE it!

Never forget - every choice has a consequence. We may not be able to completely control the consequences, but we can certainly control our choices!

Anita said...

I think it's going to be an interesting discussion for many people, especially as you have more women go for top positions. I think females are much more used to being considered a reflection of their mates (Stepford Wives being the extreme!), but it may be something males will have to learn as they go into these roles...
Thanks for posting!

Anita said...

Good point about managing your reputation, but it can be difficult to "manage" a loved one. I think the key would be to keep the lines of communication open so that the significant other would understand what you're trying to do with your career and understands how they can be supportive of that effort.
Thanks for posting.

BullsEyeCareers said...

Thought provoking as usual Anita!

Several years ago, my husband's company rewarded his team with a trip to the Bahamas after a tough year of work.

I will never forget one employee's wife who drank way too much and did a striptease on the balcony overlooking the swimming pool. The rest of us sat there mortified until her husband went up to the room and pulled her in.

That very senior employee left the company about two months later.

Bob is right, you really have to MANAGE it. As my Jamaican mother used to say, "if you can't dance at home, you can't dance abroad". Meaning - bad behavior we tolerate in private, will often spill over into the public domain, if not managed.


Anita said...

Well, as my grandmother would have said: "Lord, have mercy!"
I cannot imagine how that employee felt. Even if no one said anything directly to him, I'm sure he was aware of the gossip.
What a tough situation to be in. No wonder he left.
Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I have never had a family member affect my working career, but I did have an alcoholic father who affected my social life in both elementary school and high school.

Children don't choose their parents or have anything to do with how they behave, but it was amazing how many people saw him when they looked at me.

I think at work it could be the same thing. As a single person I would definitely think twice before bringing a date to a work function.

Anita said...

I've interviewed a pyschologist on the effect of our mothers/fathers not only on our childhoods, but on our choice of careers. What I learned was they do impact how we work, and the kind of work we choose. They're not the only determinate in our lives, but they do have an impact. It will be interesting to see what role Bill Clinton plays in Sen. Clinton's future political life.
Thanks for posting.