Personal With a Purpose
There is personal information and then there is personal information. For example, it has been in the interest of Democratic political figures, including nominated judges and politicians, to disclose the personal information that affirms that they have struggled and were not born with the proverbial silver spoon. For Republicans, it has been in their interest to reveal personal information that demonstrates their religiosity. Obama did both. But these were self-disclosures, designed to advance their personal pursuits.
Correspondingly, opposition research tries to make public personal information that will cast doubt on the candidate's own version of their life story. Just where did John Edwards grow up? How poor was he?
But these disclosures have nothing to do with leadership.
Personal disclosure when you are trying to exercise leadership is a completely different matter. You need to connect to people, to move them, and if you are going after their hearts, you have to display some of yours as well.
More important, personal disclosure in a leadership context is powerful, and appropriate, when it is connected to purpose, a nobler purpose than individual aggrandizement. A reform-minded school superintendent might reveal that she was a product of the very same public schools she is now committed to improving, or a legislator's personal experience with adoption or family tragedy from drunken driving might helps connect the passion and the purpose and be more compelling to listeners. Or, as with Obama last week, a president might use selected parts of his personal story to make connections with his audience across a barrier that has seemed insurmountable at times.
Everyone's personal story is part of their persona. Whether, when, and what to reveal is a tactical rather than a moral issue.
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