How Much Do We Owe Our Early Influencers?

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I’m currently undergoing a crisis of conscience. Maybe you can help. Early in my career, I had a manager/mentor who was integral in shaping my view of leadership and business. He was one of my archetypes for how I envision a leader. From the ways he made decisions to the priority he placed on maintaining a positive workplace to his general demeanor, I spent years afterward asking, “What would he do in this situation?” Now, however, I find myself asking whether our relationship must come to an end.

There’s no need to go into details, but through a series of fraudulent actions and increasingly frequent behavioral outbursts, I find myself distancing away from him. I consider myself to be loyal in nature, but where’s the line? And if I break ties, how can I do it without appearing ungracious?

I’m not the only one who has asked this. I recently read that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen continue to turn down an appearance on Fuller House. Every other actor from the original series stopped by in Season 1, but the Olsens refuse. Without their Full House launch, the Olsens would not be the billionaire fashion moguls they’ve become, so do they “owe it” to the show and the fans to appear or did they pay their debt by helping make Full House the hit show that it was?

In another example, numerous comedians have claimed Bill Cosby as their preliminary source of comedic inspiration and guidance. He illustrated the quintessential functional family via the Huxtables, taught morality life lesson via Fat Albert, and broke down racial barriers via The Tonight Show. With his mounting accusations of criminal wrongdoings, do his apprenticed comedians “owe him” for all of his professional accomplishments over the last 50 years or have his discretions reached a level where they prohibit future accolades?

I am not comparing an absent sitcom actor to a multiply accused rapist. My point is that there must be a statute of limitations on when we no longer “owe” the people who helped us early in our career. And if so, what has to happen for this time to come? We are not minimizing the impact they have had on our success, nor are we disavowing our prior relationship, but we need be able to move on without having to feel guilty for relinquishing our early influencers.

Ultimately, how much do we owe them and for how long?

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