My phone has been ringing off the hook. "Mike, are you watching the news?" "Bush, can you believe what’s happening?" "Michael, what do I do?"
As I checked the news and watched what was unfolding on Wednesday, I was immediately taken back to 1965. While many of you saw the tragic events of January 6 in color on your screen, I saw black and white images of Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and Amelia Boynton Robinson being beaten while peacefully protesting in Marion, Alabama.
On March 9, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led marchers to the end of the bridge, that now bears John Lewis' name, for the second time. He did not go further that day because of a strange federal injunction that denied the marchers "protection" if they went past the end of the bridge. He obeyed this strange law and did not storm past the demarcation.
On January 6, 2021, people were directed to march to the Capitol building to stop a sacred democratic process. They succeeded in doing so while breaking local, state and federal laws after storming through barricades.
They were given space, water, selfies and assistance up and down the steep Capitol steps, all while our public servants, some wearing gas masks, were crawling on their knees horrified.
For All leaders speak when silence is far easier
To be honest, I'm still processing what I saw, but I'm certain of one thing: Now is not the time for leaders to be silent. Silence enables and forces people to assume what you think and believe at a time when you need them to be certain about what you think and believe.
Our nation was attacked this week. Not from forces outside of its borders, but from forces inside of its borders and led by our President.
I've talked to people in the last 48 hours that were just as angry, disgusted and heartbroken as they are when an unarmed Black person is killed by a police officer.
Witnessing what we all saw erupt at the Capitol, many of us know that if the crowd looked different, we would have seen a very different and violent response from our outgoing President. How do we know? Google it. He has repeatedly stated how he would handle Black Lives Matter protests in cities across America.
For those of you leading people, I have some advice based on my life's experience and insights from the 10,000,000 people we surveyed in 2020. This advice is especially important for those of you working in organizations that have made bold social justice statements and anti-racism commitments following George Floyd's murder.
1. Let your people know that you believe a peaceful transition of power is essential for our democracy, capitalism and the way of life that these sustain.
You can go a bit further here as Mitt Romney suggested and say the truth: That you have zero evidence that the election was rigged because you have zero evidence that the election was rigged. People can move forward when they hear the truth from you.
2. Let them know that you look forward to the peaceful inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris because this is what democracies do.
We are now like almost every country in Africa: We have failed to transfer power following a certified democratic election peacefully. Ghana is now the only country with a perfect record.
3. Let them know that you feel there's a difference between peaceful protestors, rioters and federal lawbreakers.
Our laws protect the first group and prosecute the second two. These statements transcend politics. Republican Senators and Representatives that have supported President Trump throughout his entire term made these same statements.
You can let your people know you had an emotional reaction to what you saw. This is an opportunity to express your values in an empathetic way.
4. Let them know that you saw the difference between how people were treated on the Capitol steps on January 6 compared to what you saw during Black Lives Matter protests.
Don't let people speculate about how you felt about what you saw. Silence is a bad move here, trust me. Or call me and let's talk about it.
5. Let them know how you feel about America and how you and your company will play a more important role as we rebuild.
This is being purpose-driven. This is communicating why your organization exists to help multiple stakeholders thrive, not just owners and shareholders. This is the "Better for the World" part of your purpose.
6. Let them know you need their help (use your Employee Resource Groups!) and that you would like to know how to support each and every employee to feel safe, heard and cared for during these unprecedented times.
Tell them all the ways that they can share this critical feedback.
It doesn't matter who you voted for. The beliefs expressed above transcend your personal political choice. You either believe in the six points above or you don't. If you don't, say it. People will respect you for it. They will first vote with their heart, and then their feet, based on their values.
I've got a lot more on my mind as it relates to this topic, but I'll save that for another day. For now, break the silence and show your people the path forward.
Push yourself—your people will appreciate having a leader and a company to hang onto right now. See what Ryan Gellert, CEO of Patagonia, said this morning if you need some inspiration. I’m proud to see a Great Place To Work-Certified™ company taking this bold step—this is our mission in action.
If we can help you with communicating the points above, let me know right now.