While you might think that your personal opinions and views are entirely detached from your business and how it operates (why should it matter if you wear real fur outside of work?), when you’re in a high-level position the lines can become blurred – after all, you’re one of the decision makers.
People tend to see you and the company as one and the same, which means a controversial view or decision by you almost always affects the company, especially in bigger companies who are often in the public eye.
This lesson was recently learnt the hard way by co-founder and recently appointed CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, who in 2008 made a donation to support a same-sex marriage ban campaign in California.
While his contribution was met by the public with negativity at the time, it was not until he was appointed CEO that the outrage bubbled over the surface.
Among those opposed to Eich’s appointment as CEO were online dating website OKCupid, whose visitors using the Mozilla Firefox web browser were stopped before being able to access the site and greeted with the following message:
“Hello there, Mozilla Firefox user. Pardon this interruption of your OkCupid experience. Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.”
Also found on this page were links to download alternative browsers, although Firefox users could still continue if they wished.
Eich has since stepped down as CEO.
So what can we learn from this?
While one could argue that what someone says or does in a personal capacity, as long as it’s not illegal or malicious, should be accepted according to our laws regarding freedom of expression and not associated with our businesses; we have to be realistic and accept that this is not the case and our personal views can and do affect how people see the companies we run.
All we can advise is that you think about how your words and actions may reflect on your business. If your views and the company’s views do not align, be aware that publicly acknowledging this could cause you and the business to both come under fire.
The same goes for the comments and updates you post to social media and other sites – while you are entitled to your own personal views you need to always be mindful of how these views may reflect on you and your future prospects.
Sometimes it is best to err on the side of caution. Controversy can occasionally be good for business, but usually the opposite is true.