You can’t watch TV, go online or read the news right now without hearing about another man in power being accused of sexual harassment. From learning that even the mighty Harvey Weinstein could be exposed (irony intended) to the solidarity offered by #metoo, which garnered millions of supporters within hours of Alyssa Milano’s Twitter post, many women in the business world are deciding that they will no longer tolerate the unwelcome advances, pressure for sex or the retaliation when they refuse.
However, the title of this essay is dripping with sarcasm, in case you missed it. I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading in an article in The New York Times in which men indicated “… they planned to be a lot more careful in interacting with women because they felt that the line between friendliness and sexual harassment was too easy to cross.” (“Men at Work Wonder If They’ve Overstepped with Women, Too.” The New York Times, November 10, 2017).
Even our Vice President, Mike Pence, is widely known to eschew having any meals with female colleagues or be alone with women in a business setting, particularly when alcohol is being served.
Jezebels are we who tempt by our very presence.
This post is NOT a strident harangue. It is, instead, a sincere “thank you” to the numerous men who helped make me the executive I am today; men who were smart, coached and coaxed me to develop my talents and managed to understand – pretty easily, it seemed – the line differentiating friendliness and sexual harassment. These men were most definitely my friends and, in some cases, my confidents. They wanted the best for me. Not one of them ever came close to crossing a line. I wondered how they managed?
As I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve never referred to anyone without getting his or her permission with one exception. That exception was a flattering portrait of someone and I didn’t know how to get in touch with him. I’m going to make exceptions again, but I’ll only use first names in deference to their privacy. Though many wonderful male executives have had a positive influence on me, I’m going to limit my writing to five men to whom I reported directly. Their influence on me as an executive and as a person has been beyond measure. I hope I’ve said “thank you.”
Ben – This manager taught me many things about the business world, not the least of which was that he believed that I was smart. But what I took to heart from working for him is how the “buck stops here.” When I made mistakes, Ben took the responsibility for them. When I turned in things late, it was Ben who had to explain to higher ups why he didn’t get things in on time. It was the first time I really understood that teams may act as one unit but the head of the team takes the heat. We haven’t worked together in more than 25 years but we still talk regularly and he is still one of the top three people I’d turn to with a business problem because his judgment is so fundamentally sound.
Henry – I’ve talked about Henry in other blogs. He single-handedly helped me learn what I needed to do to change others’ perception of me. But he also taught me that I had more personal power than I ever dreamed and that I didn’t have to accept things the way they were. Henry inspires me to reach higher. We still talk; he is one of the people I call when I think I can’t do something and I need to be reminded that I can.
Bill – The manager who was the most direct, straight shooting and held himself- and his staff- to the most exacting standards. I learned how important and difficult it is to get real feedback. I was always grateful for his honesty but usually needed a martini after a performance review. If Bill said I did a good job, every other manager would have said it was incredible, exceptional, fabulous, stupendous … you get the picture. He is one of the smartest business people I know. He taught me to push myself harder and not to be intimidated. If I could earn Bill’s respect, I could earn anyone’s.
Simon – A successful international corporate executive, a successful international entrepreneur, Simon taught by example that one can lead with values intact. He is smart, cosmopolitan, sophisticated, well read and a very savvy businessman. Simon taught me how to be comfortable in my CEO clothes, reassuring me somehow that he had chosen me because I was who I was, silently nurturing my self-confidence. I don’t know quite how he does it but I feel better and more capable after a meeting with him.
Alain – There are not enough words to express my gratitude and thanks to this man. The founder of the company, he hired me to be the next CEO. On my first day he handed me his cell phone number and said to call him when I needed him because he won’t be around much for the next three months. At the look of abject dismay on my face, he explained that he needed to give me a chance to make the company my own. If he stayed around every day, he might be tempted to listen to all the people who were sure to complain about me; that was only human nature. In three months, if I didn’t make the company my own, maybe I wasn’t the right person for this job after all. If I had, there would be no problems when he came back. Thus began our wonderful relationship – part mentor, part boss, part big brother, but completely and utterly my friend. He would write me notes saying things like, “Yours is a subtle but brilliant touch. If only you had been here at the beginning, we would probably now be ruling the world.” I’ve saved every note. He inspired and taught me every single day and I will always be grateful.
These male executives and many others I’ve had the pleasure to know understood that it is quite easy to be a mentor, friend and great manager without crossing that line. If you think otherwise, it is you who needs to look at your behavior and the culture of your organization. Start by talking to the women you work with or the women in your life. Learn what they experience in the workplace and how it impacts them.
Who are the great men who guided your career?
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” John F. Kennedy