by Steve Adubato, PhD

There is no exact science to the art of leadership. People are moved and/or motivated by all kinds of people, events and circumstances. Another particularly effective and grounding leadership tool is simple, yet profound, aphorisms or quotes that speak to us. These aphorisms or quotes can come from business gurus, sports figures, spiritual figures, artists or movies. (I am partial to the leadership lessons in “The Godfather” such as, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”) The key is that wherever they come from, these sayings help us, particularly in those troubling times when we as leaders feel frustrated, confused and downright lost.

But sometimes, a long standing saying or cliché that many take for granted can be turned on its head and challenged by a strong leader who lives it every day, as opposed to living in a world based in theory. Recently, my longtime friend Nick Matarazzo, who is the CEO of Jumpstart Automotive Group, sent me an e-mail under the heading of ---“It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

To his credit, Nick, who has been managing people for over 20 years and communicates in a highly competitive arena, challenged this saying this way; “If one doesn't make it personal, then it’s just about the money. That is a very shallow way to go through life. My clients know I care about their business. If their business does well, then they—as people—are successful. That is very personal. Leading is influencing and empowering others through communication, and one needs compassion, vision and insight to accomplish this. Trust me, this is highly personal.”

Nick Matarazzo has it right. Of course business is personal. It’s personal because you are ultimately dealing with people. When someone gets fired because his boss says he is just not getting the job done, how can you expect the person not to take it personally? Someone’s self esteem is taking a hit. Check out Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I imagine one COULD say it’s not personal. In theory, it’s not personal when a business you poured your life savings into goes bankrupt, but when you are then unable to pay your mortgage or send your kids to college because of it, how can you say that’s not personal?

When a leader acts in a neglectful or less than assertive fashion and fails to protect those he is responsible for, how can we say “it’s not personal, it’s just business?” Consider the case of Newark Archbishop John Myers basically saying on multiple occasions that he was either unaware of, or that others beneath him were responsible for, the sexual molestation of children by priests who reported directly to Myers. Ask the parents of those children who are now adults if it was personal.

Business is personal because we care deeply about how we are treated in business and we care about the products and services we provide to our customers. Business is personal because so much about who we are as people is connected to what we do in our business or professional lives. When a teacher tries to connect with and help a struggling student by using a variety of communication and teaching tools—is that not personal? When you work long hours over a weekend or late at night to solve a client’s problem or to close a deal that helps pay your company’s bills, and ultimately the salary and benefits of your employees, how can we say that this is “simply business”? It’s not. Again, it’s highly personal…because it’s about people.