Not in My Job Description
When I think back to 3 April, the memory that most strikes me is the statement: “He started to kick me in the head because it didn’t leave bruises.” I was sitting in a women’s crisis shelter, listening to this sobbing woman recall for caseworkers the history of violence in her home, the rape that occurred just days before and her panicked plea for a restraining order against her husband.
I sat shell-shocked. Her story left me bewildered, to say the least. I found myself wondering: “How did I get here? I’m not Danielle’s friend. I’m her boss.” I sat quietly next to Danielle as she answered question after question, a process that took hours. What was the last incident of violence? How would you describe the violence that occurred within the past six months? Does he own a gun? Has he ever threatened your life?
As Danielle was being interviewed, a second caseworker intermittently fired questions toward me. We were playing “beat the clock,” trying to meet a court deadline to get all of the paperwork before a judge that day. What were the names of Danielle’s children? When were their birthdays? Did I happen to know her mother’s address? I didn’t know the answer to any of these questions. I wasn’t a relative, close friend or co-worker. I knew Danielle only as my employee.
So how, then, did I get there, assisting in the investigation? I wasn’t called because I’m more insightful or compassionate or close to this employee. Danielle called me because, as her boss, I was practically the only number her husband allowed in her phone. Systematically isolated, Danielle had no friends. Her family was out of state. Her co-workers were kept at a professional arm’s length. She was alone in a world of anguish, and she needed my help. When I started out as an entrepreneur, I knew I would have to be there for my staff. But I never considered how being the boss would make me the last lifeline someone would have.
When Danielle called, she asked me to meet her at the shelter and support her during this difficult time. On the drive over, I reflected on the potential consequence of my involvement in Danielle’s personal life. I was sure my lawyer would tell me I was making a mistake by getting involved. Then again, as a business owner, taking risks is part of the job, and being there for my employees when they need me the most is important.
Within an hour of that call, I was sitting in a small room behind bulletproof windows, holding Danielle’s hand as she sobbed her way through her terrifying story. Although I couldn’t answer any of the questions posed to me by the caseworkers, I was told that my presence there was still valuable. Statistically, the likelihood of Danielle finishing the restraining order process was higher just because she had someone sitting with her. “And besides, you’re not the first employer we’ve had in that seat,” said the caseworker. “Sometimes the boss is the call of last resort.”
It has been a year since that April morning. Not without tribulation, Danielle continued moving forward. She is now divorced, safe and has full custody of her children. And she still works for me. I’m proud of Danielle. She made courageous choices to redirect her life. I don’t need to know how she ended up in her situation, but I’m grateful she had my phone number. Looking back, this experience taught me the true power of leadership. I learned that sometimes making a difference beyond business is more important than making one in it. As an entrepreneur, everything can feel like life or death at times. As the boss, I was surprised to discover that sometimes it really is.
Sharon Soliday is the founder of The Hello Foundation, a group of specialists serving children with special needs and adults around the world. Fun fact: Sharon loves taking small teams to countries that are seeking additional support for their children with special needs. Contact Sharon at