Who Really Cares if the Boss is Gay?

Gossip (Vanessa Amorosi song)

The impetus might have been the convergence of former BP CEO John Browne’s new book on his life as a closeted exec with the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Or maybe it was simply bad form, like mentioning someone’s cancer prognosis or divorce when the news isn’t public.

While it wasn’t news to some in Silicon Valley, CNBC correspondent’s Simon Hobbs outing of one Fortune 500 CEO went over, as my dad would have said, “like someone loudly passing gas in church.

South of Kim Kardashian, some people have private lives that are actually private. Unless it’s material to their work, people may prefer to keep the non-work related items to themselves or close friends, associates and/or family.

While it’s pertinent news when a CEO gets fired for sex harassment and a board cites it for the reason for termination, it’s not relevant when it’s a non-issue. CEO’s having an affair? Relevant if it’s job related, belonging in the gossip rags if it’s not relevant.

There’s been a sea change in the last 5 years regarding most topics LGBT, spurred in part by the marriage equality debate. And while I think it’s terrific if people like Senator Portman want to talk about their (out) gay son, I’d suggest we respect the privacy of public figures to keep their lives private unless the position they’re taking publicly is at odds with their private lives. Exhibit A of the latter might be Louisiana Senator David Vitter’s seeming conflict invoking the mantle of “family values” and a penchant for prostitutes.

While a former CEO like John Browne may have regrets (including the Gulf Coast oil spill), it’s his business and his alone to let folks know he is gay.

I agree with Browne – as one personal case in point – that being out and authentic does make someone a better leader and more effective in many ways. But it’s the individual’s decision to make to be out, not anyone else’s.

The only folks who should be interested in the topic of who is gay and closeted in the exec ranks of the Fortune 500 (or anyplace else) should be the gossip trades and people who like to gossip.

I’ll pass on both.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.

Gossip (Vanessa Amorosi song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)