The Day I Took My Daughter to Work

When my children were young, before the age at which schools frowned on parents who pulled them out of class, I used to take them with me on occasional business trips. Part of my goal was to spend some precious one-on-one time with each child (I only took one at a time), but I also imagined I was teaching them some valuable lessons about business.

As I soon learned, they usually were the ones who taught me.

One of my most ambitious undertakings was a week-long trip to California with my then- three-year-old daughter. I was scheduled to attend board meetings in Southern California for most of the week and had made careful arrangements for a bonded sitter to be with her while I was working.

But my last stop on the trip was a visit to Stanford University for a breakfast talk to what I thought was a group of university students. I imagined a fairly informal affair — students in jeans and fun conversation — and thought it would be the ideal opportunity for my daughter to join me in the meeting. The students surely wouldn’t mind, and it would give her a chance to see a bit of what her mother actually did.

When I arrived, I was horrified to discover that I somehow had gotten the details all wrong. This was not a blue-jean-clad audience of students but a business-suit-attired assembly of 200 Silicon Valley senior executives. A sea of tables was set with crisp linens and formal place settings. And, to make it even worse, a camera crew was in place, ready to record my speech for use in Stanford’s Video Series. Yikes! And here I was with a three-year-old and no sitter.

My heart beating wildly, I showed my daughter where she would be seated at the head table during the breakfast and, with a steely, this-is-an-imperative tone, told her she was to sit in her seat throughout my speech — no noise, no interruptions, under any circumstance. As an afterthought, I also showed her where the restrooms were and told her that the only thing she could do, if necessary, was leave the table quietly for that purpose.

I probably gave the most adrenaline-packed speech of my life that day. Throughout the seemingly endless 45 minutes, I watched my daughter out of the corner of my eye. At one point she did slip away from the table but returned a few minutes later and sat quietly.

As it became more clear that nothing disastrous was occurring, my confidence soared. I was filled with excitement and pride that my daughter was seeing me at my best. Unlike parents who can point to the tangible results of their labor, I had never found a good way to explain what I did to my children. Now, she was seeing me in action — surrounded by a very receptive audience of senior executives, with cameras recording every word.

As I concluded the session, I could hardly wait to talk with her; I wanted to hear what she thought of this significant event. More than the positive feedback from any executive there, I was looking forward to her reaction.

“So what did you think?”

My daughter’s eyes glistened with excitement. “Mom,” she whispered in a delighted, conspiratorial tone, “. . . you’re never going to believe the bathrooms in this place!”

I’ve chuckled at the lesson she taught me many times over the years. Whenever I’ve been tempted to feel overly important, I remind myself that I am always subject to being upstaged by the bathrooms in this place.

What business lessons have your children taught you?

See the original post here, by Tammy Erickson @ Harvard Business Publishing