The resignation of CIA director David Petraeus over an extramarital affair is a reminder that high-profile individuals are not immune to the temptations of adultery.

But it also prompts the question: should a sexual indiscretion cost someone their job?

"At the end of the day, it depends on how [the scandal] reflects leadership within the organization,” says Terry Flynn, a crisis management expert at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business.

"Is your company one that values transparency and authenticity and integrity?"

If Petraeus were in his previous post, as a general in the U.S. military, it's quite likely he would have lost his job over his affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

As an organization, the U.S. army explicitly forbids affairs involving members on active duty and retired officials receiving military compensation. Petraeus retired in 2010.

Flynn says that having an affair while director of the CIA is even more problematic, given the allegations that Petraeus shared secrets with Broadwell that may compromise national security.

The crisis management expert points out that as leader of the U.S. spy agency, Petraeus must uphold an image of incorruptibility, so that he cannot be blackmailed.

A question of character

"In today's world, we're looking for people of character to be leaders," says Glenn Rowe, who teaches strategic leadership at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business.

People who cannot preserve that integrity should not be leading others, says Rowe.

He cites the case of Harry Stonecipher, former CEO of Boeing, who resigned from the aircraft maker in 2005 after it was revealed that he was having an extramarital affair with a female executive.

Rowe points out that during his tenure, Stonecipher helped craft a code of ethical conduct that was meant to reflect the company's new discipline. And then he broke it.

"How can people expect this person to lead with character, with integrity, if he's violating the very code he put in?" Rowe asks.

The Petraeus case involves unusually high stakes, but it demonstrates that the separation between public and private life is largely illusory.

"When a person is in a high position in a publicly traded company or in a military position or in a political position, your life is not your own," Rowe says.

He says that given the media's innate interest in the private lives of prominent figures, the public airing of an extramarital fling "could damage shareholder value in a public firm, could damage a privately owned company and certainly damages military leadership."

As a result, Rowe says, the individual must resign.

Protecting the brand

According to Jeffrey Dvorkin, a Canadian media analyst, anyone who accepts a leadership role must understand that they're also assuming accountability for the organization's brand.

"I think this is a managerial question, and it's about being really clear with people who are in charge of an organization that they have responsibilities that also involve the reputation of the organization,” says Dvorkin.

Flynn says affairs can compromise any organization, no matter how small.

He sketches out an example of a family-run business with 100 employees. A number of the workers become aware that one of the executives has been unfaithful to his wife, who many of the employees know.

"You put them in a difficult ethical position: 'To whom do I have obligation? Do I have an obligation to the boss, who signs my paycheque, or do I have obligation to his wife, because [the affair] is not an appropriate thing?'" says Flynn.

Effect on morale

Dvorkin says that an affair becomes even more problematic when both individuals work for the company and one of them is in a managerial role.

This could lead to a toxic work environment where suspicions of favouritism run rampant, he says.

"The question is, what is the impact [the affair] has on the job and is this an issue of morale inside an organization if it's known that a superior is having an affair with a direct report," says Dvorkin.

Rowe from the Ivey School says that sexual indiscretions are problematic for any manager, regardless of how many people he or she oversees, and should be grounds for dismissal.

"To me, having an extramarital affair in the workplace, at whatever level you're at, does not show good character or a sense of integrity from a leadership perspective," Rowe says.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Jill Kelley, David Petraeus

    Jill Kelley leaves her home Monday, Nov 12, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. Kelley is identified as the woman who allegedly received harassing emails from Gen. David Petraeus' paramour, Paula Broadwell. She serves as an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the military's Central Command and Special Operations Command are located. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

  • Gen. John Allen

    File - In this Oct. 10, 2012 file photo, U.S. General John Allen stands during a media conference after a meeting of NATO Defense Ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels. In a new twist to the Gen. David Petraeus sex scandal, the Pentagon said Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 that the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, is under investigation for alleged "inappropriate communications" with a woman who is said to have received threatening emails from Paula Broadwell, the woman with whom Petraeus had an extramarital affair. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)

