It was my very first board meeting. I’d been hired six weeks earlier in January as the new 24-year-old club manager. And I got caught in a lie!
A couple of weeks before the Tuesday night board meeting, after all members had left the club, one of our club bartenders was indulging in a late evening cocktail with a female club member. As the evening progressed, the two retired to the lady’s locker room lounge. I was working in my office and being the club management “newbie”, decided not to interrupt their activities.
I thought that since no one had mentioned the incident to me for over two weeks, I was probably the only person, other than the two participants, who was aware of what had happened. I didn’t know that another female club member had returned to retrieve her golf shoes from her locker that evening and soon realized what activities were occurring in the lady’s lounge area.
She reported her observations to Mrs. Kildahl, one of the female members of our board.
As the club president was closing the agenda for the board meeting, he turned to me and asked if I had been aware of some activity at the club with one of our female members and a club bartender. I told him that I was unaware of any unusual happenings and while he pressed me to disclose if I knew anything because of the rumors he had heard, I continued to deny the facts.
As I stumbled through my nervous denials, board member Mrs. Kildahl interrupted me and said, “Dick, you can quit your lying; I know exactly what happened.” She then described to the board what her friend had observed while retrieving her golf shoes. Her account was quite detailed and obviously above reproach.
I was embarrassed and humiliated and thought my nascent career as a club manager was probably over. The meeting adjourned and as I walked out of the board room, Mrs. Kildahl took me by the arm and said she wanted to talk to me.
“Dick, I’ve observed how hard you have been working at the club during your first six weeks and I really believe that you have a future in this business, but I am going to give you some advice and I hope you take it to heart. From now on, when you walk into the board meeting, you tell the truth, no matter what the issue or question is because if you tell the truth, you will never have to remember what you said,” Mrs. Kildahl expressed.
She had been watching me weave a complicated web of denial and she had to put a stop to it. I was shaken but somewhat reassured by her advice and while I had made a mistake in judgment, the club president and other board members were willing to give me a second chance.
Now, I must admit that during my 50-plus years of working in the private club business, I haven’t been a “Mother Theresa clone”, but I certainly did take Mrs. Kildahl’s admonition seriously. Even when it was hard to admit an error in judgment in front of the club board, I genuinely believe I took the right approach by fully disclosing how I messed up.
It was sometimes not easy to take the verbal lashing by experienced businesspeople on the board when I did something ill-advised, but it was minor pain compared to the consequences that could have resulted from my prevarication.
Time and again, I’ve observed, especially in our political environment today, that the cover-up is typically worse than the crime. And I have also experienced that club board members and, for that matter, club members and employees are typically understanding and appreciative if a mistake is admitted and honestly explained.
Mrs. Kildahl had it right. You don’t need to have a long memory if you tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
This much I know for sure!
THE BOARDROOM MAGAZINE – September/October 2022
“This Much I Know for Sure” is a regular feature in BoardRoom magazine beginning Fall 2022. Dick will share some of his reflections based on his 50-plus years of working in the private club business.