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Should Leaders Mind Their Own Business?

Mind Your Own BusinessWhen someone decides to involve himself in your affairs, you might tell him, "mind your own business." If you're really annoyed, you might even add a colorful expletive in there somewhere. Sure, it's a crude retort, but you'll be surprised to know that you gave that person some excellent business advice. Not that you meant to.

The wisdom of "mind your own business" definitely flies in the face of our rapidly shrinking and flattening world where everyone has a voice, an opinion, a social media presence, a website, a blog. It clearly goes against the prevailing winds of the day: the wisdom of crowds, the social collective, the generation of "me."
So be it.

Here are three big reasons why executives, business leaders, and everyone else, for that matter, should mind their own business:

  1. Just look at the expression literally. When you're poking your head into someone else's business, you're not minding your own. In this day and age of hyper global competition, what responsible executive or business leader can afford to not be paying attention to his own business 24x7?
  2. When highly-paid leaders use their position to "weigh in" on extraneous matters, it pisses off those who pay their exorbitant salary, namely shareholders, employees, customers, even their board of directors. Plus, on average, half those people are likely to disagree with the leader's position.
  3. When leaders feel the need to get involved in matters that shouldn't concern them, savvy observers see it as a dysfunctional need to get attention. It's narcissistic, egotistical, and childish. It certainly does draw attention to them, but not in a good way, at least not with respect to those who should matter most.
Of course, we all have the right to speak out on any issue; I have no beef with that. The real question is twofold: 1) is it in a leader's best interest, not to mention the interest of her stakeholders, to involve herself in other people's business, and 2) is it right for him to use his position as a bully pulpit, especially on matters outside his area of expertise?

To help fuel the debate, here are a few reasonably current examples of leaders crossing the line, potentially to their disadvantage:

  • President Barack Obama on the proposed ground zero mosque. A heated debate that has zero to do with the federal government, yet President Obama publicly weighed in. The purpose was likely to distract Americans from the horrific state of the economy and lack of jobs with a big election looming, but isn't that really the point? Doesn't a transparent attempt to manipulate constituents damage a leader's credibility?
  • Oracle's Larry Ellison blasting HP's board for dumping CEO Mark Hurd. Sure, as a partner, Oracle has a stake in who runs HP. That said, Ellison more likely wrote his manifesto because he's angry about how HP's board treated his close friend. Incidentally, I agree with his position, but was it a good move from Oracle's perspective?
  • Whole Foods CEO John Mackey vs. ObamaCare. I thought his point was well-taken and his move gutsy, but he may have risked harming his company's business by angering its traditionally left-leaning customer base who widely called for a boycott. Actually, it did no real harm to the company's brand or its business, but it could have.
  • Hollywood. I can have a field day with this one: Tom Cruise on mental health; Sean Penn and Danny Glover on politics; Suzanne Somers on all kinds of health issues she knows nothing about; Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey on vaccines and autism; need I go on?
Now, you know what I think, but what do you think? Should leaders - business, political, and otherwise - mind their own business?

Image CC 2.0 via Flickr user bixentro

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