A few weeks ago my oldest son took part in his high school graduation prom.
My wife and I were able to be part of his experience because the parents of one of my son’s friends invited a group of graduates and their parents to a pre-party at their home.
I learned pretty quickly that “the prom” actually means multiple parties – before, after – you get the gist. It’s less an event than a party festival. And with good reason. Graduating from high school is an important milestone and it should be celebrated in grand style.
It was great to see my son and his friends. They were beaming with excitement, while the parents were beaming with pride.
The following day my son informed us that something happened at the prom dinner reception that evening. About 30 fellow classmates were ejected from the event before it even started.
Unfortunately, they failed to heed the warnings from school administrators who made it abundantly clear leading up to the prom that if any graduate arrived with the smell of alcohol on their breath or drunk, they would be kicked out.
So that’s what happened. The parents of the 30 students were called by the principals and told to collect their children and bring them home.
It’s easy to imagine that some of the kids didn’t feel that embarrassed about what happened. They might have even thought it was cool to get kicked out of prom. But my son said that the principals were embarrassed for the school and utterly disappointed in these kids. I suspect some of that group, and probably all of the parents, were equally mortified.
Now, some of this behavior is to be expected. After all, teenagers will be teenagers. However, I hope some of them learned a valuable lesson about how to manage their alcohol. It’s something that will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives.
Yet, many never learn this lesson.
In my job, I get to attend a lot of corporate and social events with other leaders where alcohol is served. In many instances, the company picks up the entire tab.
The majority of leaders I see are responsible around an open bar. Some do not drink at all, while many others do so in moderation.
Others seem to show little restraint.
Several years ago, I attended a three-day offsite with the top 60 leaders from a client organization. On the first night after the dinner, a number of attendees went to a hospitality suite where things got a little out of hand.
One leader started dancing. Then, a few others pretended to do lap dances with their fellow colleagues. In the moment, everyone seemed to be laughing and having a good time. However, the inappropriateness of the acts did not escape the senior leaders of the company; those employees were fired the following week.
It’s important to remember that booze-fueled indiscretions do not need to be so dramatic to be destructive.
I’ve seen drunken leaders at company events spew confidential business information, or spread malicious personal gossip. These people don’t seem to be aware that what they are doing is highly inappropriate. Let’s face it, they’ve lost all their inhibitions. But this kind of toxic chatter can be extremely damaging to an organization.
The consequences of these kinds of indiscretions can be incredibly negative.
Booze-fueled indiscretions at CTPartners, formerly a top executive search firm in New York, eventually brought down the company. The indiscretions included the former CEO and other top leaders stripping naked at a company party, and instances of sexual harassment involving female leaders. The scandal was so pervasive, it ultimately brought down the firm; on the verge of bankruptcy, CTPartners was acquired last year by a larger competitor.
Similar stories have ravaged the US Secret Service. Two senior secret service agents were disciplined after they drove their vehicle into White House security barrier last year. This after a torrent of stories about boozy parties that took place while other officers were on duty.
It’s important to say at this point that I’m not writing this from a “holier than though position” or saying that alcohol is bad.
What I am saying is that as leaders, we can never lose site of the obligations we have to our organizations. Even when we’re at a social event.
It’s like those 30 students who got kicked out of their grad reception. They didn’t realize that not only were they under the legal drinking age, but as graduates they were ambassadors of their high school and their community. This is why the principals were so livid.
The same applies for leaders. We are all ambassadors for our organizations. So we need to be mindful about how we manage ourselves in social situations or we run the risk of embarrassing ourselves, embarrassing our colleagues and possibility damaging the credibility and reputation of our company.
This week’s gut check asks: Do you know how to manage your booze?
About the Author
Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro