What Mozilla's Chief Forgot About 21st Century Leadership
Last week Brendan Eich resigned from the CEO post at Mozilla after employees created a media storm around his donation of $1,000 to the 2008 Proposition 8 campaign in California. When Eich’s opposition to gay marriage became more widely known, dating site OkCupid called on its users to boycott Mozilla.
I don't typically feel a need to comment on my fellow CEOs or on the “do’s and don’ts” of the business world. I do think that these developments speak to an interesting reality, however. As CEOs or any sort of public leader, we live under great and constant scrutiny. Workers' rights, consumer sentiment and the gender game all play into whether our leadership and business is going to survive. The rise of "glass house" transparency is redefining the reality of business life: Six years ago, Eich probably never anticipated that a $1,000 political donation would cost him a future job.
The course of political sentiment these days can resemble the trajectory of a wild boomerang ride. In 2008, it was popular to oppose gay marriage. Proposition 8 passed with just a little bit more than 52 percent of Californians in favor, and in 2009 Gallup found that 57 percent of Americans continued to oppose gay marriage. It felt to me as a gay person that Karl Rove had the U.S. population in the palm of his hand during that momentous vote.
Now, as of last July, 52 percent of Americans would vote to legalize gay marriage nationwide. More people are accepting of this new cultural trend than not, thanks largely to the mainstream media's portrayal of gay characters on television and the mind-set of the current president of the United States.
Societal sentiments may change, but our past choices remain fixed and cannot slip away when the winds of opinion shift.
If you wonder how I feel about Eich's stepping down as CEO of Mozilla, the answer is, I don’t know. I do not know if the board wanted to dismiss Eich or if another scandal was brewing. When you get down to it, I am an American and I believe we have the right to choose our views.
Do I get sad as an openly gay person that people hate me? Of course, but it does not affect my work life.
Do I think I have not gotten business because I am gay? The answer is yes.
Do I think I have not gotten business because I am overweight? The answer is yes.
Do I think I’ve received work because another person liked my story or thought I was attractive? Of course; that's life.
I am a CEO, not a gay CEO. My job is to do the best for my company and my employees, my clients and my investors. My lifestyle does not play a role in that whatsoever.
But I live my life and that includes working with complete transparency. Some days I win, and some days I lose.
Brendan Eich and other CEOs know that we are now held to much higher standards, many of which are unprecedented. Until the 21st century, it was rather easy for us to keep our convictions and personal life private. Today, our personal lives are about as private as the news or press page on our company websites; which is to say, the contents of our conscience may only be a few clicks away from those who care to know.
Years ago, Eich may have continued on to lead Mozilla through extraordinary growth and success. Today, he was uprooted when his views and actions of the past met the winds of the present.
Do I think this is fair? In some ways yes and in some ways no.
In the new world order, if you want to be in the game of kings, then suck it up and be aware that this is the new chessboard we play on. If you put yourself in checkmate, that is your choice. Game on. Judge on.
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