I have a top 10 list of the Worst Work Women in the World. Linda Tripp hovers right at the top of that list. You remember Linda, don’t you? She befriended a young White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. Monica had the unfortunate experience of becoming a household name after the illicit details of her sexual relationship with then-President Bill Clinton became the stuff of dinner conversations and water cooler gossip all over the world. Linda was 24 years her senior and I’m sure Monica trusted her as a mentor and a guide through what had to be one of the most complex professional quandaries a working woman can go through: a mutual physical attraction with your boss, the President.
Monica should have been able to rely on Tripp. Women should help each other, especially the youngest of us, as we try to make our way through life and work. At 22 years old, Monica was impressionable and 49-year-old Clinton was a charismatic powerful formidable challenge for any young woman.
Linda should have helped her.
But she didn’t.
Instead, she manipulated her. She leveraged her. She earned her trust and then sold her down the river. She urged Monica to keep the infamous semen-stained dress and then recorded their conversations as Monica agonized over her adulterous error in judgment. Monica thought she was talking to a confidant, a mentor. In actuality, she was talking to an enemy in every possible sense of the word.
What should you learn from Linda?
- Your co-workers are not your friends. That’s a harsh statement, I know, but true nevertheless. Sometimes those relationships can grow into friendship, but all too often, we just give away that level of trust because someone has a cubicle near ours. That is not enough for someone to earn the title of friend. Set and maintain good boundaries.
- Shut your trap. Do not discuss your personal business at work. Keep your private life private. Period.
- Just because someone is older, does not mean they are wiser. Nor does it mean they have your best interests at heart. Sometimes they’re mean and selfish and self-serving and opportunistic and jerks. Really watch the people you choose to listen to. Age and character are not the same things.
- You need to crowdsource wisdom. It takes a village to raise a career. No one person has all the answers. Don’t put all your eggs in one ‘mentor’ basket. You need to test the advice you receive for internal and external consistency. That means running things by a few people and assessing conflicting viewpoints. I can’t help but think that if Monica had asked even one other person about what she should do, the trajectory of her life might have gone in an entirely different direction.
- Live right. Exercise good judgment. Conduct yourself in an honest ethical manner and don’t let anyone take you off track. Unfortunately, women are still held to a higher standard. Some people bounce when they fall while others go straight Humpty Dumpty. Linda and Monica will live in infamy while watching Bill Clinton’s latest appearance on the Jimmy Fallon Show. It’s not fair, but it’s real.
As Madeleine Albright, Former US Secretary of State has famously said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”. Pack light, Linda. Pack light.