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Gail S. Williams
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Gail S. Williams

Gail S. Williams directs the Leadership Alchemy Program at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

The Puzzle of Trust

I am conflicted as I answer this question. To some extent, I believe public figures are entitled to more privacy then they are granted of late and what happens in the bedroom should stay in the bedroom.

That said, I believe marital fidelity is a good predictor of overall character, albeit not the only predictor. One promise among many in the marriage contract is to be faithful to one's spouse/partner. Breaking that promise is tantamount to breaking a sacred trust.

Moving to the world of leadership, the ability to establish and sustain trusting relationships with one's followers is foundational to being an effective leader. Yet, I've known several leaders who broke their marital vows while still displaying many excellent leadership qualities. Faced with the choice of supporting two people of equal leadership talent, yet varying levels of "moral character," I'd choose to follow the person who kept their marital vows and would feel greater trust in their words and deeds.

By Gail S. Williams

 |  June 30, 2009; 10:54 AM ET
Category:  Ethics Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The experts often say Marital infidelity is about opportunity.
What they don't say is that how that opportunity is handled is about character. Given the opportunity
whether one is unfaithful or not is an issue of character. Under the same set of circumstances one person will cheat and another will not, happy at home or not.

How does this relate to performance in office?

Anyone who will lie to his/her spouse repetitively, while also breaking a promise, will have no compunction about lying to those who elected him/her.

Make a judgment about what you want out of an elected official.

Posted by: captn_ahab | July 2, 2009 11:06 AM
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Wait a minute, I am irritated by Sanford for sure but that does not compare to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a man of the times he lived in when owning slaves and having children by one was not a great moral transgression. It is unfair to judge Jefferson by the morality of our times. Sanford, on the other hand, cannot argue the same. He knew fully well that both having a mistress and leaving the state with no clear hand-off of power was not acceptable in our society.

Posted by: DrKayJay | July 1, 2009 1:40 PM
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Clearly, many major leadership figures in USA history were cheaters/philanderers, including Presidents: Jefferson, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton. These all though stepped within the boundaries of their cultures, that is, their activities were acceptable. Today, a conservative, Christian, Republican politician cannot commit adultery and get away with it. Pure and simple, he must resign, whether or not he is an excellent leader. He has proven himself to be untrustworthy.

Posted by: schaeffz | July 1, 2009 1:32 PM
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Former Sanford Chief of Staff Tom Davis says: "Women?! Women?!"

Note the plural.

Hypocrisy is a different matter.

Posted by: caducuus | July 1, 2009 10:24 AM
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Thomas Jefferson is deservedly an American hero and instrumental in the development of democracy. His public contributions are beyond value. His private life is a quandary. There is little doubt that he fathered children of Sally Hemings, and these children remained slaves!
Public contributions and private lives, maybe they are and should remain separate. Hypocrisy is a different matter.

Posted by: gss49 | July 1, 2009 9:39 AM
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