Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another Executive Casualty

On November 9th, Christopher Kubasik was asked to resign by the CEO and board of directors. Before that, he was the president and COO of Lockheed Martin and soon to be CEO. However, he was investigated for an alleged affair with a subordinate. When the accusation was proven to be true, his hopes of becoming CEO in January 2013 disappeared.

Kubasik joins a list of top executives from Fortune 500 corporations who have lost their jobs because of inappropriate relationships with subordinates or vendors. On one hand, this debacle seems to be a growing trend. At the same time, if you dig deeper, you may find that this behavior
has always existed in business. Except, post Enron and Worldcom the rules of Sarbanes Oxley provide little sympathy for those who violate company policies.

If intimate relationships have always existed in the workplace and it still occurs in the face of stricter policies, how do we stop it? Is it wise to try to stop it?

From one perspective, it may be unrealistic to ask people to not develop feelings for one another when they spend more time together at work than they do at home. In fact, a written policy that prohibits fraternizing with colleagues can create an unintended consequence. It creates an unspoken policy of deceit. Once people develop feelings for one another and act on them, they have to hide the relationship. Once people start to hide one behavior, it is possible that they will hide others. The unspoken policy is you can do what you want as long as you do not get caught.

As people work longer hours, they have less time for a social life. Furthermore, the more time they spend together the closer they become. They accomplish projects together, empower one another and build trust between them as they become more dependent on their individual contributions. In the normal course of events, it is reasonable to see how this trust and team partnership can develop mutual romantic feelings between colleagues and subordinates.

While the idea of a superior showing favoritism towards a subordinate is possible, there can be checks and balances in place to avoid abuses. Aside from that, there are many instances where couples work well together. For example, there are husband and wife teams who start successful businesses together. Couples who work together can be effective because of the level of trust that exists between them. That trust can benefit other team members or the entire organization.

On the other hand, it is possible that professionalism can be lost because of the intimate relationship. This can erode culture.

At the same time, if people naturally gain affinity for one another because they work closely, it may be time to examine the policies of corporations. Perhaps it is time to accept the fact that people can sometimes develop romantic feelings for one another. Keeping those kinds of relationships in the open makes it easier to correct inappropriate behavior. Hiding will only force people into a lifestyle of lies and deceit. It’s time to go after the policies not the people who make the enterprise work.

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know what it is. 


  1. I think this was well stated. There is a book called "Sex at Dawn" By Cacida Jetha and Christopher Ryan that addresses the different predicaments we as humans get ourselves into or out of. Very interesting book. We all have choice but on the other hand our lives are not run by pure intellect, we are more complicated. As for setting rules of non fraternizing makes the possibility of some form of a relationship more intense. Now it is the " Forbidden Fruit" My thoughts are this is something that will not change no matter the consequences. That has been proven through out the history of mankind. Maybe more thought should be given to setting boundaries than rules, and then a serious of actions that are required if a relationship occurs. Such as expected behavior in the office.

    1. Thank you, Marilyn. I agree that people sometimes pursue that which is forbidden. However, a relationship built on the idea of forbidden fruit generally has no substance and could eventually create problems in the workplace. There are people who build great relationships that turn into marriage. Bill Gates is an example of that. He married is executive assistant. And you are correct. If a relationship does develop, there needs to be guidelines for expected behavior.