Leaders: Demonstrate Empathy in Unsettling Times

I’m sure all of you join me in condemning the acts of violence we witnessed at the nation’s Capitol this week. I also had some feeling of helplessness as I watched our democratic institutions challenged by those who wished to voice their opinion through destructive acts. Not to mention, this occurred on the same day, Georgia voters elected the 11th Black Senator in all of United States history, Reverend Raphael Warnock.

As communications leaders, we know words matter. Which is why we must take great care when deciding how to respond in the wake of unrest, whether commenting publicly, advising action to our teams, or sharing empathy. Leaders of organizations — private, public, and nonprofit — can and do have a significant role in how our democracy operates and the individuals who make it up look to us for direction and comfort.

Integral wants leaders to know there is more than one right way to respond during unsettling times.

Denounce hatred and white supremacy; uplift one another instead

Already, numerous corporate leaders have made statements denouncing the violence, many taking to social media. Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO, tweeted that “there is no room for violence in our democracy.” We have been counseling our clients to consider how to thoughtfully respond.  

Remind employees of clear company values

In addition to condemning the actions, speaking up allows leaders to reaffirm their commitment to democracy, free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power. In the early days of unrest it’s important to remind employees of the values their company holds dear and to provide a message of hope for calmer times to return. 

Speak from the heart to their headspace

Not every company will choose to voice an opinion. But, as we have learned throughout 2020, we have to lean forward with empathy. Employees will be reacting and internalizing the actions yesterday in different ways. This is the exact moment to check in to see how employees are doing and deploy any wellness programs that have been enacted. It may take time to heal from our country’s divisions, and employees may simply need “permission” to take a brief pause.

“In this moment of unrest, violence and anger, we must remember the words of Dr. King: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.’ Let each of us try to be a light to see our country out of this dark moment,” tweeted Warnock, reminding us that while we may feel discouraged now, there are empathetic and capable leaders who can guide us out of this darkness. Let’s all try to be these leaders for our teams and country.