Monday, October 26, 2009

Truth to Power

10.27.09 Post Script
CEO Daughter just stopped by my desk with a smile and offered me a Russian candy. After contemplating it for a moment and wondering on the odds of poisoning...I decided to give it a try. A delicious lemon drop. And I'm still alive.

One of the buzz phrases of the business environment is "the ability to speak truth to power". I think it may actually have originated in politics - you know - in order to be a good advisor, you need to be able to speak truth to power, but it is valid in the business environment today.

I had my chance on Friday. Not in a way that would affect a business decisions, but a more personal discussion. You see, my department intern is the CEO's teenage daughter.

[pause for reaction]

Yes, I know. But luckily I have a CEO who is honest, forthright, and approachable and who told me on day one that I was to hold his daughter accountable just as I would any other member of the team...and maybe moreso. He is also paying her salary. And I don't mean that in the sense of he oversees her budget, I mean that he writes a check to the company to cover her salary to make it a net zero impact on our budget. This is not about getting his kid a job for some pocket money, this is about teaching her to EARN her pocket money. You gotta respect that.

So, needless to say, when it came to my attention that we had a situation with her attendance...I struggled with how to deal with it. I mean, it's not like I would call anyone else's Mom or Dad who works for me to address this...even an intern...but he asked me to hold her accountable and I had a complicated situation.

You see, she called in on a Friday saying she had a mid-term to study for. While we had some deadline work for her, we respect our interns are students first and we said ok. Then, when she arrived on the following Tuesday she let it slip that she had actually been hanging out with her friends because her parents were both traveling and she was grounded, so this was her way to skip out on her punishment. Why was she grounded? Because she had come home drunk when she was supposed to be studying with friends. Lies on top of lies.

I really thought I would deal with this directly with her, but then I thought about her safety and our responsibility should anything happen to her if we didn't clue in her family on what was going on. The added complication is his daughter has only been in his family for about 4 years having been adopted from an orphanage in Russia when she was just 15 years old.

I was still debating what to do while eating lunch with the CEO and some execs last week. Then he said, "So I hear [daughter] is working extra hours these days." And there it was. My opportunity to cover for her with a bald-faced lie, to play clueless and pretend I didn't know what me meant, or to come clean with everything I knew.

What would you do?

Many people I asked said they wouldn't have said a word. Or if anything, they just would have so, "No, not that I'm aware of" and have him go digging for the truth with his daughter. But I'm not good at games and I totally respect this man, so, I did it. I took him aside and told him the whole story. When I was done, I told him that it was awkward to have to do this, but that I hoped it was the right decision.

Then...and here's another place you can question my judgment, I came back to the office and told his daughter that as of that moment, her Dad knew everything. She, of course, turned bright red with embarrassment (there's hope for her yet!). I asked her to take one important lesson from this: Don't put me in a position to have to lie to her father. I value his trust too much.

Today, he thanked me. He apologized for putting me and my team in an awkward position and he thanked me. They are struggling with allowing her some independence and trying to trust her with it, and then having to discipline her bad judgment. He also learned that the family she was staying with were told by his daughter that she was not only working on Friday, she worked longer hours than usual. Lies on top of Lies on top of Lies!

I feel sorry for her a bit. She is going to be 19. Most kids her age and in her situation are away at school, making their mistakes without Mom and Dad looking on. She doesn't have that luxury...she has to make her mistakes in the spotlight. Learning to make decisions based upon what others expect you to do, based upon a level of respect for them and their judgment...this is a tough life lesson.

The daughter? She comes in tomorrow for the first time since this went down. I don't think she'll thank me. But maybe some day when she has a child of her own, or a staff of her own, she will.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I think her Dad was the one that made a mistake--that is a really tough position to put his employees in. He would have been wise to to do some sort of intern exchange where his daughter went to another company and another CEO's child came to his.

I'm glad you told the truth.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jenn: his daughter should not have been interning with his company. The potential for sticky situations (such as what actually happened) is just too great. Still, kudos to you for doing what you had to do, tough as it was. And at least the dad acknowledged that.

JeannetteLS said...

I agree that he put you all in an awkward position, but that being said, I think that this was the only thing to do. And not have everything escalate, including your own sense of how awkward it all is, as well as your colleagues' discomfort. And she may very well have been wanting to be caught. Kids do things a lot, just hoping someone will notice. A fifteen-year-old who has been adopted could have a whole lot of issues around testing... and you did her a favor. Of course, now I want to know how it goes tomorrow... later today.

Chelle said...

very interesting, as a parent, I think you did the right thing, that was a tough call but I am sure you gained a ton of respect from the CEO!

Mama Lou said...

Thank you for doing the right thing and I am not surprised at your decision to do so. I can only be proud.

Kate Hanley said...

I agree with everyone that you handled it well. I do understand why the CEO wants his daughter to intern at his company - sounds like he wants her to have independance but knows he still needs to watch over her since she's lying all the time. He probably didn't want to inflict her on another company. Good luck.

KiKi said...

I love the way you handled this situation. You always seem to know exactly what to do. Not only did you take the bull by the horns in leveling with dad, you also took it one step further and approached the intern. Wise and courageous! LOL. I'm glad it worked out and hope she learned her lesson.