Invitation causes a look at protocol

Dear Joan:
One of the biggest events of the year will be occurring at the end of this month for our company and several honorees and other dignitaries will be attending. I am relatively new in the industry/company (six months) and have been invited by a well-respected individual within the firm. He is considerably older than I am and I'm uncertain about accepting due to the talk that may be generated.

Briefly, the gentleman is divorced. He attended last year with his wife.

I'll have an opportunity to communicate with managers and other personnel that would increase my visibility within the company and secure my position... Would you be willing to offer some advice?

You are wise to be leery of this situation. Although the visibility could be helpful, the wrong exposure could damage people’s perception of you. Since he formerly attended with his wife and the divorce is new, anyone who accompanies him is going to be noticed...and gossip is inevitable.

In addition, the fact that he is well respected will cause others to be concerned about his personal life and emotional health. The last thing you need is to be perceived as a ruthless climber, home-wrecker, gold-digger or anything in-between.

First, examine the gentleman's motivation for inviting you as his guest. Did he bring you into the organization? Is he your boss? Are you in a position that requires exposure to upper levels that he is trying to facilitate?

If he sees himself in a mentor role and there is some logical link between you, there is less to worry about than if he is interested in you as a social companion.

Because you're new, you need to investigate the protocol for this event. Discuss this with someone you respect and trust. A woman who holds a position of power in the company would be ideal, as long as it isn't his boss or someone in a position to damage him.

One approach would be to invite her to lunch to get acquainted. Ask her how she got where she is today and about the unspoken rules any new employee should know. Bring the conversation around to the issue of women in the company and what she thinks it takes to get ahead. If she offers candid information, ask her about your situation and express your concerns.

Perhaps the best (and safest) person to ask is your boss, particularly if he or she appears to be politically astute and well accepted. Even though you may feel embarrassed, he or she is in the best position to help you with political information.

Questions you will want to pursue are: Do employees usually attend with their spouses or dates? (If so, I'd strongly suggest you beg off.)

Would you be able to attend even if he weren't inviting you? (If your fellow professionals attend unescorted or arrive in groups, it may appear more collegial to attend with them at this early stage of your career. You need to be perceived as a team player. Breaking with them to attend with someone at a higher level could make you look too ambitious.)

Are there any past situations that have happened that could give you some insight? (Ask about the attitude toward employees who have dated and or married. Ask about any known mentoring relationships between an older man and a younger woman.)

In the end, I think you'll come up with this answer: The best kind of visibility and credibility for a new employee is that which he or she earns through hard work.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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