By Dale S. Rose, Ph.D.
In the face of extreme volatility, uncertainty, and even violence a leader’s first responsibility is to show there is a path forward by remaining calm. In that regard, the recent attack on our Democracy at the United States Capitol and state capitols throughout the nation is no different than 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the Civil War, or even the Revolutionary War. In all of these events, the people in the middle of the attack and those affected by it indirectly all benefit by staying in a place of rational action.
A business leader’s first act in these moments needs to recognize employees may be shaken by these events and they need reassurance that even if the road is bumpy and the path is uncertain, in the end it will all work out.
A leader may wonder, well, how exactly do I reassure people when it is a live evolving moment with uncertainty? Here are a few ways you can help your employees and your organization navigate the recent events.
1. A leader’s words matter. As we saw on Jan. 6th, the words of a leader have impact. You can reassure employees simply by voicing your confidence in the stability of our system of government and our economy. There will be dissent and there will be debate, but in the end our system of governance will sustain us. We saw this when the congress reconvened and finished the job of certifying the Electoral College’s votes for President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. Otherwise wildly opposing factions of the Senate and Congress sat down and finished their vote. The system is resilient.
2. Employee concerns are real. Ask employees how they are doing. Leaders must be aware of the strain and stress uncertainty can bring to people. Especially following a stressful holiday season, in the middle of a pandemic, with decision fatigue at its highest, employees may lose focus and productivity may drop. Give them a chance to share their worries and give them more latitude than you might otherwise.
3. Stand up for truth and democracy. To be sure, it is often not a good idea to mix politics and business. Yet, with some issues leaders simply must be “upstanders” not “bystanders.” As with the Black Lives Matter movement’s calling out of systemic racial injustice, leaders simply cannot stand by quietly. Silence is dangerous when our values are at stake. Neutrality is simply not an option when a vocal minority organizes a violent attempt to suppress the voice of the majority. As we heard from both sides of the aisle when congress reconvened to affirm the lawful vote on Jan. 6: While some did not get what they wanted from this election, violence is never the answer. When we lose the ability to disagree through healthy debate and we ignore the voice of the majority, we have lost our democracy. As a leader whose employees likely have a range of political views, you do not have to vocally support one side or the other of the aisle. Instead, you can support the values we all share of majority rule, non-violent dissent, and rule of law.
As has always been the case in the fledgling democracy of the U.S., there will be challenges to our way of governing and to our ideals. In these times, company leaders need to be engaged and active in showing the way forward. Through words and actions, we need leaders to show the way out of this mess.
Regardless of whether you lead a small group of volunteers or a large institution of many thousands, this is not the moment to sit on the sidelines. Employees need you to step up and be the voice of reason, rationality, and confidence in our future.
Dale S. Rose, Ph.D., is the president and co-founder of 3D Group. He is an expert in leadership development and assessment-based human resources solutions. He recently co-edited The Handbook of Strategic 360 Feedback and authored the 2020 study, Current Practices in 360 Feedback, 6th Edition.