ONE of my all-time favorite books has to be Madam Secretary, by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. I love this woman because she is a role model for women everywhere. In her memoirs, Albright talks about her humble beginnings—her family fled to the United States to escape the Communists in Czechoslovakia—her formative years and education, as well as her subsequent work in foreign policy. (Current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that Albright’s father, Joseph Korbel, a diplomat and, later, an academician, was one of the major influences in her life. Why Condi eventually turned out the way she has should not be blamed on Mr. Korbel.)
Albright’s track record of accomplishments alone should’ve been enough to get her that appointment as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State. However, as she revealed in her autobiography, the person who had a real hand in Albright’s appointment was none other than the First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. If I remember the quote right, when the couple talked about the appointment, Hillary told her husband that appointing Albright to that esteemed government post “would make a lot of women everywhere happy [or was it proud?].”
It helped that Hillary personally liked Albright. She identified with the elder stateswoman in that the latter was also intelligent, had worked hard to get to where she was, and was downright funny. (I believe it was Albright who thought of holding a song-and-dance show where the Apec state ministers performed onstage, as a way of ending their regular big meet.) So all things being considered, as Bill Clinton would intimate in his own memoirs, the views of his wife in government affairs certainly carry a lot of weight.
It is safe to assume that everywhere else, the relationship between husband and wife will be reflected in their individual attitudes, dealings, decisions and respective relationships with the people around them. One female CEO of a multinational company I recently interviewed confessed, for example, that in choosing the spokesperson of her company’s products, she had to consult her husband on his views of the several candidates who were lined up for the lucrative job.
If you notice in the company gatherings where spouses of officials are present, employees gather around the significant other, trying to suck up and impress their boss’s wife, or husband as the case may be. Corporate people are only too aware of the dynamics that goes on in the bedroom. As my friend Teddy says, at the end of the day, the boss goes home to his wife and she is the first person he sees in the morning. Between those very long hours, a lot of things may have been discussed and decisions over one employee’s career or a business deal can be made or unmade.
We should only wish that the politics that goes on within four walls has a positive benefit for all, as in the case of Madeleine Albright’s appointment. It won points with women all over the world who could now go beyond dreaming to be just some powerful CEO’s secretary (“Get me coffee and call my wife because I’ll be home late”) to actually being Secretary of State of the most powerful nation in the world. But I know of some cases where a pretty assistant is fired or reassigned elsewhere just because the boss’s missus suspects her husband is having an affair with her. The boss usually has no choice but to comply with his ranting jealous wife’s demand just to keep the peace in the bedroom. Never mind if he has to lose an exceptional employee.
Props go to the CEO who is able to resist his wife’s nervous ravings, or at the end of the day he is able to stick to what he feels is the best decision for his company despite the concerns his missus may have expressed. There are only a few good men I know who can do this, and almost none at all among married female executives. (I think this has to do with us women really being a consultative lot.)
Anyway, if you do find yourself in a position where sucking up to the boss’s wife is a necessity, make sure you do it with a lot of style. There is nothing more hateful or laughable than a suck-up who is so obvious in his or her motives. If you want to give the missus a gift, for example, make sure that you do so only during an important occasion like Christmas. Don’t give her gifts every holiday on the calendar, including Independence Day!
In parties, the male staff can offer the boss’s wife a drink. For the females, offer the missus some food. But ask her first instead of shoving the stuff in her face when she doesn’t even want it. That spells SUCK-UP all over the place. Say something like, “Ma’am, would you want me to get you something from the buffet?” It sends the message that you are a thoughtful person.
You don’t have to be at the missus’s side every minute of the gathering. That, too, is bad form. Besides, your boss expects you to mingle among clients or his other friends. Not unless he expressly appoints you to stick to his wife’s behind no matter what, especially if the missus is not too comfortable in talking to other people. That will still be a plus for you because she will always look for that one person who makes her feel comfortable in such affairs. Still, don’t forget your party manners and excuse yourself from the missus to say hello to important clients even for just five minutes. This will create a good impression of the company and its people, something your boss would surely appreciate.
Of course, do your research and find out what the boss’s missus or Mrs. CEO’s husband are interested in. This will facilitate the flow of conversation when you see her, or him. But don’t go so far as to, say, learn an extreme sport like skydiving just because The Hubby is into it. Heavens! Risk losing your life just to get that all-important promotion? (Oh, don’t be shy. I know a lot of you out there are only too willing to go that far. Kiss ass!) It helps to read about his interest so you can discuss it intelligently with him without actually experiencing parachuting from 6,000 feet up in the sky!
Because of its ramifications, what goes on in your boss’s bedroom should be of interest to you. Who knows, the next VP could just be you… if you play your cards right. And like I said, with style.
('Something Like Life' is my regular Friday column in the Business Mirror. 'In the bedroom' was originally published on Aug. 18, 2006.)