  • Paula Broadwell

    In this Jan. 15, 2012 photo, Paula Broadwell, author of the David Petraeus biography "All In," poses for photos in Charlotte, N.C. Petraeus, the retired four-star general renowned for taking charge of the military campaigns in Iraq and then Afghanistan, abruptly resigned Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 as director of the CIA, admitting to an extramarital affair. Petraeus carried on the affair with Broadwell, according to several U.S. officials with knowledge of the situation. (AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, T. Ortega Gaines) LOCAL TV OUT (WSOC, WBTV, WCNC, WCCB); LOCAL PRINT OUT (CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL, CREATIVE LOAFLING, CHARLOTTE WEEKLY, MECHLENBURG TIMES, CHARLOTTE MAGAZINE, CHARLOTTE PARENTS) LOCAL RADIO OUT (WBT)

  • Leon Panetta, John Allen, David Petraeus

    FILE POOL - In this July 9, 2011 file photo, USMC Gen. John Allen, left, and Army Gen. David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and incoming CIA Director, greet former CIA Director and new U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, right, as he lands in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul J. Richards, Pool)

  • John Allen

    FILE -- In an April 28, 2011 file photo Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Allen, speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington. The sex scandal that led to CIA Director David Petraeus' downfall widened Tuesday with word the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is under investigation for thousands of alleged "inappropriate communications" with another woman involved in the case. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak/file)

  • FBI agents carry boxes and a computer from the home of Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus led to his resignation as CIA director, in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • FBI agents carry boxes and a computer from the home of Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus led to his resignation as CIA director, in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • The home of Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus led to his resignation as CIA director, is shown as FBI agents conduct a search inside in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • FBI agents leave the home of Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus led to his resignation as CIA director, after a search in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg police stand guard outside the home of Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus led to his resignation as CIA director, in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • FBI agents conduct a search inside the home of Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus led to his resignation as CIA director, in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • An FBI agent carries boxes from the home of Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus led to his resignation as CIA director, in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • An FBI agent carries boxes to the home of Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus led to his resignation as CIA director, in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  • Jill Kelley, David Petraeus

    A Tampa police officer walks away after talking to Jill Kelley through the window at her home Monday, Nov 12, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. Kelley is identified as the woman who allegedly received harassing emails from Gen. David Petraeus' paramour, Paula Broadwell. She serves as an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the military's Central Command and Special Operations Command are located. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

  • Jill Kelley, David Petraeus

    Jill Kelley leaves her home Monday, Nov 12, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. Kelley is identified as the woman who received threatening emails from Gen. David Petraeus' paramour, Paula Broadwell. She serves as an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the military's Central Command and Special Operations Command are located. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

  • Jill Kelley, David Petraeus

    ADDS ALLEGEDLY AND CORRECTS TO RECEIVED HARASSING EMAILS, NOT THREATENING EMAILS - Walkers pass the home of Jill Kelley in Tampa, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. Kelley is identified as the woman who received allegedly harassing emails from Gen. David Petraeus' paramour, Paula Broadwell. She serves as an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the military's Central Command and Special Operations Command are located. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

  • David Petraeus, Jill Kelley

    This photo taken Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 shows the home of Jill Kelley in Tampa, Fla. Kelley is identified as the woman who received threatening emails from Gen. David Petraeus' paramour, Paula Broadwell. She serves as an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the military's Central Command and Special Operations Command are located. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

  • FILE - In this June 23, 2011, file photo, Gen. David Petraeus, center, walks with his wife Holly, left, past a seated Paula Broadwell, rear right, as he arrives to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee during a hearing on his nomination to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Capitol Hill in Washington. Petraeus quit Nov. 9, 2012, after acknowledging an extramarital relationship. As questions arise about the extramarital affair between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, she has remained quiet about details of their relationship. However, information has emerged about Jill Kelley, the woman who received the emails from Broadwell that led to the FBI’s discovery of Petraeus’ indiscretion. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

  • In the frame grab from C-SPAN Book TV video taken Feb. 6, 2012, author Paula Broadwell speaks to an audience about the book she co-authored, "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus," at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. The scandal that brought down CIA Director David Petraeus started with harassing emails sent by his biographer and paramour, Broadwell, to another woman, and eventually led the FBI to discover he was having an affair, U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. Petraeus quit Friday, Nov. 9, after acknowledging an extramarital relationship. (AP Photo/C-SPAN Book TV)

