I am a partner in a medium-sized professional services organization headquartered in a large metropolitan city. I was recently at a private social function that some employees of my company also attended. It was quite a party, and pretty much everyone had way too much to drink, including me.
One employee, a person I have known and liked for a long time, made an error in judgment and approached me about a professional work issue late in the proceedings. She said a lot of things she really shouldn’t have said—things I wish I hadn’t heard—including critical pieces of information that affect the business.
I feel an obligation to report some of what she told me to the rest of the executive team. This essentially would reveal her as the source, which could seriously hurt her reputation.
I am torn. It was not a company event. If it had been, the decision would be a no-brainer.
What would you do?
Dear Bad Hangover,
Just when I think I have heard everything, something new shows up. This is a perfect example of why work and alcohol never mix.
I honestly don’t know what I would do—but I can share the options I would consider carefully before doing anything rash. This is a tough one. As a partner, you are presumably an agent or officer of the organization. Your knowing something and not sharing could come back to haunt you if this were to become a legal problem. The fact that you just happened to find out at a private event may not be relevant.
The first thing to do might be to talk to Loose Lips and share your concerns with her. Chances are she won’t even remember having said what she did. She will probably be embarrassed and horrified. Explain the quandary she has created for you. If what she revealed is true, you can ask her to consider sharing what she knows with the appropriate person(s) in a suitable way. If nothing else, it will alert the employee to her irresponsible behavior so she can prepare herself for whatever consequences might be in store for her.
If she declines to escalate the issue, I think your next step would be to bring it to your head of HR and get their input.
You will be tempted to share what you heard with others, and I encourage you not to do that. Don’t tell anyone who doesn’t need to know. It will ignite gossip and could wreak havoc.
Ultimately, you are going to need to find a balance between guarding the best interests of the organization and mitigating the damage that might come to the employee who made a mistake.
I am sorry for you, and sorry for her. Proceed with caution, try not to judge, and be kind.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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