Like most business-oriented newsletters, this one tends to avoid political issues and broader economic and social questions. At some point, however, it is appropriate to address the general background in which we all operate, since it can affect our businesses and employees profoundly.
The U.S. is going through a very confusing and tough time. Only about 13% of the populace believe that the country is going in the right direction, according to polls. Inflation, violent crime, racial tensions, and mass shootings are up. The stock markets and 401k portfolios are down, and a recession is predicted. The Covid pandemic seems never-ending. Now we are involved in another European war, with frequent Russian threats of nuclear escalation. Some say that all of these issues pale compared to the threat of climate change, which others dismiss as a giant scam perpetrated to gain power and market advantage. The good news, of which there is also much, such as the great job market for job seekers and declines in Covid death rates, tends to be overshadowed. (For more on highly positive trends see, https://mulkernassociates.com/leadership/and-now-for-some-really-good-news ).
If this were not enough, media companies, news broadcasters, and a proliferating number of political blogs and postings thrive on keeping their audiences in a high state of anxiety, contempt of their opponents, and outrage. No wonder so many more people today have difficulty controlling their tempers.
Meanwhile, the success and flourishing of our businesses depend upon focus, commitment, optimism, enthusiasm, openness to new ideas, and teamwork. All can be undermined in the face of a pervasive sense of decline, social divisiveness, and a lack of unifying vision.
Much of the population bemoans the lack of strong and more capable leadership in many of our institutions. This provides an outstanding opportunity for business leaders to shine as promoters of resilience, grit, and confidence in a better future. We can decide that our company, our people, our small part of the whole will model a better way of being together and will fight off the toxic influences that surround us.
How can such a decision be put into practice?
Provide reassurance through creating a place of physical safety—While rising crime rates and natural disasters dominate the news it is a good idea to update your emergency planning through a professional security review that goes beyond routine fire drills. Earthquakes in California and power outages anywhere are things you always need to be ready for. How would you handle all employees needing to spend the night in the building after a disaster? In major office buildings, it is standard procedure that access to offices requires passing a set of security checks, even if you work there. How well protected are your employees from intruders walking in?
Limit Access to News—You want to support your employees being well-informed, responsible citizens, of course, but in some lunchrooms and offices the TV news channels are tuned in all day long. This is a formula for pervasive anxiety and sense of alarm. Much programming includes frequent attempts to manipulate viewers to feel fear, anger or rage—emotions which if unending lead to exhaustion and sense of a lack of control. You may also need to limit or preclude internet access during working hours to various blogs and electronic newsletters that can produce similar results.
Set Standards for Disagreement—It is unrealistic to expect that none of the many divisive issues in American society today will ever be raised in conversations among employees. If such discussions are not to become destructive of company unity, clear guidelines must be set and modeled. These include good listening skills without interruptions, ways to express disagreement while showing empathy and respect, refraining from judgements of motives and name-calling, and making a distinction between rejecting a position and rejecting a person. All these sound practices, essential for the normal give and take of business discussions, go against the grain of the churlish behaviors frequently practiced in the televised and internet media and political arenas. You also have the right to restrict non-work-related discussions to non-work time, as well as to take disciplinary action against consistently disruptive behaviors, after seeking legal advice.
Lead by Example—If you want to set the tone for your company, it is your behavior that will do it. Allay worry and anxiety by expressing confidence in the future, which may mean that you must deal with your own anxiety first. If you want to lower the frustration and anger level, emphasize appreciation for achievements. Consider whether it would be wise to speak less harshly of the competition and of other external sources of frustration to you, such as banks or regulators or difficult customers, without acting any less decisively. In other words, show that you are focused, confident, decisive, and not ruffled.
In such ways, you can help to create a workplace in which employees will look forward to spending their days, because it will offer refuge from much of the craziness that characterizes too much of society today. They will see that you care about their well-being and will gain the assurance that a highly competent and mature leader is at the helm.
Finally, provide regular updates to your employees, near and far, to build trust that you treat them as adults who have a right to be informed and that you share their burdens and struggles. A great example of how to do this is provided by an email video that I recently received from a former client, Ira Cohen, pictured at left, co-founder and President of Dignified Home Loans. With interest rates rising, the mortgage banking industry is facing some headwinds. You will see how Cohen addresses this fact straightforwardly and provides at the same time great encouragement.
After looking at this two-minute video, using the link below, ask yourself: “What would I say if I were to prepare an update presentation for my employees?