  • Paula Broadwell

    In this Jan. 15, 2012 photo, Paula Broadwell, author of the David Petraeus biography "All In," poses for photos in Charlotte, N.C. Petraeus, the retired four-star general renowned for taking charge of the military campaigns in Iraq and then Afghanistan, abruptly resigned Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 as director of the CIA, admitting to an extramarital affair. Petraeus carried on the affair with Broadwell, according to several U.S. officials with knowledge of the situation. (AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, T. Ortega Gaines) LOCAL TV OUT (WSOC, WBTV, WCNC, WCCB); LOCAL PRINT OUT (CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL, CREATIVE LOAFLING, CHARLOTTE WEEKLY, MECHLENBURG TIMES, CHARLOTTE MAGAZINE, CHARLOTTE PARENTS) LOCAL RADIO OUT (WBT)

  • David Patreaus, Holly Petreaus

    FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2011 file photo, former Commander of International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Gen. Davis Petraeus, standing with his wife Holly, participates in an armed forces farewell tribute and retirement ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va. Gen. Petraeus, the retired four-star general who led the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 as director of the CIA after admitting he had an extramarital affair. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

  • David Patreaus, Holly Petreaus

    FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2011 file photo, former Commander of International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Gen. Davis Petraeus kisses his wife Holly during an armed forces farewell tribute and retirement ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va. Gen. Petraeus, the retired four-star general who led the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 as director of the CIA after admitting he had an extramarital affair. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

  • Barack Obama, David Petraeus

    FILE - In this June 23, 2010 file photo, President Barack Obama, accompanied by Gen. David Petraeus, announces that Petraeus would replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal, from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Petraeus, the retired four-star general who led the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 as director of the CIA after admitting he had an extramarital affair. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

  • Barack Obama, David Petraeus

    FILE - In this July 21, 2008 file photo, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, left, and then-top U.S. military commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, take a helicopter ride over Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City, Iraq. Petraeus, the retired four-star general who led the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 as director of the CIA after admitting he had an extramarital affair. (AP Photo/Ssg. Lorie Jewell, Pool, File)

  • David Petraeus

    FILE - In this June 29, 2010 file photo, Gen. David Petraeus testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Petraeus, the retired four-star general who led the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 as director of the CIA after admitting he had an extramarital affair. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

  • David Petraeus

    FILE - In this March 1, 2008 file photo, then-top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, center left, talks to players during a youth soccer tournament in central Baghdad, Iraq. Petraeus, the retired four-star general who led the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 as director of the CIA after admitting he had an extramarital affair. (AP photo/Dusan Vranic, File)

  • George W. Bush, David Petraeus

    FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2007 file photo, then-President George W. Bush, right, stands with Gen. David Petraeus as he arrives for a surprise visit at Al-Asad Airbase in Anbar province, Iraq. Petraeus, the retired four-star general who led the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 as director of the CIA after admitting he had an extramarital affair. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

  • Joe Biden, David Petraeus, Holly Knowlton Petraeus

    FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2011, file photo, new CIA director David Petraeus, right, accompanied by his wife Holly Knowlton Petraeus and Vice President Joe Biden, speaks following his swearing-in ceremony, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Petraeus has resigned as director of the CIA after admitting he had an extramarital affair. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

  • CIA Director David Petraeus Rings The Opening Bell At The New York Stock Exchange

    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus (center) prepares to ring the Opening Bell of the New York Stock Exchange as the CIA Commemorates it's 65th Anniversary on September 18, 2012 in New York City. Standing to Mr. Petraeus's left is New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and on his right is Salvatore Cassano, NYC Fire Commissioner. Stocks fell in early trading as investors continued to be concerned about Europe and the global economy. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


Loading Slideshow...
  • David Petraeus

    A highly decorated four-star Army general lauded for his leadership of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Petraeus moved into the civilian world to become CIA director in September 2011. He shocked official Washington on November 9, 2012 by admitting an extramarital affair with his biographer and resigning his spymaster post. (Text via <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121114/us-scandal-scorecard/">The Associated Press</a>)

