So many horrible things are going on now that I am amazed that much of the world continues to function normally. If I could wave a magic wand, here are four things I would like to change:

  • End Russia's murderous incursion into Ukraine 
  • Vaccinate the world against Covid-19 and its variants
  • De-platform the blood-dimmed tide of white supremacist extremism 
  • Fight global warming with much greater urgency 

No doubt you have other things in the world that you'd like to change right now. Sadly, I lack such a magic wand. What can you do? What comes to my mind is the mock-Latin aphorism Illegitimi non carborundum -- translated as "Don't let the bastards grind you down."

That is a clever phrase but it doesn't provide much guidance for leaders. To that end, here are four things that leaders ought to do to keep their organizations running effectively in a world full of uncontrollable horrors.

1. Listen to the concerns of key stakeholders.

When uncontrollable horrors happen, leaders are just as subject as anyone to an emotional response. Yet leaders should not let those emotions overwhelm them.

One way to do that is to talk about them with their key stakeholders -- such as employees, customers, suppliers, and shareholders. Business leaders should talk with each of their stakeholder groups -- sharing their feelings about these horrors, asking stakeholders to discuss how they feel, and brainstorming possible options for what the organization could do about them. 

2. Reaffirm your mission and values.

People need to feel that their work is meaningful. This need is heightened by the emotional undertow of horrible things in the world that workers can't control.

Moreover, given the struggle to attract and keep staff these days and the declining proportion of workers who feel that their employer cares about their well-being, according to a new Gallup poll, it is particularly important for business leaders to talk with their employees about the enduring reason that their organization exists; what it values; and what actions it will take now to bring the values to life in light of all the horrible things going on in the world now.

3. Take better care of your employees and customers.

The conversations between leaders and their employees have a crucial purpose now: to increase the emotional engagement of workers in a way that helps them to find meaning in their daily activities while living with the emotions caused by horrors that they can't control.

Business leaders must back up these words and sentiments with concrete action. For example, business leaders should listen to their people to make sure they feel engaged with the organization's purpose and that their managers are acting according to its values. If not, business leaders should take action to close the gaps between its mission and its actions.

I try to act on these ideas when I teach students. Most often, students' top concerns are their goals and how best to achieve them. So I think about how my courses will help the students to master skills that will help them after they graduate. Before starting a class, I will discuss how it fits into that broader purpose. 

4. Do what you can to control the uncontrollable.

To act according to their own values and that of their employees, business leaders must use their power to try to control the horrible things going on in the world.

For example, companies that have done business with Russia or who employ and/or sell to people in the Ukraine can take direct action. Specifically, they have the potential to fight Russia economically by closing down their operations there -- which GM, Nike, Toyota and others have done, according to the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship -- or stop purchasing from Russian suppliers.

Companies with Ukrainian employees and customers can try to help them in different ways. BCCCC also notes that companies are providing humanitarian aid, helping employees there who choose to leave Ukraine, and supporting employees and customers who stay. Above all, business leaders should back up their words with actions.

In a world where horrible challenges require a coordinated, global response, business leaders must use their power to inspire and engage their people and do what they can to fight back. These four steps can help business leaders get there.