After rioters stormed the Capitol, it's time for business leaders to help pick up the pieces and encourage a return to normalcy, for the sake of your employees, and for the nation as a whole.
January 6 was a surreal and harrowing day. A violent mob stormed its way into the Capitol, as millions of Americans looked on, glued to their televisions or the internet. Some of those people work for you, and they've returned to work -- remotely or in person -- badly shaken and worried about the future. It's up to you to help them get past these events.
When politics becomes dysfunctional, as seems to be very much the case at the moment, business leaders have to be the adults in the room, because there's no one else to fill the vacuum. That seems to have been the thinking behind a reported meeting of more than 20 Fortune 500 CEOs in November where they discussed what actions they might take if Donald Trump, who swore he'd never concede the election, were to refuse to leave office. At the time, they apparently decided to let legal challenges by Trump and his allies run their natural course because, as one reportedly put it, it "doesn't hurt anything."
Manufacturers group calls for Trump's removal.
By the time senators such as Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz promised to vote against the usually routine certification of Electoral College votes, those big-company CEOs didn't think it was harmless anymore. More than 190 business leaders, most from large companies, signed a statement calling on Congress to accept the Electoral College vote. After today's events, the 14,000-member National Association of Manufacturers went a step further when it released a statement from its president Jay Timmons condemning both the riots and Trump. "The outgoing president incited violence in an attempt to retain power, and any elected leader defending him is violating their oath to the Constitution and rejecting democracy in favor of anarchy," he said. He added, "Vice President Pence, who was evacuated from the Capitol, should seriously consider working with the cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment [used to remove a president who is unfit for office] to preserve democracy."
Whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, or something else, and however you voted in the November election, it seems clear that to refuse to concede a loss by making claims of voter fraud that are unsupported by any evidence amounts to a blatant attempt to overturn the will of the majority in a democracy. Whether you choose to make a public statement condemning that attempt, add your name to a group statement, or refrain from making any comment is a choice dictated by the size and influence of your company, your relationship with your customers and community, and your own personal preferences.
Whatever public position you do or don't take, you need to address recent events with employees because they're looking to you for leadership and stability right now. Begin by giving them a chance to air whatever feelings they may be struggling with. This past summer, during the protests after the killing of George Floyd, Seattle startup OfferUp hosted what it called a "listening hour" on Zoom, where employees were invited to talk about whatever was on their minds. There were 110 people on the call and "You've never seen so many people crying on Zoom," said co-founder and CEO Nick Huzar at a GeekWire event this past fall. Back then, employees badly needed such opportunities to openly express their sorrow and fears. They need that again now, after watching the Capitol -- "our house" as many have called it -- breached and vandalized, something most of us thought was impossible.
But then, after you and your employees have had the chance to process these feelings, your next job is to help them to get back to work. What all of us need more than anything is to return to normal life, or at least normal life during a pandemic. That's America too: We protest, we argue, we air our grievances, sometimes loudly. But we also know how to pick ourselves up and get on with the job at hand.
In our nation, where elected leadership often bogs down and sometimes runs completely off the rails, we've many times depended on businesses to keep things moving forward. This is one of those times, and as a business leader, you need to be at your best. Your employees, and everyone else, are counting on your steadiness and steadfastness to see us through.