With the election just a couple of weeks away, one thing seems certain regardless of the outcome: It’s tough being American right now. Anxieties and tensions are high, and most of us feel threatened by the political rhetoric and what’s at stake, not to mention regular news about police shootings and other violence.
As we grapple with redefining ourselves as a nation, forward-thinking leaders in organizations are wondering: Do I say something about this? Do I do something? If so, what should I do?
The stakes are high and impact tangible. Like it or not, employees and leaders bring their fears and frustrations to the workplace, affecting communication, team dynamics, accountability, productivity and employee engagement. On top of that, organizations are struggling with new laws and policies about bathroom access, same-sex marriage and workplace safety. Add constantly evolving technology and the mandate to serve an increasingly diverse population, it’s a wonder we don’t see more nervous breakdowns and violence at work.
- Inclusion means everyone is included. This includes Trump supporters, #BLM supporters, Clinton supporters, Bernie Sanders supporters, former cops and young activists alike. Diversity and inclusiveness isn’t about including only the type of diversity you like.
- Inclusion does not mean all behaviors are included. People don’t have to agree on politics or even values to do effective behaviors that are experienced as cordial, respectful, professional and productive by others. Our nation — and others — were founded on this principle, and still strive to put it into practice.
- The story you’re telling about conflict and change determines how you lead. Does our societal turmoil signal the destruction of our nation’s fabric? Labor pains of our emerging demographics and shifting values? An opportunity? The story you choose to tell about what this means and what’s possible will guide your decision making, problem solving, employee engagement and financial decisions.
- Taking a stand on important issues of the day isn’t necessarily a “partisan” act, but a moral one driven by mission and values. A growing number of organizations (Huffington Post, USA Today, The Atlantic, AT&T, Ben & Jerry’s) have made clear, public statements about race, Donald Trump or #BlackLivesMatter. Doing so may be exactly what your target market and employees — especially millenials — need to hear. Doing so may be an act of integrity in clear alignment with your vision, mission and organizational values. And while endorsing a political candidate might be strategically unwise or violate a core business agreement (as for many nonprofits), many issues that are labeled as “partisan” really aren’t. The #BlackLivesMatter platform is clear and could be supported by any political candidate or party, and one might make a statement about Trump’s behavior without endorsing Clinton.
- This is about the legacy you create and the legacy you leave. As a leader and as an organization, how do you want to be remembered? What kind of future are you preparing to thrive in? What future are you creating? We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. but he was widely unpopular and considered a dangerous radical in his day. What side of history do you want to be on?
If you decide to take a stand:
- Articulate the clear business case for your stand in terms of impact on your employees and customers, fulfillment of your mission and values, and the legacy you’re creating.
- Provide clear, reasonable expectations for workplace behavior, and hold everyone equitably This includes top leadership. Banning conversations, personal opinions or expressions of support for candidates or movements may suppress energy that could be put to better use. However, behaviors that can be fairly and clearly identified as bullying, sexual harassment, disrespect, workplace violence, creating a hostile work environment or interfering with business operations should not be tolerated. Weigh the pros and cons of your policies and expectations in alignment with your values and business goals, focusing on impact over the intent of a behavior.
- Go to the facts whenever there is confusion or disagreement. Research shows which direction our country’s demographics, values and beliefs have long been headed. Just look at Millenials. There are abundant data on what Trump has said and done, and the impact he’s having on kids and our mental health. There’s clear information about whether #BlackLivesMatter is a hate group, and what their goals are. While humans tend not to change our opinions based on facts (regardless of political affiliation), insisting on them may eventually cause a shift, or at least provide clear support for your position.
- Listen to fully understand. One of the reasons movements like the tea party and #BlackLivesMatter and candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are so popular is because they appeal to a growing number of Americans who rightfully feel ignored, shut out, abused and talked down to by traditional institutions and leaders. When an employee or team has a concern — whether it’s related to the social issues of the day or not — give sufficient time to listen deeply from a place of curiosity, with the goal of fully understanding the person’s feelings and motivations as well as thoughts.
- Get curious. Curiosity and anxiety live in the same area of the brain. Getting curious is one of the best ways to reduce your anxiety and increase your creativity. Getting curious about another’s story can reduce their anxiety, build a positive relationship and co-create workable solutions.
As the late author and philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “in times of change, the learners will inherit the earth, while the knowers will find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world … that no longer exists.” It’s up to leaders to decide which world we, and our organizations, will inhabit, and learn what’s necessary.
Susana Rinderle is president of Susana Rinderle Consulting LLC. Comment below or email email@example.com.