"There is going to be alcohol in this job. You have to keep your stuff (read: shit) together."
When I was 22 years old and old working as an assistant brewer for a major micro-brewery in Michigan, my boss told me his fundamental rule when it came to mixing alcohol with work: You have to keep it together. Period. No excuses. Even in the context of a low-level employee in an industry defined by alcohol, "letting one's hair down" in public was not acceptable. It hurt the brewery's reputation and credibility as a professional operation.
Consume? Of course.
Lose any sense of control or professionalism? Never in public.
Unfortunately, this weekend Rob Ford excused his apparent public drunkenness at Taste of the Danforth with no recognition of how such public behaviour reflects on the people he represents: the citizens of Toronto.
Now I'll grant you that your average "Jane or Joe Citizen" from time to time will have too much to drink in a public place. Sure. It happens.
The company holiday party. Business trips. A corporate golf outing.
And when it happens, the offender is embarrassed as hell.
Being drunk in public is not OK. It is not easily dismissed. The day after such a professional blunder is filled with equal parts regret and full-throated apologies to anyone that will listen. That is, if you're a "normal" person who cares about the people you work with and understands how your actions have implications for the world beyond yourself.
I am certainly no Puritan, and I wouldn't advocate for Puritan-like-standards for our leaders and public officials. But I do understand how reputation, credibility and trust work. And the circus that has consumed Rob Ford and the city of Toronto over the past three months is not how one goes about securing credibility or ensuring trust. It is, rather, a case study in shallow, arrogant denial.
Public figures like Rob Ford and Anthony Weiner are an embarassment to the cities they claim to care for. While many people may engage in similar objectionable and high-risk behaviour, whether by sending inappropriate tweets or showing up at the company Christmas party drunk, they are not the people we want to lead us. Are these guys seriously the best that we can do? Is this what leadership has been reduced to in the 21st century?
Can we not demand that these men "keep their stuff (read:shit) together"?
I was instructed at an early age -- when I was in a position that held much less authority than a mayor -- to do just this. And I did it. For $22,000 a year. And without a single child looking up to me (though many college students were keen to know the path towards brewery-based employment). I kept it together in public.
Because it mattered.
Drinking was inevitable, but "letting my hair down" was not an option. Because I recognized that my actions actually reflected on something bigger than my individual self. In my case, potential regrettable actions were also projected on my company, my fellow employees, my family, etc.
Anthony Wiener's actions reflect poorly on his family, his city and his profession (politics) with every subsequent day he stays in the race for mayor of New York City. And Rob Ford reflects -- positively or poorly -- on his party, his city and his country with every new gaffe and perceived-scandal that breaks. When the mayor of Toronto has the strongest mandate of any politician in the country (383,500 voted Rob Ford into the Toronto mayoralty, while 43,000 voted for Canada's prime minister in , Stephen Harper) photos, allegations, and suspect videos matter.
Because Rob Ford put his name forward. And Anthony Wiener filed the paperwork to run. You can't ask for the spotlight and then decry those that maintain the lightbulbs exposing each blemish and pox mark. You answer for the stumbles and scars and then honestly put forward your agenda vs. your competitors. The scars are yours just as much as the ideas and ideologies are.
At the end of the day politicians need reputation, credibility and public trust. Without these we are locked in a stalemate. We are stuck in feedback loops of mutually assured destruction/dysfunction. And this, if it is anything, is certainly not leadership.
Reputation is what people can reasonably expect from you. Credibility is the weight people can put to the words that you say. And public trust is the citizenry's faith that their representatives will act with integrity to pursue the common good.
On each of these three fronts Rob Ford and Anthony Wiener have left the voting public which they claim to represent standing outside of the loop. Wondering about reputations. Questioning credibility. And longing for some sense of general public trust.
And without these fundamental building blocks one does not deserve to lead. With 8,250,000 people to choose from in New York City, that municipality can certainly do better. With 5,500,000 in Toronto, we surely cannot limit ourselves to the kind of lowered expectations and disappointment we are currently saddled with.
If these actions (both rumoured and admitted) played out in in your world -- in your place of employment -- would you seek to promote the accused? Perhaps make them a manager? A leader?
No. Of course not. In the real world, one does not rise to the top amongst such scandal.
Surely someone can keep their shit together.