  • Paula Broadwell

    The other woman. An author and married mom of two young children, she was a West Point-educated Army reservist and graduate student when she met Petraeus at Harvard in 2006. She later embarked on a case study on his leadership of the Iraq War. After he took the helm in Afghanistan, Broadwell expanded her work into a biography, gaining unprecedented access to Petraeus and his commanders. It's called "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus." Their affair began in November 2011, a couple of months after he became CIA director, according to retired Army Col. Steve Boylan, a friend of the Petraeus family. It ended last summer, Boylan said. The relationship was exposed after Broadwell of Charlotte, N.C., sent emails to another woman, Jill Kelley, warning her to stay away from Petraeus, officials said. (Text via <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121114/us-scandal-scorecard/">The Associated Press</a>)

  • Jill Kelley

    All threads in the story trace back to this Tampa, Fla., socialite. A surgeon's wife and mother of three children, Kelley is a sort of self-appointed social ambassador for the nearby U.S. Central Command and other officers at MacDill Air Force Base. The Kelleys opened their bayside home to lavish parties where military brass mingled with Tampa's elite. In this role, she befriended Petraeus and his wife, Holly, when he took over Central Command in October 2008. Kelley stayed in close contact with Petraeus after he left to take command of the Afghanistan war. They exchanged nearly daily emails in an account routinely monitored by his aides, according to two former staffers, who said those messages weren't romantic in tone. In May 2012, Kelley started getting anonymous, harassing emails warning her away from Petraeus. She reported the email to the FBI. The FBI traced the messages to Broadwell, uncovering her affair with Petraeus. The FBI notified Petraeus' boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who urged him to resign. And the FBI found something more. It unearthed "inappropriate communications" between Kelley and another top military officer, John Allen, according to Pentagon officials. (Text via <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121114/us-scandal-scorecard/">The Associated Press</a>)

  • John Allen

    The four-star Marine general who followed in Petraeus' footsteps at Central Command and then as top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is now following him into choppy waters. The Pentagon is investigating 20,000 pages of documents and emails involving Allen, who is married, and Kelley. Some of the communications were "flirtatious," according to a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the case publicly. Like Petraeus, Allen, 58, was part of the Tampa social circle; he moved up to acting commander when Petraeus left for Afghanistan. When Petraeus came home from Afghanistan, Allen moved into the top job there – his current post. President Barack Obama had nominated Allen to take over U.S. European Command and lead all NATO forces in Europe. (Text via <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121114/us-scandal-scorecard/">The Associated Press</a>)

  • Natalie Khawam

    Kelley's twin sister also socialized with the two generals. Both Petraeus and Allen wrote letters lauding Khawam as a devoted mother to help her in a bitter child custody battle with her ex-husband. Earlier in that divorce case, Superior Court Judge Neal Kravitz had criticized Khawam for a lack of honesty and "misrepresentations about virtually everything." (Text via <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121114/us-scandal-scorecard/">The Associated Press</a>)

  • Holly Petraeus

    Petraeus' wife of 38 years, mother of their two grown children, is in charge of service member assistance at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and is a well-known advocate for military families. Mrs. Petraeus is said to be devastated by her husband's infidelity. "Furious would be an understatement," family friend Boylan told ABC's "Good Morning America." (Text via <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20121114/us-scandal-scorecard/">The Associated Press</a>)

  • FBI Agent Frederick W. Humphries

    Humphries, 47, was the agent who initially saw the emails the FBI said Petraeus' biographer and mistress, Paula Broadwell, sent to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, a woman she apparently saw as a rival for Petraeus' affections. She also allegedly sent emails to Gen. John Allen, Kelley's friend and the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Concerned about the emails, Kelley contacted Humphries in June. The two had met at a 2011 FBI Citizens Academy, a program aimed at teaching the public and journalists about what the agency does and how it operates. Kelley was in the class, which Humphries lectured one night about terrorism, according to Natalie Shepherd, a Tampa TV reporter who was there. Humphries, a former Army captain who worked in military intelligence, thought the emails raised serious concerns because the anonymous author knew the comings and goings of Allen and Petraeus, a former general who had preceded Allen in Afghanistan. His report back to the FBI started the investigation that led to Broadwell and uncovered her affair with Petraeus. (Text via <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/frederick-humphries_n_2134203.html" target="_hplink">The Associated Press</a>)