Friday, April 25, 2014
Two years ago, when Chik-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy openly admitted to being "very much" against gay marriage and in support of only "the biblical definition of the family unit," he and his company were met with a large amount of social backlash. He went so far as to post a tweet stating, "Our founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen.[sic] to abandon the wisdom of the ages," which was in direct response to the Supreme Court's ruling that the DOMA was unconstitutional.
Today, two years later, Cathy admits that he regrets his decision to publicize his personal opinions. "Every leader goes through different phases of maturity, growth, and development and it helps by [recognizing] the mistakes that you make…You learn from those mistakes. If not, you're just a fool.
Coincidentally, it was just this month that the newly-appointed CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, was confronted with similar criticism after donating $1,000 in support of California's Proposition 8: a law that would make same-sex marriage illegal. His own employees began tweeting reasons he should resign. Dating site OKCupid responded by boycotting Mozilla by making their site incompatible with the Firefox browser.
The controversy took a toll on the entire company. The company's executive chairwoman, Mitchell Baker, said in an interview with Recode: "It's clear that Brendan cannot lead Mozilla in this setting. The ability to lead – particularly for the CEO – is fundamental to the role and that is not possible here."
While people can have personal opinions about any public issue, the point is that, in a technologically dominated world, what you say publicly directly impacts your reputation. Bringing your strong opinions into the workplace can alienate some of your employees and could even result in public backlash.
Why your online reputation matters.
Especially for those who aren't privy to social media, caring about the discussions that happen on social platforms can end up low on the priority list. Considering it's a place that can do just as much good for your goal of becoming a thought leader or industry expert as it can do bad, for how the public perceives you.
As an executive, people expect you to have an opinion, which surely Eich does. To his own fault, he chose to publicize the wrong one. Had he been exercising his unique voice for commentary on the tech industry – something that's much more relevant to his position than gay marriage – he could still be in office and well on his way to building his credibility.
Furthermore, one thing that Eich certainly learned too late, is the fact that one's online reputation – especially the online reputation of a CEO – will affect how both you and your company are portrayed in the media. It's all too easy to put a slant on a story when the public opinion of a person or business is already apparent. The media considers not only a CEO's contributions to his or her business, but also the causes they support, their positions within their communities, and many other personal factors.
Social media can be a platform for touting your expertise in your industry, but it can also tear you down. The moral of the story is that in the technological age, someone's always watching, and it's critical to behave as such.