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Harper Could Learn a Thing or Two From Interning

08/26/2015 05:13 EDT | Updated 08/26/2016 05:59 EDT
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Our firm regularly hires interns (paid, by the way). One of the first things that we teach our interns is that there is no shame in admitting their mistakes as they do their work. Better that than trying to cover them up or hope and pray that no one notices and that, over time, the error will simply evaporate. Almost anything can be fixed if we know what happened and if given a chance to remedy the situation. This is really important in a client-centered business.

The worse thing that interns -- and any other employees -- can do is to try and cover up the situation. For high achieving kids, admitting a significant mistake can be hard. We like their desire to be liked and their positive self esteem. But sometimes humility and confession go a long way. This is especially true when the consequences of denial have a direct negative impact on our business. Besides, don't we all derive real life lessons from our mistakes?

Worst of all, and most career limiting (even in politics, despite continued popular wisdom among some politicos) is to cover up. Indeed, the cover up can be worse than the crime, as we should have all learned after United States President Richard Nixon and Watergate. From burglary to resignation along a very humiliating path.

Which brings me to Stephen Harper and the Mike Duffy affair. Somehow in the political world, leaders and their staffs have come to believe that voters expect perfection. Any admission to the contrary is not tolerated. The result is the cover up. The script has been: No, the appointment of Duffy was not a mistake. Yes, Duffy was eligible to claim housing costs even though his principal residence is a short commute to the Senate Chamber and not in Prince Edward Island. Of course, our leader is beyond the mistake prone tendencies of normal humans. To err is human. To be Prime Minister, divine.

Mr. Harper is not the only leader to claim the infallibility clause. Nor is the Duffy saga the only issue to which it is applied. Almost any press conference or any session of Question Period will reveal a remarkable ability to deny culpability for anything negative.

The infallibility virus does not only infect when mistakes are made. It also causes the twin disease whose symptoms include an amazing willingness to accept credit for things for which they had no role. For example, positive world economic trends are all to the credit of the Prime Minister (of whichever stripe). Downward economic trends are not fault of our leaders. They are simply the results of, well, world economic trends.

Here is a crash course, Internship 101: lessons on how to deal with mistakes so that they don't become crisis.

What should interns do in the case of Duffy? Admit that appointing Mr. Duffy was a mistake. Recognize that more consideration should have been given to the Senate residency criteria. Admit that we never anticipated that Duffy would claim housing expense even though he lives in an Ottawa suburb.

Should Mr. Duffy repay his claimed expenses? Yes and if he does not, his wages will be garnisheed just as would happen to an errant taxpayer. Interest and penalties will be applied.

Next question? No other questions. The interns successfully diffused the situation by taking responsibility and seeking to fix the problem where it should be fixed. No fancy manipulations to avoid responsibility.

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