Senior Client Partner, Global DE&I and ESG Strategist
Help show workers how to overcome instead of being overwhelmed. Find areas where there are connections, not division. And do what leaders always should do: inspire.
In the wake of a week that has shown how divided the country remains in the political arena, business chiefs find themselves looking for ways to focus all the energy Americans put into the election back into the workplace. Reviving the troops, so to speak, is never easy in years when the Oval Office is at stake. But it’s even more of a challenge amid the unprecedented events of 2020.
It is possible, though. At least, that’s what leadership books and studies have been saying for decades. Looking for ideas relevant to the current times, we spoke with some Korn Ferry experts after Tuesday’s historic vote, discussing leadership, engagement, and inclusion. Here are five actions they suggested:
Anticipate, and de-escalate, the tension.
Based on the vote counts, the United States is deeply divided. As the days drag on, votes get counted, and lawsuits pile up, tempers are bound to flare, says Andrés Tapia, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and the firm’s global diversity and inclusion strategist. “Leaders need to be ready to douse potential verbal and even physical altercations because now the stakes are super high,” he says. The best way to do that is by reinforcing the commitment to peaceful resolutions, both in the organization and democracy generally. “This is a time to encourage patience and fairness and remind employees to respect the process and be supportive of every vote being counted and letting democracy run its course,” advises Tapia.
Keep people busy.
At a time like this, the proverbial watercooler talk could be a leader’s worst nightmare. Will the votes in Wisconsin be recounted? What will the courts do about Pennsylvania? Will things stay peaceful? The conversations could be a drag on everyone’s productivity.
Such speculation is hard to stop, of course, and it’s important for leaders to acknowledge that the election is on everyone’s mind. Alan Guarino, vice chairman of Korn Ferry’s Board and CEO Services practice, says one way to dissuade speculation is by encouraging employees to keep their heads down and “get on with the work of the company.” Compared to the alternatives of watching the news all day or endless speculating on the results, Guarino says, “people might be glad to have a full day of work.”
Double down on purpose.
The pace of change is only going to accelerate, regardless of the election’s ultimate outcome. Leaders must make clear what the constants are within an organization amid that rapid change, says Kevin Cashman, Korn Ferry’s global leader of CEO and executive development. He points to purpose, values, and operational agility as behaviors to focus on and reinforce to get employees aligned around a common goal. “Leaders can’t plan and forecast their way through this, but they can elevate the situation with more vision,” Cashman says.
The goal, he says, is to make employees feel they can overcome, rather than be overwhelmed by, the system. “Employees are looking to leaders to help them get their energy back and leaders can do that by getting them to buy into something bigger than what they are fighting,” says Cashman.
Move from division to diversity.
It may seem impossible, but leaders need to find points of interconnection that employees can align around with that and utilize their differences, says Jane Stevenson, Korn Ferry’s global leader for CEO succession and vice chairman of the firm’s Board and CEO Services practice. While approaches and solutions may be different, people are facing many of the same overarching issues, among them safety amid the pandemic, healthcare coverage, and job stability. Research shows more diverse organizations perform better financially, after all, and that includes a diversity of thought. “Finding common ground amid our differences helps build community and is something both the nation and business desperately needs right now,” Stevenson says.
One of the strengths of democracy is the counterbalance created by a diversity of voices. Business success is no different. “Leaders need to leverage contrasting points of view to create better corporate wisdom and more effective outcomes,” Stevenson says.
Bring the enthusiasm … in spots.
Great leaders aren’t necessarily the smartest or strongest, but they all ultimately inspire others to perform. Both presidential candidates often rely on raw passion, using it as a way to motivate people in a variety of ways, whether it's to donate money, volunteer time or get out and vote. And in this case, it worked: more than two-thirds of eligible Americans voted in the election, the highest level in more than a century.
Both candidates tapped something inside the people who followed their speeches or attended their rallies. “When a leader brings that passion, it creates something that people want to follow. It transmits power,” says Sonamara Jeffreys, Korn Ferry’s co-president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The enthusiastic approach may fall on its face for a leader trying to motivate people to say, construct a house. But deployed wisely, enthusiasm and passion can align the leader’s vision with the needs of others, ultimately creating a cohesive, top-performing team.