To what extent do you and your leaders talk about social and political issues at work?
If you’re concerned about the risks of talking about topical issues with key stakeholders inside and outside of your organization, please reconsider.
“To be silent is to be complicit,” says Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, the global marketing communications firm.
Being complicit is serious. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, complicit is “helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way.”
Complicit was Dictionary.com’s 2017 word of the year. The word earned its spot for “headline-grabbing mentions” on the political front plus being behind three big stories. These were humans’ role in climate change, the normalization of supremacist groups and hate speech; and the sexual harassers whose staff members had not only overlooked their actions but also protected them for years.
If you think these big news stories affect society more than the work world, think again. For example, on the sexual harassment front, investigative reporters were basically playing the role of HR staff to ferret out the truth.HR staffs in several organizations have turned a blind eye rather than protect employees against inappropriate actions from powerful bosses, including CEOs.
Complicity is also rupturing trust in institutions, including business. Edelman the firm also conducts the annual Trust Barometer. The 2018 results revealed a recording-breaking one-year drop in trust in the United States, which compelled Edelman the individual to encourage CEOs to break their silence and speak up.
CEOs as well as others in business need to use their voices to state the truth, protect their organization’s values, and show respect toward other human beings. To say it another way, in our crisis-prone VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, it’s no longer enough for leaders to put their heads down and concentrate on making profits. Leaders also have a responsibility to look up and support humanity.
Supporting humanity means having the curiosity, courage and commitment to understand the qualities in which humans excel. These include being creative, humorous, empathetic, socially sensitive and storytellers. (Think CHESS.)
Then leaders need to make the time to have conversations, recognizing that humans want to be seen, heard and connect with others.
Granted, talking about social issues in a business context isn’t easy to do—even for knowledgeable and accomplished leaders. Mercedes Martin and I discovered that firsthand last year when we interviewed about two dozen conscious senior leaders across 16 industries in five countries asking them about the people portion of their triple bottom line–profits, planet and people. (See To Be a Sustainable Leader, You Need To Manage Your Scarcest Resources Better.)
These leaders told us that social issues present challenges and opportunities that are vast, confusing, time-consuming and fraught with risk. For instance, the risks include offending people or taking positions that conflict with their brand’s positioning or messaging. Leaders are fearful of hurting reputations, either theirs or their organization’s or both.
To address social issues, the leaders we interviewed said they needed a safe and brave space to build their confidence and skills. The leaders explained that current leadership models and professional development programs fall short in helping them develop the complex thinking skills necessary in this VUCA world.
In response, Mercedes, Miloney Thakrar and I have designed a series of Humanity Labs to provide a safe and brave place to address current business challenges from a humanistic perspective. For more about the research and labs, check out our executive summary.
You too may face a dilemma to speak out. If you stay quiet you can be branded as complicit. If you speak out, you may put your foot in your mouth.
Ask yourself: What is your human and moral responsibility?
We believe most leaders will realize they need to show the courage and commitment to express their point of view and support humanity.
When speaking out, try to balance these five skills, which are part of the Humanity Lab experience:
- Be genuine—be true to your values as you show your authenticity.
- Be inclusive—use language that signals togetherness rather than divisiveness, such as words like “we,” “together,” “our responsibility to each other.”
- Be diplomatic—be considerate, empathetic, and trustworthy. For example, give examples of your knowledge about the social issue and why you’re committed to it in a tactful, not know-it-all way.
- Be clear—use every day words in an active voice.
- Make connections—explain why you care about the issue, including its implications for you and your organization. Also look for connections that employees, customers, suppliers and others can make based on their points of view.
By doing all five, you’ll come across as more human.
And if you don’t get it exactly right, acknowledge it. After all, to err is human. And admitting your foibles shows your humility and vulnerabilities, which in turn makes others trust you more.
So how about speaking up for humanity?